By Erika Hovland

Today I applied for a grant, and one of the application questions was “why do you want to be self-employed?”

Wow. What an interesting question! I’ve reflected on what I wanted to do, obviously, and I know what motivates me. But something about this question brought up an answer from the heart that I wasn’t really aware of before.

Here is my response:

In January 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One year later, after I finished treatment, the uncle I was closest to called me to congratulate me and to encourage me to live life to the fullest.  He told me to take risks and he told me how much he loved me.

A few weeks later, he died suddenly. I was shocked by this second reminder of how short and precious life is. On the plane to his funeral I made the choice to live my best life. I knew that meant leaving a company with which I had spent the majority of my career.  But I wasn’t sure what to do instead.

First, I took a break.  During this break, I kept getting requests to help people launch businesses. I didn’t realize at the time that I was carving out my future.  But when I look back, I see that I have always been surrounded by family members who had small businesses. And even while I was working as a sales and marketing professional at a Fortune 500 company, I volunteered to mentor entrepreneurs who were starting new ventures.

But although I started thinking about launching my own initiative, I still resisted the idea of running my own business. I felt totally passionate about what I was doing to help people launch their businesses, but it just seemed a little “out there” for me to do it myself. Certainly the traditional career path had its appeal from a financial and insurance coverage standpoint.

Then, as a final twist of fate, my aunt was diagnosed with late-stage, incurable lung cancer.  I had the freedom to pick up and move in with her for three months, which allowed her to stay in her own home for a greater amount of time.  This was an incredible experience which blessed and enriched me in so many ways.

During this time, I made the decision that I needed to be self-employed to have balance in my life, to live according to my priorities, and to have the right level of energy for bringing the best of myself to this world and the experience we call life.

I feel grateful every day that I was able to make this choice.

My company, IOLITE Global Consulting, is the result of this choice. The company is named for the beautiful gemstone iolite (eye-o-light), which legend describes as guiding Norwegian sailors across the seas to new lands. We are a marketing and commercialization consulting company focused on launching or re-launching brands and businesses.

Simply put, our work is about helping businesses grow. We listen, we strategize, we create, we write – then we implement, adapt, and measure results. This may look like a brand book, go-to-market strategy, launch plan, communications plan or a recommendation for pricing, promotion and distribution strategies. But it’s more than that, too. We will pick up the phone to pitch a story to a reporter, spend time listening to the challenges of an entrepreneur, or dive in to coach on pragmatic things like costing, or how to shift your self-identity to view yourself as a business owner. We’ve even gotten involved in refining product design to help bring a product to market that meets the needs of customers. We do this because we are iolite – the guiding stone for new and growing ventures.

I have walked a crooked path to arrive at my destiny as an entrepreneur.  However the glimmer of this path was imprinted years before. As a child, I watched my grandfather, of Norwegian descent, cut and polish stones that he would sell in his rock shop.  I imagine he would have been the expert that could have cut the stone iolite in the exact way needed to help those Norwegian sailors find their way.  He had a knack for revealing the absolute brilliance in a stone – for transforming it from an unpolished stone into a shining piece of art. It is this path I aspire to walk. And it is that last conversation with my uncle that gave me the courage to start walking it.

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