As I prepared to write this article, I thought about how many life experiences had contributed to my becoming a leader- personally and in my business. People had trusted my knowledge, depended on my abilities, and respected my judgment. And I liked that. I also valued being my own person and making my own way. So, four years ago when I entered the world of the self-employed entrepreneur, I knew that my strong work ethic and solid skill base would prove invaluable as I stepped into another strategic leadership position; this time in the fast-growing world of virtual assistants.
As the youngest of three and the only girl, I grew up in Southern California in an area called La Sierra. Our parents raised us in a very strict Catholic environment. When I told my parents that I planned to attend college, they enthusiastically supported the idea. I would be the first generation in my family to go to college, and my mother had always planned that I would attend a local, Catholic university.
I had yearnings of a bigger dream inside me. I wasn’t sure about the details, but I knew that I would be taking a different direction than what my family was expecting. Not in their wildest dreams, did they ever think that I would leave home, much less leave the area! My dream, however, was to venture out to the wilderness.
I didn’t choose a college by what it offered as far as academics but rather by how remote it was! I wanted out of the big city. I chose to go to the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. Needless to say, my parents and friends, especially my high school sweetheart, thought I had lost my mind! I knew better. High school graduation arrived. I enjoyed my last summer in California, going to the beach, having fun! And then, I packed.
Late summer arrived and so did my trip to Idaho. With all of my belongings stuffed into my VW Bug, I set off on my journey. I will never forget my father and mother waving goodbye as I pulled out of the driveway. I still could not believe that my father was allowing me to take this journey—on my own—with no adult supervision! I had made my first step in following through on a decision to lead my own life.
I arrived at the University of Idaho a week later to find a loving, small-town atmosphere. It didn’t take me long to settle in, find lots of friends, and begin my adventure. It felt good. It felt right. At the end of the first semester, however, my high school sweetheart realized I was not going to come back to California, so he joined me in Idaho.
We married and moved to a small town called Troy, about eight miles from Moscow. I continued to attend classes at the U of I and our family grew by two; one girl and one boy. Unfortunately, our lives began to change. We grew apart and divorce loomed on the horizon. I found myself needing to take lead in the direction of where my life and my children’s would go from here.
Since getting married, I became a stay-at-home Mom taking just a few classes at the U of I. Now, I realized that I would have to go to work as a single mom. Fortunately, I was able to find a job at the hospital in Pullman; unfortunately, it didn’t last long. A back injury laid me up for the next three years.
During that time, I lived on disability payments and learned what it was to live from month to month with very little money. After two back surgeries, the pain had disappeared only to return six months later. This time, they diagnosed fibromyalgia. Another decision to be made here. Become a victim or continue to lead my life by example. I chose to continue.
By now, Idaho’s workman’s comp office decided to send me to school to be retrained instead of sending me more disability checks. I went on to finish my education. I had a year to go to complete my degree in Business Administration and Management. Slowly, I gathered the tools I needed to move me toward a more secure independence. As a single mom my internal drive to be independent helped me to continue to build upon the skill sets I already had while showing my children how to be an achiever in any situation.
My goal in life at that time was to obtain work at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman; an ideal job complete with benefits and insurance. I was sure it did not get any better than that. I had heard, however, that WSU did not hire just anyone. It was very hard to get in. Although I had overcome and achieved much already in my life, I didn’t have a champion in my corner really encouraging me to go for it. I didn’t see at that time that my leadership skills were already well developed.
So, with a diploma and very little confidence, I passed on applying at WSU and instead found a job at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company in Pullman. I ended up working at the insurance company for three years thinking I didn’t have enough experience to move in the big world of WSU. Then it happened; the insurance company closed its doors. Fortunately, during those three years I had grown to realize that I really did have the skills and the ability to lead my family and myself in wise decisions for providing our livelihood. Now I had a second chance to go for my dream job. I could not pass this opportunity twice!
Northwestern laid me off on a Friday, WSU interviewed me on the following Monday, and they hired me the next Wednesday. I didn’t even have a chance to open a claim at the unemployment office! I could hardly believe that I was set with my dream job. With two children at my side, I began my 20-year career at WSU. People always said once you get in at WSU, you are in for life. How very true. The college provided a solid base of knowledge and experience that would serve me well. Yet those deep yearnings for something more kept worming their way around in my mind. I just wished I knew what they were really about!
