From Tech CEO to Struggling Mom and Back Again…Lessons in Resilience

Janis Collins, co-founder of The Refinery, explores resilience, and coming back from failure with Jenny Lawton, Techstars. The conversation is part of a series, “Finding Your Leadership Sweet Spot,” and was hosted at the Murtha Cullina Law Lab at District New Haven.

Jenny’s story is powerful and inspiring. An early tech entrepreneur, she grew her startup to become one of Inc.’s 500 fastest growing companies in 1998. When she sold her company a few years later, she had money in the bank and a home in CT, where she and her husband raised their two sons. Then 9/11 hit, and like many others, Jenny wanted a change from the fast pace world of startups and investing.

Jenny purchased a bookstore business in Greenwich, CT and learned very quickly that running a small business was much harder than anything she had ever done before, and nothing like the tech world she had come from.

Financial pressures forced her to sell the business. And behind the scenes, her personal life was also unraveling. Suddenly, Jenny found herself with a failed marriage, a struggling teenager, huge amounts of debt, and no money in the bank.

At this pivotal point in her life, Jenny didn’t have many options — she was the sole provider in her family. She had to find a job to pay the bills and pay off the debt. She took jobs that weren’t quite right (operations for a solar panel company), until eventually, she became the CEO of another tech company.

How did she come back?

The 4 most important lessons we learn from Jenny on resilience are:

First, and most importantly, Jenny believed that it would be OK. “As long as nothing horrible has happened to you physically or emotionally, you will be ok. You may have many very uncomfortable moments, but you are OK.”

Second, Jenny asked for help. “The worst that can happen when you ask for help, is that they can say no. The best that can happen, is that they will help you find a job, a new role, funding, etc. Your network is one of your most powerful assets and be sure to maintain and nurture it even while you are down.”

Third, Jenny did not let the situation define her. You define you. You are still who you are, and this failure/adversity is not your destiny. Find the time to reflect, take care of yourself, become more self-aware, and define your story in a way that is honest, and powerful.

Fourth, Jenny learned the power of taking time to pause. “Nothing is going to change overnight, sometimes decisions just need to be slept on. And, put your phone and computer away, and spend time with your family.”

These are four simple guides for daily life that can help you get through the worst of times.

Listen to the interview with Jenny on the Podcast. Read the blog from our conversation with Fintech leader, Sarah Biller, Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste. Signup for The Refinery’s newsletter to find out when and where our next conversation in leadership will occur.