"Don't Live Your Life, Lead It"

By Elizabeth Sweezey Morrell

October 2014

It dawned on me several years ago, but it took me a long time to act on it: when you achieve the self-awareness that you have the capacity to do something “greater,” something positive for the world or your community, and you actively do not pursue it, you’re cheating yourself out of the opportunity to make the world a better place, as well as depriving the world out of your capabilities, talents, and gifts.


For some, achieving this self-awareness and courageously acting on it comes naturally. As I mentioned, it took me years, but after having spent over six years working at an Internet strategy consulting start-up firm in Washington DC, I gave up my salary and benefits, overseas travel, and private office (window with a view and exposed brick) to do this “greater” thing at the end of 2013.


What that meant, at the time, I didn’t know exactly. One thing I did know was that I wanted to make positive changes in the world and, at the risk of using a cliché, “help people” in ways I couldn’t at the consulting firm. Additionally, I wanted to leverage my self-sufficient work ethic. I was ready to explore different types of businesses, management styles, and professional activities, as well as dive deeper into my passions and interests. To the former end, I was successful: I earned the business of a variety of clients on all types of projects, ranging from business development, sales, intensive research, event planning, fundraising, digital marketing, and creative writing. The latter was still not entirely satisfied.


About that time, I discovered the Sullivan Foundation through my alma mater Sewanee, through which I found the Global Leadership Program and Leadership Exchange, and the “New Venture Planning” course on social entrepreneurism based out of HQ Raleigh in Raleigh, North Carolina. I applied, was accepted, and made my way to Raleigh at the end of June to start a new chapter with hopes of learning new skills to find the fulfillment I was craving.


Needless to say (I am writing this blog post on the program after all), GLP was one of the best things I did for my career. Not only did I learn about starting a business and learning about being an entrepreneur, I was also hired by my internship company as a consultant after the program ended. This allowed me to continue to work out of HQ, build relationships, take on additional responsibilities, and build upon my new skills.


HQ Raleigh is a thriving co-working space where innovators and entrepreneurs work (and play) together in a renovated warehouse in the up-and-coming Warehouse District in Downtown Raleigh. Being around like-minded people was not only inspiring but also motivating. So motivating in fact that I took my GLP instructors’ advice to take chances, to “look up” for opportunities, and to use my experiences to create innovative solutions:


My family is from Central Kentucky and works in the Thoroughbred horse racing and breeding industry and runs a farm outside Lexington. After GLP, I spent a week working for my family’s business, and discovered the horse industry still uses the same clunky, un-user-friendly, unimproved technology as seven-plus years ago. I decided I was in a prime position to create a better solution for people selling horses that are bought and sold for millions of dollars.


One of my most important takeaways from GLP is that in order to create entrepreneurial solutions that work may require having felt the pain or experienced the inefficiency for yourself and, therefore, have the authority to speak authentically on the topic. Having struggled with the lack of usable technology myself, in addition to knowing how technology can make processes, reporting and analysis easier, more efficient and more effective. Furthermore, I have the connections in the industry due to having grown up in the business. I am the right person to build something that will have a very positive effect, and “help people.”


So where am I now? Literally, I’m in New York City, sitting at a table at my coworking space, New Work City, similar to HQ Raleigh, where I am surrounded by the same entrepreneurial-minded folks as those at HQ. Of course, being in NYC is not ideal as I build a business solution for people in Central Kentucky. However, I will be traveling back and forth to Lexington for meetings and customer interviews every other month or so. I’ve hired a developer (based in HQ Raleigh actually) who I built a good relationship with when I was working there. While he works on the demo for me to present to potential customers, I’m developing customer personas, conducting customer interviews, analyzing my market, including potential customers and competitors, and building out my network.


I recently read an article from the Harvard Business Review blog, and the title was all I really needed to read, “Don’t Live Your Life, Lead It.”  Needless to say, I don’t believe I would be leading my life this way, building my own business, and taking risks like this, if it weren’t for my experience at HQ Raleigh, and what I learned from GLP.