Throughout the years, I grew professionally but personally I had only dated occasionally. It never seemed to really work. Either my kids hated him or he did not like my kids. When my daughter was in high school, I began to think that I would never remarry or have a significant other. Then, one of the girls in my office started pestering me to go out with her father-in-law. “He is just like you”, she would say; “Go out on a date; you would get along famously.” I never took her seriously, though. I just couldn’t see it happening.
One day, however, just to get her to leave me alone, I agreed to meet him; but, I warned her not to get her hopes up. We went on our first date on April 12, 1997, were together as a couple by 1998, and were married soon after. So much for not getting serious! One of his favorite stories to tell people is how I would jump out of the car when we pulled into my driveway. I had to get inside the door as fast as I could before he attempted to kiss me because I knew in my heart that once that happened, it would be all over with.
Soon, my life in the small town of Moscow ended; and we moved to Deary, Idaho, and started our life on his property. We started our life together in his very small, tacky trailer; a situation both of us knew would not fly for long. We began building our dream home in the winter of 1998 and moved into our beautiful log home in 2001. We built this 3900 square foot home on our own, putting up each log ourselves. The only outside assistance we had was a plumber and an electrician. All the while, that little kernel of an idea and a bigger dream continued to grow. What would it be when it grew up?
About this time, I began what I call my mid-life crisis. I realized that during much of my life I had had not one to depend on except myself. I had raised my children without help from their father, earned a degree, found employment, and made a home for my family. Yet, somewhere inside, I had sheltered a desire to be an entrepreneur, to start my own business. Questions started budding in my mind. What business would I start? How could I manage? Where would I be?
Meanwhile, I began doing the bookkeeping for my husband’s newly acquired business, a wild, land firefighting business where he would contract with the forest service to fight these fires. I quickly became an expert using QuickBooks and processing government contracts for the business. Could this be a seed of an idea for my own business? But, how? The notion still lay just beyond my grasp.
Meanwhile, I had become the Executive Assistant to the Director of the WWAMI Program. This joint project was created to assist first-year medical students, designing curriculum and coordinating classes for students on both the Idaho and Washington campuses.
During regularly-held meetings with my four staff members, I liked to include some stimulating activities to boost morale and increase motivation. I asked each person to come to the meetings with an innovative idea to share. One day, a staff member discussed this new concept that was becoming quite popular among stay-at-home moms, early retirees, or mid-lifers. I listened attentively as she defined this intriguing concept she called the virtual assistant industry.
A Virtual Assistant (VA), she informed us, acted as an independent entrepreneur providing administrative, creative and/or technical services. Utilizing advanced technological modes of communication and data delivery, a professional VA assists clients in his/her area of expertise from his/her own office on a contractual basis. She proceeded to tell us about the set-up one would need to start this business.
The light bulb lit up; it even glowed. As she spoke, my mind reeled. I had it all—the equipment, the knowledge, and the expertise necessary to start this business!! At that point, I finally new what that yearning was for- to be an independent business owner. I had everything except the clients. The following week, I retired from WSU, and six months later, I was sitting in my log home ready and waiting for business to come along. I had taken that large step to tie in all of my life experiences and I saw the leader really within myself. Your Administrative Solutions was born in 2004.
Fast forward three years. I have a small but successful Virtual Assistant company where I support clients worldwide, virtually. The majority of my clients are in other parts of the United States. I call myself a virtual professional and QuickBooks expert who partners with small business owners, micro companies, solopreneurs, and individuals to reduce their workload, grow their business, and boost their profits—all the while saving them money. I specialize in bookkeeping, human resource services, and database development and maintenance.
Each day, my confidence and leadership grows. I meet people online, at conferences, in networking groups, and through referrals. My business continues to expand and develop. And, to think it all started with a tiny seed nurtured by life itself. What can your life “grow” for you? Tap into your life resources, cultivate your own abilities, and transplant them into your dream world. Let the leader in you find the light and blossom.
By Fran McCully
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