Be authentic and unafraid of other people’s opinions. Unapologetically follow your voice. Also, be quick to distance yourself from those who don’t believe in you or who are unkind. Those who value your authenticity will stick by you.
After college, I started a fashion brand, which included high-end dresses and, later, travel bags. Over the years, I learned to pursue my own inspiration. Whenever I moved away from my instincts, I found my designs to be less meaningful (and harder to sell). I realized after a long time that I had to make products that I wanted, that spoke to me, and that made me happy.
A few years ago, I followed my calling and went back to grad school to become a psychotherapist. I now work in private practice. My work as a therapist is informed by my years of building a business, selling, traveling, and trying to find my own meaning in life.—Sanaa Hyder ’04, a psychotherapist in New York City
While you’re young, I say go for it. Build a career that at the core stirs you. If that is not possible, make sure you find some space for your passion in your life so that you continue to foster it. Someday, you may find a way to make a living from it.
At 50, I think I’m finally finding that. I’ve been a passionate collector of vintage china and porcelain since college. I’ve also had a passion for photography and, recently, fitness. I’ve now merged all three by photographing the patterns on my china and creatively translating them into legging designs for the yoga and fitness market. The venture, PorcelainPuff, will never make me rich, but it provides a long-needed outlet for my creative side.—Pam Simpson ’89, founder of Extra Day, a consulting firm in South Hadley, Massachusetts
Always try stuff. It’s got to be a calculated risk, but if you don’t try it, you can’t hit the jackpot. Here’s the story of my business: I graduated in May, and I opened up June 1. I started out selling soda, and I had a dog. Then I saw there was more pet food on the market than soda, so I decided to go into the pet products business. Soda is now only 2 percent of my business. We wouldn’t be around today if it was just soda.
But I also think I should have thought on a grander scale. I look at Petco. We started at the same time. They have 1,500 stores. So think big. You have to keep your head to the ground, but think big.—Dave Ratner ’75, founder and owner of Dave’s Soda & Pet City, which has seven retail locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and of Dave’s Pet Food
Be prepared. Life will have lots of ups and downs. In my case, at 39, I was given six months to live (cancer) and was in the middle of an ugly divorce. A sticker I saw on the back of a VW said, “Remember, today is the first day of the rest of your life,” which made a big impression on me. Faith, along with a positive attitude, got me through it.
I entered the restaurant business about 26 years ago. Two friends and I just wanted a reasonable, fun place to go to in the high-priced part of town. Now, my income far exceeds what I made in the corporate world.
Be flexible. Be open minded. And make lemonade out of your lemons. I live now on my farm with my wife of 32 years. It’s peaceful. I’m surrounded by love.—Stephen Briggs ’59, P’88, owner of Old Naples Pub and The Village Pub, both in Naples, Florida