As a digital entrepreneur, finding a support system was so much harder than I thought it would be. Don't get me wrong- I've met tons of amazing people online since I've started, and I've loved watching them all evolve and grow their businesses.
But finding a local support system has been another story.
I took my SEO & digital marketing business full time in 2012. I had just moved to the panhandle of Florida and didn't know a soul there. I tried researching local entrepreneur groups, contacted a few local bloggers, went to a Meetup event... but nothing really panned out.
So a few years later when I moved to Pittsburgh, I was excited to try again. During a late night Google session, I came across Emily Leveson. I saw she was co-founder of a local female entrepreneur group and had also attended The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, so I contacted her immediately. I eventually signed up for the Propelle Rock It! Group and am so thankful I did.
I love having a local support system. As much as I love the "digital nomad" lifestyle and have strong introvert tendencies, it can still get lonely!
I'm so excited to share today's interview with you. Emily and Kate are the founders of Propelle and are both doing amazing things (but I'll let them fill you in!). They touch on so many of the same ups and downs we all go through as entrepreneurs, from losing clients and dealing with rejection to staying inspired and juggling a variety of exciting projects.
Let’s dig in!
P.S. Speaking of entrepreneurs, I have a special announcement at the end of this post!
At what point did you know you wanted to follow this career path? How did you know starting a consulting business was the right direction?
I’m pretty sure that realization didn’t happen until I was in the thick of it. As a kid, I always knew that I wanted to help people, I just thought it would be through counseling and therapy. Entrepreneurship was a happy accident, one that started through boredom at work during a particularly slow period and continued throughout every turn. I honestly just kept following my excitement and it has led me to a really wonderful place.
When it comes to Propelle, Kate and I talk a lot about knowing when we’re on the right path. For us, it just feels easy. When we begin to struggle, question ourselves, or come across issue after issue, that’s when we know it’s time to take a step back and stop pushing.
For me, that showed up in my health (stress, food sensitivities, migraines) and in my mood. When things weren’t right, I wasn’t healthy. I’ve learned to trust that and to take a look at where my time and energy are going. Because my health and my happiness are on the line.
I felt different than many of my peers who had a set career path, as most of them were pursuing medicine or teaching. I had so many things I wanted to try and the freedom and flexibility that comes with being an entrepreneur has always been attractive to me.
When I started working with Emily, it was so exciting to collaborate with someone else who had similar dreams and goals! It has been a great joy to bring other Pittsburgh women entrepreneurs together.
What are the biggest struggles you've faced while trying to achieve your dreams?
Oh, man. I don’t know about the biggest struggles overall, but I can talk about my current struggles! And those would be knowing when to let go and trusting in the process.
I’m a pusher and a doer (which does have its perks), meaning that I’m constantly working to make things happen. I’m also a recovering perfectionist and have a really hard time sitting back and letting other people step up and do the work. That has definitely led to feelings of resentment and frustration and been the cause of a serious burn out because I’m doing all the things.
Of course, it’s all self-imposed, so I’m working hard to take a step back, let things unfold slowly, and allowing others to step up and take charge. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s also been incredibly enlightening.
One of my bigger struggles is focus. I get excited about lots of possibilities, but then I wake up and realize I have 5 projects going on at once. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can sometimes slow progress down.
Since time blocking my days for specific projects, this challenge has become a lot less of a hindrance.
Owning your own business can be tough on the body and mind, between long days, instability and really putting yourself out there to reach your goals. How do you stay healthy? Do you have any rituals that help you stay centered?
This has been a top priority for me this year, as I’ve been focusing on bringing in more joy and happiness into my life. For me, it begins with self-care and really focusing on filling my cup up first. A few ways that has shown itself so far: daily yoga, regular meditation, painting, reading more books, menu planning, and even starting a podcast to keep myself honest!
I’ve found Tarot and journaling prompts especially helpful this year. I also have a very supportive group of friends I meet with monthly to support one another and chat about different business/life-related topics. Creative outlets are also very important to me. I was recently diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes, and I’ve been having fun getting creative with healthy food and keeping a food journal at @gdmealplan on Instagram.
Speaking of putting yourself out there, overcoming rejection is a big part of chasing dreams. How do you bounce back?
First, I let myself feel whatever it is I’m feeling. Angry, frustrated, sad … they are all valid, and the more I try to suppress them, the bigger they tend to become.
Second, I try to see rejection as an opportunity for growth. What was it about the situation that didn’t work out? Was it something I did or said? Was it the marketing? Was it the timing? Was it self-sabotage? Was there something bigger at play here? That can really take the pressure off of myself and allow me to start thinking differently about the situation.
Like Emily, I give myself permission to have a good cry and maybe curl up into the fetal position for a while. (This happened recently when we lost a client that I am fond of and respect very much.) But with this specific rejection—and all other changes I am working through—my goal is to embody my word of the year, release.
I know that when our paths are meant to cross again it will happen. I can’t control when someone is ready to work with us, all I can do is continue to put out my best work and trust it will attract those who are in need of what we have to offer.
What do you do when you're having an off day—maybe feeling down, struggling with self-doubt, or just unmotivated?
I stop pushing and go do something. I talk to my mom, I spend time with friends, I go to Phipps (a local botanical garden in Pittsburgh), I watch TEDTalks to feel inspired, I pull out my watercolors, I play with my daughter, I get in the kitchen and make something, I do a foot soak with Epsom Salts, I watch really crappy television or movies… I pretty much do anything BUT work.
I’ve also begun to notice that I feel super off when I’ve missed meditation or pushed yoga to the end of my day instead of doing it first thing. So if that’s the culprit, I put a plan in place for the following day.
