Most current news coverage will remind you that dreams are crashing all around us. Titans are toppling, normal working people on the verge of “making it” are suddenly and indefinitely stalled and younger people just beginning to build their dreams are finding themselves shut out of the workforce.
And yet, in this moment when your progress may be ebbing backwards, it may also be the ideal time to take a long-term investor’s approach to moving forward with your bigger goals.
Here’s what I mean: Many of us have current to-do lists that include line items such as:
“A new car.”
“A new house.”
“A new job.”
Some or all of these may now be out of your near-term reach. Consider that now may be the time to redirect your attention to other long-standing life goals that may have taken a back seat in these recent years when short-term desires reigned. In other words, forget the house and the car, and instead consider your dreams: The goals that set your life plans in motion in the first place.
For some of you, your personal to-do list may have included things like:
“Become an astronaut.”
Or – even more ambitious – “Become a fire engine.”
Recently, I was able to tick off one of my personal to-dos. The circumstances of how it came about are unimportant. Suffice it to say, I found myself a guest at an intimate dinner party hosted by Martha Stewart at her home in Bedford/Katonah, N.Y.
Thinking back on it now, it seems unbelievable. Yet, there I was, hours before meeting the First Lady of, well, a lot of stuff I’ve tried many times to do or make, endeavoring to put together a hostess gift for the ultimate hostess. What could possibly be good enough? What could possibly be not far-too-much? What on earth do you present to a woman who really does have everything? And even if you could figure all that out, how on earth do you wrap a gift for a woman with multiple gift-wrapping rooms?
In my distress, I was reminded of an episode from Ellen DeGeneres’s long-gone sitcom, where the actress attempts her first-ever solo Thanksgiving dinner. For any of you who has ever tried this, you know it’s a daring feet of equal parts extraordinary courage and foolishness. I, myself, attempted my first turkey day meal ever for a crowd of 25 (including one vegan, for whom I made individual dishes, who sadly arrived and announced she wasn’t eating) a full ten years ago, using recipes found in an early special Thanksgiving issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Anyhoo, in the television version of this meal, where I wasn’t hosting, but Ellen was, just hours before the start of the meal, she learns that one of her friends will be bringing Martha Stewart as his date. That’s right. Martha Freaking Stewart. As expected, improvised palm frond centerpieces and hilarity ensued.
In the end I chose a gift out of my hostess’s own play book – but rather than homemade cookies or muffins, I carried in an exquisitely-wrapped box of “homemade” books from me and my colleagues at the literary agency where I work.
The truth is, I know many moves from the Martha playbook. There may be, in fact, very few of her moves I don’t know. As a young entrepreneur I studied her early ventures. Hers was the first S-1 filing I’d ever read, describing the company she planned to take public. I marveled at her moxie (prescience?) in starting a consumer brand aimed at exploiting one flavor of intellectual property by way of several established and bourgeoning revenue models. I modeled my early (and far more humble) ventures on her lead. Had I been presented with an opportunity to actually meet her during any of these early years, I surely would have been unable to carry on a dinner conversation (let alone decide what to wear). Now, years later, as what I can only describe as a more jaded version of myself, I acknowledged the opportunity with a far more relaxed sangfroid. Like, you know, no big deal, going to Martha Stewart’s house...
That all changed the moment our car drove through the gates and around her grounds.
I don’t care how you feel about Ms. Stewart or her company, I dare any woman (and many men) reading this post to contain her girlish delight if given the opportunity to be hosted by her. To step into her house. To muse around her kitchen, to note the crisp hand towels in the powder room, and to observe her choice of hand soap. Let’s face it: love her or hate her, Ms. Stewart has served as a trailblazer for female entrepreneurs everywhere. After leaving Barnard College, newly married and with a one-year old baby at home, she commuted into Manhattan from Westport, Conn., to work as a stock broker, all the while studying for her Series 7 General Securities licensing exam. She eventually started the mother-of-all catering businesses, which eventually lead her to publish a book on entertaining, and then a lifestyle magazine, produce a television show, and then finally, start Martha Stewart Omnimedia, a company with its hands in the television and satellite radio broadcasting, book and magazine publishing, merchandising and licensing pies, among others.
As young women looking to make our own way in the world, how could my cohort and I not admire her mix of girl and Girl Friday? Her melding of business and the domestic arts? Sure, we couldn’t do everything as Martha does; we weren’t expected to. You’re not as pious as your rabbi or priest, are you? (I’m not.) And I’m certainly not all the Martha I can be, either. Although I try to be a bit of the entrepreneur that Martha is, a little every day.
Like the rest of us, today Stewart and Martha Stewart Omnimedia find themselves in transition. They’ve parted ways with one retail partner, and stand poised to announce their plans for this profitable part of the business in the beginning of the next calendar year. Watching her and the closest members of her team chatting around her artfully set dinner table, I delighted in witnessing both the hostess and spokesperson. Oh, I’ll just admit it. I fell in girl-love with her all over again. And, I gotta tell you, I could go on about the cookies served alongside our dessert (made fresh on her television show earlier that day), but the real story is in her looks. She is so beautiful. Am I angling for an invite back to see the grounds in summer? Not really. What would I say to her, anyway? Now that I’m back to being a sycophant, I’m nearly guaranteed to be a crap conversationalist. I couldn’t bear the thought of embarrassing myself before an early adulthood hero after I’d (hopefully) managed to pull off a drool-free dinner the first time around.
As we said our goodbyes, Martha asked me to step through the kitchen with her – she had a gift for me. I blinked. Could this be happening? Had I fallen asleep and into a fantasy from my mid-twenties?
It turned out no: Ms. Stewart presented me with copy of her latest cookbook, Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, inscribed to me, with my crazy name spelled properly and everything. Now I was speechless. Even though I’m in the book business and am able to get all the free books I want, I had to admit that I’d run out and paid retail for the book I was holding. Like a schoolgirl, I clutched the book to my chest and walked to the car, still blinking.
Bottom line: whether I realized it beforehand or not, meeting Martha Stewart – never mind having dinner at her house or the outrageous bonus gift of the cookbook – was on my personal “to-do” list, a list of milestones and dreams that include the brief time I spent living abroad, my time living in New York, penning my first book, a Caribbean sailing trip, starting the company I now run and marrying a guy I’m really in love with. If it hadn’t been for this coincidence of hospitality, I wouldn’t have this sense that I did this “big” thing of meeting a personal business hero and overachiever’s icon. Sure, it would have felt sweeter ten years ago, but even now it feels like getting that job I’ve always wanted. It’s validating. It provides perspective. And it helps me set new goals for my “to-do” list.
Have you got one of these lists? I recently insisted that a younger colleague make one. As investors and professionals, as each of us struggle to redefine our near-term goals at a time when “flat is the new up,” it’s more important than ever to return to our long-term “to-do” lists, to make sure we’re still ticking off those line items and marking those moments that validate us and provide us with perspective. And maybe even make our childhood dreams come true.