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Participants enjoyed a blend of automotive insights and motivational wisdom during the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) event. Before NADA, attendees at the Women Driving Auto Retail conference experienced a captivating presentation by the renowned social psychologist Amy Cuddy. Cuddy, known for her groundbreaking research on body language and its impact on confidence and influence, brought her unique perspective to the automotive realm. Her message - quite literally is to make yourself bigger, not smaller. Check out her TedTalk viewed 70M times to see for yourself (if you’re not already one of the 70M!). 

I was excited to return to NADA after a small break and was encouraged by the strides made in diversity and inclusion. In a nod to the obvious, AI made its presence known through numerous solutions—dot AI was practically everywhere. Entrepreneurs abounded. It was awesome to see individuals graduating to mainstage booths after years of grassroots efforts. New entrepreneurs were circulating and seeding the next idea poised for growth.

This NADA stood out for me as I had the opportunity to engage with colleagues who were first-time attendees (rookies). Given the common occurrence of individuals staying in the auto industry or returning after a hiatus, observing the amazement of first-timers was genuinely fun.

While NADA provides a platform for the latest industry trends, attendees were inspired to approach challenges with bold, rookie-like energy, unlocking untapped potential in automotive dealerships. The workshop, “How to sell cars on TikTok” drew large crowds, full of industry veterans, clearly there to learn about reaching rookie car buyers.  Auto veterans realizing they have much to learn about rookie car buyers is like seasoned chefs realizing they've been missing out on the magic of microwave popcorn all these years. Learning from rookies may be as surprising and unexpected as experienced chefs discovering a simple convenience after years of using elaborate methods. The best of the best never ceases to learn and expand, as highlighted in the TedTalk I mentioned. The idea is that growth makes you big; in this case, bigger translates to better.

Please message me if we didn’t connect; I’d love to hear from you. 

I’m curious what your takeaways were; DM or comment to share!

What’s next?

In a year that has been all about transition, this question has been top of mind for so many of us. What’s next for our jobs? What’s next for our kids? What’s next for ourselves?

It’s the kind of question that can cause all kinds of confusion and pressure. Asking ourselves “What’s next?” involves getting clear on what we want, analyzing what might be standing in our way and then crafting a plan to push through the barriers. None of that is easy. But the process presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to do something bigger, more exciting and more meaningful in the next chapter of our lives.

The trick is, you have to lean into the question. You have to make sure you don’t let anyone else answer it on your behalf. And you have to be willing to reshape what’s next over and over again.

I’m writing this because “What’s next?” has been on my mind for the past two years. I spent two decades in the automotive industry, and in that part of my career, each opportunity seemed to feed naturally into the next. Then, in 2018, the company I helped found was acquired by a company I’d already worked for. I could have stayed, but when a colleague asked me what I wanted to focus on, I was faced with the reality that I really didn’t want to continue on this particular path.

I had to ask myself, “What’s next?”

There were a few things I knew to be true: I knew I wanted to work with companies where there was sufficient capital, good market timing and a solid team. I also knew I wanted to work with brilliant entrepreneurs — people who were doing and thinking about things that weren’t anywhere on my radar.

There were also quite a few unknowns: How did I want to work with these brilliant minds and high-growth companies? Where could I plug in and make a difference? And what would my ideal working relationship look like?

So I started talking to people. I inserted myself into Charlotte’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. I attended events (pre-COVID). I sat on panels. I became a mentor. I started consulting, and I thought I’d found my answer to what was next. Consulting would put me in the room with brilliant entrepreneurs doing groundbreaking things. It would give me an opportunity to leverage my experience and expertise to help them grow, fast. And yet something told me I still hadn’t found it.

This is an important part of the process of defining next steps: It’s not enough to think in isolation and wait for opportunities to come your way. Part of figuring out what comes next is figuring out what you want to do, and that’s trial and error. It doesn’t matter how senior you are in your career. The discovery is always in the doing.

Eventually, doing the work brought me to my answer. I found what would come next.

A few months back, I took on a new client, a Silicon Valley tech startup called Fyusion. The company applies 3D computer vision and machine learning expertise to make images as intelligent as they are beautiful, and it checks all the boxes. It’s well-capitalized. The market timing is superb. There is a strong team in place, and it is indeed led by brilliant entrepreneurs. As I began working with company leadership, I saw them begin to orient and commit to the work I was recommending. And I realized, this was work I wanted to commit to, as well.

When it became clear to me, I made it clear to them: If they were interested in adding me as a full-time resource, I was ready and willing. I’m now proud to announce I am the senior director of product delivery at Fyusion.

I believe in this company, and I believe in my ability to add value in my role. It’s the right fit at the right time. But the past two years have also reminded me that I’m not truly happy if all I do is work. I’ve donated a lot of time to startups and women-led businesses to help the next generation of entrepreneurs in this community, and I don’t want that work to stop, even as I take on a full-time role.

To that end, I am building an organization that will allow me to donate my time, experience and resources to support the work of others. I plan to continue mentoring startups in Charlotte and beyond, and I’m looking for new ways to lift up female entrepreneurs and give them the support I didn’t have when I was starting out. If I can be even the smallest stepping stone in someone’s success, I want to do that.

I know it is a luxury and a privilege to be thoughtful in the work you choose to pursue. Not everyone has that chance, particularly in the world we live in now. But I also know there are many of us who have the opportunity to shape what’s next but don’t take it. This is not about going off the grid or finding yourself. This is about being intentional about what’s next so you can have the biggest impact on the world around you.

I’m excited about this next chapter of my career. I’m excited about my commitment to keep giving back. At the same time, I haven’t stopped thinking about what’s next. You shouldn’t, either.

Last weeks announcement of The Wing, a network and community space for women, closing its doors made my heart hurt. I don't know the founders, but I know the feeling. I ache for what they are going through. What so many of you are going through.

The founders of The Wing will be ok, their eventual bounce bigger than the drop, they just may not know it yet. You may not know it yet.

For many founders, a wondering day dream turned actual business is now a present nightmare. Perhaps there is momentary solace in knowing this situation is not necessarily corned on what you 'did or didn't do' to make your company thrive. Rather, the entire world is hurting and now your company is too. This knowing may provide temporary assuagement only to dissipate quickly in the reality of letting go something you've loved so much.

Coming to terms with the reality that things are not turning out as they could in other, "normal" times is a process. To the founders that are walking through the stress of this new reality, where the concern has manifested from sleepless nights to an entire body ache of dread, it will be ok. I promise you, there is a rebound after this.

I can still tell you where I was sitting when the, 'it will be ok' part hit me following a period of intense unknowing after I had to close a company I poured myself into. One month I was leading a thriving business and developing technology to support our national presence only to abruptly undergo an event that led to a change of course and our exit. I was reeling from the wind down, exhausted. I was able to move forward by allowing myself to know that if I had come so far, built something that people loved so much once, I could do it again. It may be different and it hurts, but the story wasn't over. I accepted that the learnings would make me a more compassionate leader and that it would all be worth it some day, for the time being however, this chapter was simply wrapping up with a much, much different ending than what we saw coming.

So know this - you will be ok. This event does not define you. What you do out of it will. To The Wing founders, you have already spoken immeasurably with the effort taken to care for your employees in this transition. You are still badasses. Take a breath, take some rest, then get going again. Not out of fear, but out of new opportunity. The world needs what you've got and we'll be excited to consume your next chapter.

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