Since experiencing the major life change of pregnancy, I’ve definitely had more than a few off days this year! Usually what I really need the most is a nap.
I’ve also been making a point to be kind to myself and not push so hard. Maybe it’s easier to do this when going through pregnancy, but it’s something I hope to continue after these 9 months.
What is one misconception people have about you and/or your profession?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions people have about Propelle is that we’re simply a networking organization. Yes, networking events played a large role in Propelle’s infancy, but we have always focused more on creating a supportive and collaborative community than any one particular style of event.
As a positive and enthusiastic person who doesn’t swear a whole lot, I think some people get a Pollyanna vibe from me. If you know me well, you know that’s not always the case.
What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?
It just means something wasn’t right about what you were doing. Perhaps it was the timing, the method, or the people you chose to work with or support.
Whatever the case, understanding the WHY behind your actions can lead to profound changes in your life and work.
Ask yourself why it hasn’t worked for you, why you felt like walking away was the best (or only) option, and why letting go will actually help you get where you want to go.
There are times when everything clicks and the hustle/energy is high, and then there are times that seem to make zero sense. Both are valuable and both have things to teach if I/we are mindful during the process.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a path similar to what you have?
The things that interest you now may not interest you 1, 5, or 10 years from now and that’s okay. What matters is that you stay true to yourself and what you value.
Also, take care of yourself. YOU are your business, which means if anything happens to you, your business is impacted 1,000%.
Follow your curiosity and always make time to be proactive and create.
You will not grow if you sit back and simply react to everything.
When do you feel the most inspired, alive and the most like YOU?
When I’m talking with other people, when I’m reading a great book, when I’m surrounding by amazing art, when I’m driving in my car on a warm, sunny day with the windows down and great music blaring in the background, when my daughter and I get lost in a craft, when I’m cooking, when I’m laughing…
When I’m on a boat! I love the water. I also love hosting dinner parties and cooking for my friends. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the many face-melting live music concerts I’ve been honored to attend. I saw Stevie Nicks for the second time this spring. It was a spiritual experience!
What people, books, music, etc. inspire you?
I feel like this is a cop-out answer, but the truth is, everything has the potential to inspire me.
I will say that the things that are currently inspiring me are: women. From the women in my life (my daughter, my mother, my sister-in-law, Kate), to the women we work with in the Propelle community to the women who are creating change in this world. I really want to soak in their energy and power and knowledge and harness it somehow.
I find inspiration from people who have overcome a really difficult challenge. Whether it be health or other circumstances. The movie “Joy” comes to mind. I love her determination and grit. It’s the perfect movie for any person who has a dream of starting their own business or launching a product.
Describe your favorite moment or accomplishment in your career so far.
I’m not sure this is career related, per se, but taking on and finishing a #100daysofblogging challenge was exhilarating. I honestly didn’t think I had it in me to do something for that long, let alone writing and blogging, so being able to stick with it was life-changing for me. It has led me to a new challenge around daily yoga, which I’m thinking will extend (way) past the 100-day mark and become a daily ritual in my life. (More information about the #100daysproject can be found here: https://thegreatdiscontent.com/100days)
Having the opportunity to declare February 29, 2016, as Propelle Leap Day at a Pittsburgh City Council meeting. I have never been more proud/nervous to give a speech, but it was such a joy to stand amongst and honor a group of women who work really, really hard to make Pittsburgh a better place.
What’s the most exciting thing going on in your life right now?
That feels like such a loaded question! Propelle-wise, we have an amazing group of women going through our Mastermind. We’ve been testing out a new structure and are absolutely loving it.
Personally, I’m really excited about the Nourish + Flourish Podcast and the energy it has behind it. I know it’s going to lead me in some really cool directions that I will be able to apply to all areas of my life.
At Propelle, it has been exhilarating to be evolving during our 5th year. We are starting to get in create mode again and I’m excited to see where this next leg of our journey will lead us.
Personally, experiencing pregnancy and feeling tiny baby kicks has been the most mysterious and wonderful gift. I am looking forward to meeting my daughter, and I can’t wait to learn where and how she finds delight and inspiration.
About Emily Levenson & Kate Stoltzfus
Emily Levenson is a therapist turned serial entrepreneur, podcaster, toddler mama, meditation encourager, Pittsburgh enthusiast, and Propelle Co-Pilot. She spends a lot of time in the kitchen dancing with her three-year-old, recently started a podcast on the topic of health and wellness, and challenged herself to do yoga every single day for a year.
Emily has been lucky enough to have her work featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Pittsburgh Business Times, NEXTPittsburgh, and on WTAE-TV.
Kate Stoltzfus helps women entrepreneurs excel through courageous connection.
In her ideal world, dinner parties would outnumber meals in front of screens, handwritten notes would be just as common as a tweet, and heartfelt conversations would happen every day. One client described her insights as, “a pitch-perfect blend of intuitive knowing, warm hospitality, and willingness to challenge.”
As a connection enthusiast, she’s been featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, WTAE-TV, and Pop City. She was recently honored as a 40 Under 40 recipient from Pittsburgh Magazine.
When she’s not connecting up a storm, you can find her hosting clothing swaps, listening to vintage vinyl, taking road trips with her husband Nik, and preparing for the arrival of her baby girl.
This interview is part of the Chasing Dreams interview series. I’ve interviewed a variety of entrepreneurs and small business owners who have chosen a different path in life in order to go after his or her dream career. Have an entrepreneur in mind you’d like to learn more about? Let me know!
P.S. My special announcement?