Creativity and Entrepreneurship: "Connecting the Dots"

Steve Jobs once described creativity as "connecting the dots," adding, "most people don't have enough dots to connect because they haven't had many diverse experiences." That's certainly not the case for women our age.

If, like me, you consider yourself an entrepreneur, or aspire to be one, you're not alone. The average age for becoming an entrepreneur is 40, with a quarter of new entrepreneurs between 55 and 64. Women our age are fueling entrepreneurship.

Which brings me back to Steve Jobs' description of creativity as a process of connecting the dots. As mid-life women, our wide-ranging experiences have provided us with thousands of accumulated dots. We're leveraging and synthesizing what we've learned, starting 1,200 new businesses a day and living our dreams in ways we weren't able to when we were younger.

My girlfriends are connecting the dots and inspiring me every day. Several friends opted out or aged out of high-level corporate jobs. Others have been entrepreneurs from day one. Many friends have evolved through a series of careers, reinventing themselves several times. All these resourceful women are all bringing a lifetime of experience to bear, building ventures that range from lifestyle stores and travel businesses to personal transformation companies and lifestyle design groups. Others have branched out and become successful filmmakers, photographers and writers.

I wasn't always an entrepreneur. Growing up, the only place the word existed was in a French dictionary. Yes, there were people who ran their own businesses, but they were men. I learned about business around the family dinner table, where my father regaled us with stories about the in's and out's of TV syndication deals for an industry he helped create. I longed to develop TV shows for syndication too. But back then, the media business was a "Men's Club," with a well-barricaded "no entry zone" for women.

I got married, earned my Master's Degree in Childhood Education and became a teacher. While I loved working with kids, I wanted to expand my impact and reach a "bigger classroom." Thankfully, about that time, the women's revolution began in earnest. I burned my bra and began to imagine bigger career possibilities. Pulling some strings, I lined up interviews for jobs in the TV industry. Everyone I met said I was crazy to think I could become a producer. I was a teacher. And a woman.

I quickly learned and filed lesson # 1 for entrepreneurs. "Crazy is a Compliment." As Linda Rottenberg noted in her book of the same name, " if you plan to try something new, you should expect to be called nuts." Steeling myself to constant rejection, I eventually nailed an entry-level job as an assistant to an assistant and kept telling myself that if I hung in there long enough, I'd be able to put that dinner table education to good use.

Continuing to learn on the job, I worked with CBS developing a new show for women like me, who were struggling to figure out the next steps in their lives. The series struck a chord with our audience, but 120 episodes later, the series was cancelled and I struggled to learn entrepreneurial lesson # 2, "Failing doesn't mean you're a failure." Sure you can be disappointed. Heartbroken, even. But you have to get out of bed every day if you want to keep creating something new. In my case, I had my heart set on producing an empowering TV series for kids.

Connecting the dots, my teaching degree paved the way to producing educational shows at Children's Television Workshop. Then the stars aligned, a common experience for entrepreneurs. TV stations were mandated to produce two hours of educational programming weekly. Bringing together a group of super-talented writers, directors and production designers who were eager to strike out on their own too, I approached my old boss at CBS with a proposal for an invention game show for kids. The timing was right, the team was right, and what I was offering was right. So was the host, Ken Hakuta, aka DR FAD, who had just made $100 million marketing his own fad sensation. DR FAD and CBS had the motivation and the capital to co-fund the pilot. Our series caught fire and we were syndicated across the country and around the world. Our motto was "Don't just follow fads, create them," and we inspired thousands of kids to build working models of inventions so they could become part of our show. Teachers even assigned our series for homework!

To say I was thrilled about connecting the dots between my teaching degree and production experience to create the syndication success I'd dreamed of would be a major understatement. I became addicted to entrepreneurial endorphins.

Fast forward a few years to 1995. The internet business was building steam and following my passion, I ventured into new territory again. AOL was developing online communities and looking for ways to engage kids. My new business partner, Enid Karpeh and I, had significant relationships with kids, teachers, museums and education groups. With initial funding from AOL, we launched an online workshop for young inventors and entrepreneurs. Once again, the team, the dream and the timing coincided. As CEO of this pioneering business, we developed some of the earliest communities, social media and games for teens in partnership with companies like Nickelodeon, CBS and ABC. Then in 2001, the internet bubble burst, I adopted my daughter, and my 24/7 career no longer suited my life as a single mom.

Thankfully, I was able to segue to working from home. In between running businesses, I've produced and led a wide array of projects for companies, big and small. Sometimes I've had no idea where my next project was coming from and doubted my sanity, wishing I'd chosen a safer path. Overall, my life as a serial entrepreneur has enabled me to connect the dots of my creativity in ways that wouldn't have been possible with a single career choice.

Last year I created WHAT NOW WHAT NEXT with my business partner, Peggy Doyle, to help other women fulfill their dreams. Our collaborative network for women entrepreneurs 40+ has expanded exponentially, providing the community, connections, tools and expertise we all need to launch, grow and thrive. I hope you'll join us as we connect the dots together, supporting each other in taking our next steps. And I hope you'll share your own story about connecting the dots too!