Wendy Lea: Advice you're given isn't always advice you should take

October 2018

Jay Murdock

By any standard, Wendy Lea is a successful business leader and entrepreneur. But once upon a time, the Techstars board member and former Cintrifuse CEO spent four years and a million dollars of her own money on an idea that ended up generating no financial return on her investment.

Lea said that didn’t mean it was a total loss. “You don’t always get what you deserve, and that’s when you have to suck it up and move on. You package up that learning and experience and you move on from there,” she explained.

Lea and a panel of speakers talked about the “Advice Not Taken” to a packed house at Taylor Auditorium as part of Women in Entrepreneurship Week and Advancing Women in Entrepreneurship. Lea focused her part of the talk on seven principles and perspectives she was given by her parents, mentors, and fellow business people that “just didn’t turn out to be true.”

The first was that power equals fame, fortune, control, and authority. “Power is nothing more than influence, and it is very subtle. The more subtle power is, the more awesome it is, the more it distributes itself,” Lea explained. “You need to develop your own sense of power, and it's kind of not what you might think.”

Second on the list was “Respect authority.” “Not everyone, just because of their title, their position, or their profession, deserves to be respected,” Lea said. “Respect has to do with how someone thinks, how they apply their knowledge, how they orient their knowledge. Don’t just give away respect.”

The idea that discipline and hard work will pay off was another point on Lea’s list. “You can work really hard at something and be very disciplined, and it still can fail. So you have to think through the definition of ‘it not working out.’ Failure is painful, but it doesn’t kill you.”

Lea said the fourth piece of advice, to avoid risk and be careful, came from her own father. “Risk is an opportunity to experiment and explore. You should be embracing risk, in my humble opinion,” she pointed out. “That’s what entrepreneurially-minded folks do. They define risk on their own sense of self and their own passion.”

The idea that institutions and big organizations equal job security may have been true once, Lea said, but no longer. “They cannot make a commitment for security for you. You’re the only person that can make that commitment to yourself -- to find colleagues, places and professions that bring you a sense of security.”

“Another thing you may be thinking, or that you may have been told, is that you’re going to get what you deserve. You do well, you come in early, you work hard, and you’re going to get what you deserve. Doesn’t always work out that way,” Lea said, noting her previous failed million-dollar investment. “Am I bad because I got nothing from that? No. What I did get was a lot of learning and a lot of experience. And I trade on that learning and knowledge all the time.”

The last bit of advice Lea touched on was the notion of needing to be recognized for your achievements. “You have to learn to give yourself a pat on the back. You have to recognize your worth, your passion. You have to find a way to give yourself what is required so you can continue to achieve,” she remarked. “If you wait for others to give you that proclamation, I think you’ll play small, become a little bit insecure.”

A panel of female founders -- Stephanie Silverman, Summer Crenshaw, Manu Brune, and Cami Cicero -- also talked about advice they were given, but did not heed. Crenshaw, COO, CMO & Co-Founder at tilr, told the students, “Don’t play by the mold. There shouldn’t be a mold. There isn’t a specific operator that looks like the ‘perfect person.’ You don’t have to be a man, woman, old, young -- there’s no perfect person.”

Silverman, publisher of Your Teen Media, said she and her partner were often told, “’There’s one way to do this, and this is how you’re going to do it.’ And we knew it wasn’t the right thing for us. We stayed true to that, and eventually stopped beating ourselves up about it.”

Cicero, a Miami sophomore, has her own clothing and jewelry company, CamiSoulCo, despite suggestions that she should wait. "I'm not telling you to dive into the deep end if you don't know how to swim," she said. "But we aren't stupid -- we're here in college. We're all taking classes that teach us very well. So don't be afraid, either. Believe in yourself."

Lea encouraged the students to sharpen their instincts with intellect, listen to themselves to develop needed self-respect, and to realize that there is no “perfect time” to start their journey. “Be true to that burning desire you have to put skill and knowledge to work. It may not work, you may not get what you deserve, but you'll get experience, and I would say experience is just as important as education,” she said. “There is no typical. The boundaries are the ones you create.”

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Wendy Lea headshot Wendy Lea talks in Taylor Auditorium FSB students listen to Wendy Lea in Taylor Auditorium Wendy Lea and panelists Panelist speaking Wendy Lea talks with students after the event