There are days in business when you know you are in the right place at the right time. All you need to do is have the courage to seize the moment and take a swing. Last week, I had one of those magical days.
I was invited by a friend to attend Women’s Day at the Travelers Championship golf tournament in Cromwell, Connecticut.
I’m not much of a golfer really, although I do own golf clubs. They are currently collecting dust in my garage. I recognize that the sport of golf is ripe for business networking and is an ideal venue for spending quality time with clients, prospects, and other business professionals. More professional women need to learn to play golf, if for no reason other than to gain access to decision makers. It’s only the fairway.
My golf performance anxiety was relieved when I saw the agenda for Women’s Day event, which included a panel discussion with the coaching team of UCONN women’s basketball team, a cooking demonstration with celebrity chef and author Ming Tsai, and a fashion presentation and interview with Deirdre Quinn, President and Co-Founder of Lafayette 148 New York.
Interviewing Ms. Quinn was another highly accomplished woman, Joan K. Woodward who is the Executive Vice President of Public Policy for Travelers and the President of the Travelers Institute. Shown sitting on the left in the photo, Ms. Woodward was dressed in an elegant outfit from the collection of Lafayette 148. It’s always nice to see two successful business leaders, with very different temperaments, share their wisdom with other aspiring professional women.
I was captivated by the presence of Deirdre Quinn, a naturally shy and humble person, who admitted that she was not so good at public speaking and feels more comfortable in one-on-one situations.
Deirdre discovered her passion for sewing at age 10 and pursued it from there forward. Deirdre told the story of how she, as a young woman, fresh out of design school, working an entry level job in the Liz Claiborne design empire, raised her hand to volunteer for a bold and daring assignment that no one else would take. There was a need for someone to fly to their Korean factory and oversee an important project of shortening skirt hems to create miniskirts (they were in high fashion back then).
Her colleagues were all shocked to see a lowly secretary raise her hand and volunteer, but since no one else would step up to the plate, she was chosen. This event changed the trajectory of her career and life. After several years of working in production and traveling the world, she would meet her future business partner in New York City.
This shy and reserved young woman, while having a passion for fashion, lacked personal confidence. But the Korean assignment experience changed her.
“When other people believe in you, it’s amazing; you start to believe in yourself.” – Deirdre Quinn
In 2001, Deirdre and her five year old company, Lafayette 148 New York (named after the street address of their headquarters in NYC), were hit by two major blows. In May, their offices were robbed. Everything was taken: the computers, the copy machine, the backup computers, even the cell phone chargers. Deirdre was on a trip to Italy at the time of the robbery, visiting the fabric mills that supplied her gorgeous cotton, silk, wool, and leather materials. She worried about all of the lost customer order data on the computers. How would they recover this?
A few months later, the tragic 9-11 terrorism attack took place, toppling the Twin Towers and killing thousands of people. The entire city of New York was in crisis, and they were pulling together to get through it. “We became real New Yorkers. You just figure it out.” And they did.
Under Deirdre’s leadership, the company managed to grow even through the great recession of 2008. Her philosophy is “Don’t let a good recession go to waste.” Against the advice of many of her industry peers and advisers, she entered the direct catalog business. “Women love fashion,” she knew, “And we are going to bring it to them.” The company thrived at a time when other companies were closing their doors.
Seize the Opportunity
Returning to the Women’s Day event, Joan K. Woodward, who was interviewing Deirdre on stage, offered this motivating piece of advice to more than 500 women in the room:
“Never turn down an opportunity when presented to you. Seize the opportunity.”
And that’s when it hit me!!! Two weeks before, I was handed an opportunity and I passed it up. First it was offered in one of those indirect ways – a client was having a trouble finding someone to interview a celebrity/social entrepreneur whom she was bringing in for a fund raising event. Then she asked me straight out: “I was kind of hoping that you could do it.” I suddenly felt both unworthy and unprepared. I didn’t feel like I was high-caliber enough for the job, so I recommended four other women who could moderate the interview.
Over the next few days, I realized the mistake that I had made. I took myself out of consideration. And yet, I wanted it. Just a few months prior, I had a great success with my first experience moderating a panel at a large women’s conference. I loved the experience and want to do more of this type of work.
It bothered me for days that I passed up this opportunity to grow my new skill set and to meet important people like the celebrity. I went back to my client and told her that if she still needed a moderator, I would be willing to serve. Too late. She had filled the spot. My loss.
Imagine how different Deirdre Quinn’s life would have been if she hadn’t had the courage to raise her hand for what must have appeared to be a scary work assignment! Lafayette 148 New York might never have materialized and grown into a formidable fashion company if not for that first bold move on her part.
Until you are put to the test, you never know what you are capable of. But first, you must learn to recognize and respond to opportunity.
Your Networking Goal for the Week
Take a chance on yourself. When an opportunity presents itself, go for it. Quiet that inner voice telling you that you are not ready, not qualified, not skilled enough. This is your moment to stretch yourself. If you fail, you will grow. If you succeed, you will grow (and you’ll be delighted). If you pass it up, you will regret it. Worse yet, you will never know what might have been possible.
Carpe occasionem…Seize the Opportunity!