Nancy L Robinson & Mrs. Robinson Cooks! LLC
The long and winding road: where's my GPS?



To say I have been an overachiever most of my life would be an understatement. Superior performance in school was the sole focus of my childhood. Straight A's and graduating at the top of my class marked my primary school years. I completed a college double major (Psychology and German) in three years and quickly moved on to graduate school. My Masters degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology was earned at age 23 and I began my professional work career soon after. Throughout all of this, I was constantly "striving"--for the best grades, the right job, the next promotion. I did well, but I never felt at ease. There was always an elusive "something else" out there.




When I was 12 years old, a family secret was revealed to me about my parental lineage. Knowing the truth about this family matter really helped me understand why the people closest to me acted the way they did. After learning this information, two things became very clear to me. The first was that there is a reason why people behave the way they do. The second thing I learned was that life is not as simple and rose-colored as I had thought. I think I grew up very quickly at that moment and was determined never to be "surprised" by others' actions again. I felt it was up to me to get what I wanted out of life and not to rely on others to accomplish this. This lesson repeated itself several other times throughout my teen years: rely only on yourself, work hard and you will be a better and different person. I zoomed through college, wanting to distance myself as quickly as possible from the past. Graduate school and a job took me to the East Coast, literally distancing myself from my roots. A husband, career, and new life blossomed like the spring flowers in a short amount of time. But I still felt like I wasn't doing "enough"--surely there were better jobs, bigger promotions, more glory out there.

However, after ten years in the professional workforce, my life took an unanticipated turn. Pregnant with my second son, my husband and I decided it made sense financially for me to leave the workforce and stay home with the children full time. That was not something I had ever considered before, but I threw myself into the role of stay-at-home mom and homemaker whole heartedly. The next six years passed quickly. I was surprised by how readily I adapted to my new life. Yes, the old overachiever was still there--I was a Board member on the PTA, community association, and religious organizations, but for the first time I was becoming comfortable in my own skin.

After making the dramatic leap from the corporate world to domestic life, I began to realize I could be comfortable with my life choices and myself. I also began to make peace with the past and the circumstances of my childhood. Many things are outside our control--but what we can control is our reaction to them. I began to look past the hurt and instead focus on the good that is in all of us and the value that each of us brings.

It was also during this time that I began to formulate the idea for starting my own business (again, something I had never considered before). I had developed a love and a talent for cooking and wanted to parlay that into a business--one that I could schedule around my young family's needs. I knew nothing about starting or running a business, but I threw myself into figuring it out as I went. It's like the old analogy of trying to change a flat tire while you're still riding the bike. Although I was getting clients and building a business, I had never written a business plan or set goals. Was this a wise strategy? Probably not. It did lead to some missteps, wrong choices, and wasted time and money. But frankly, I think deep down I didn't expect myself to stick with it or for the business to flourish, so I was rather lackadaisical.

And there were bumps along the road. At the three year mark of my business, I lost a major client. Suddenly a good percentage of my income was gone. My husband momentarily lost faith in my business and began to question whether I should return to corporate world. I had to do some serious soul-searching. When I looked deep inside I realized how much I loved running my own business and I was determined to make it work. I began to network and market like never before (but still without a formal plan!) and six months later I had developed a new client base.


Professional issue


I am now approaching seventh year in business. A big turning point for me in the last two years was to align myself with other women business owners, leaders, and CEOs. Not only is this a good target market for my business, but more importantly I learned from these women. I like to think I have gotten my "street MBA" through them. Their business experience and expertise has "rubbed off" on me and pushed me professionally. I get advice, help, friendship, and emotional support from these women. Their willingness to help me and connect me to even more business women made me feel heady. For the first time in my life, I began to overcome that life-long fear of trusting or relying on others.

It may sound like an overstatement, but these women have been bigger believers in my business than I have. They have pushed me to do things I did not have the confidence to do, whether develop new lines of business, market myself differently, increase my revenue, or act as a mentor to other emerging businesswomen.

Which leads me to my case tagline--The long and winding road: where's my GPS? I want to develop other lines of business and move into web-based information products, e-commerce, and writing. I am equally afraid of trying new things and conversely of being successful in these areas. I only know what I know--and that has been doing the same line of business for six years. How do I develop and market these new areas? How much time and money do I invest in development? What would my day look like if I transitioned into something different? Am I truly an entrepreneur who is willing to give up a "sure thing" in order to try something new?

These questions stop me cold. Often I don't even know where to begin so I just don't!

Sometimes I feel afraid to draw the proverbial line in the sand that said "I am a business owner and I will succeed." Having one foot in the business world and the other in fear and uncertainty led me to doubt my potential for business growth.


Personal issue


For many years, my business was slotted in between my family life. I used to fit clients around the school year schedule. I did not work in the summer. I felt guilty about missing a class field trip, sporting event, or getting behind on house work. But as my children got older and required less direct supervision, I began to spend more time in the business. Was this easy? No. The expectation still remained that I was the primary steward of the family and home. Renegotiating that role is ongoing. Trade-offs get made. A home-cooked meal is on the table almost every night but the house hasn't been dusted in a month. My children probably do more chores around the house than most middle-class youth. I don't volunteer at their schools any more, but my sons can say they have watched their mother do cooking segments on the local TV news. I could be making more money in the corporate world, but it would be harder to cover the children when they are sick or have an unexpected day off from school.

It is so easy to stick with the tried and true. Change and experimentation is scary for everyone. My family has been mostly supportive throughout the rise of my business. But where do we go from here? Am I contributing enough income to the family? What happens at retirement and I don't have a pension? Do I strike the right balance between family and business? Are my sons getting a good perspective on what it means to be a woman with a family and a business? What will their expectations be if they marry and have a family? Will they be supportive of the choices their wives or significant others make? Will I have taught them the right things?