Yesterday evening eight superb women gathered under my roof here in Michigan to share delicious food and even more tantalizing tales of dreams, risks, business ventures, good marriages, strong willed children and more. There was a clothing and textiles' designer -- successful, funny, onto new ventures; a restaurant chef and owner -- cheerfully working very long days, and succeeding in her one-year old restaurant during one of this state's worst downturns. Goes to show you, when you've figured out the formula, thought through your idea, and put it into motion with grace, intelligence, savvy and good humor, surrounded yourself with good helpers and assistants, yes, it can work, no matter when. Another is a cooking teacher, expert in Asian cuisine, and successfully on this healing side of a nasty, multi-year bout of Lyme disease. Another is discovering the joys of raising goats, making goat cheese and contemplating this new profession -- at the tender age of 60!
I love it. I love them! Spunk, risk-taking, joy, hope. Two are on their third marriages (apparently 3's the charm), one happily single, another managing with her small children, and another cheerfully contemplating entering into the 30 plus anniversary with her husband. Differences abound, but the unifying force of smarts, following dreams, and supporting friends.
This is a gathering that is nearly inconceivable in my little world of Provence. Women striking out on risky business ventures are few, and those who do are counseled that it probably won't work, they need to do more market research, the fees will be too high, and then, rather than receive support and networking encouragement from their family and friends, those who are closest to them will be more likely to sit back and watch to see if they succeed, than do their utmost to help them succeed. If after a few years they are still in business, well, then the family, colleagues, neighbors, friends, etc., will start to take them seriously and just maybe patronize them.
This has been the general feeling and atmosphere for women-directed risky ventures since I've been in Provence. When I first arrived and simply barreled into building the business of our cooking school and culinary vacations, I was blind and deaf to the neighbors' comments. This was a very helpful state of mind to be in. I was filled with the gumption of my American background and simply worked, day by day, night by night, learning how to make a web site, learning how to lodge it in the search engines, learning about meta tags, titles, exchanging links, etc., reading books one night and spending all the next day putting that new information into motion. And, surprise, surprise, we built a business. Sure, in the beginning it was rough going. There were the week-long classes with only one client (oh well, let's explore and improve ourselves). There were moments of difficulties, day trips in rather tired-looking cars, crises, etc., But, we just kept on, with hope, with hard work, with optimism. I pulled Erick with me, directed him, provided him with clients, and he made them happy with good food, patience, great musical taste and his sweet smile.
Today, I've three friends in France who are contemplating and actively moving forward on new business projects. Mireille, my horse-whisperer is building, every so carefully, her reputation as a healer of horse and rider relationships. If your horse bites you, if your horse throws you, if your horse is terribly skittish, if he refuses to pull a plough... she will work with him and the owner and strive to bring harmony to this relationship.
Pascale is setting up her Iyengar yoga teaching, and seeking to build her astrological counsel and therapy practice. She has the space in her home, she's made her brochures. It is growing and coming into being.
Martine has been teaching Shia Tsu massage now for a few years, and, as time permits, seeks to build her practice as a massage therapist (being a high school guidance counselor is highly time consuming though!).
These three are stretching themselves, reaching for dreams, contemplating, striving and assiduously putting down the building blocks upon which their projects can grow. I'll do what I can to support them, to be there, to encourage, to send business their way. We don't yet have an entrepreneurial culture in France, and particularly not where women are concerned, but, it is beginning, as I've seen during my CIBC (see earlier blogs) weekends and trainings. Whereas in the US it is strong and thriving, in France, it is in its infancy. Send them your moral support!