By Stephanie Mitchell Hughes

The Valley Experience for Entrepreneurs and Business Owners

Life is rarely one mountain top experience after another. Over the course of my life I have experienced the mountain top more than a few times. However, I have spent many more seasons lodged between mountains immersed in a valley experiences.  

What is a valley experience? A valley experience is a transient period of adversity often sparked by a crisis or life shift. It is often a catalyst for growth and progress. Within the valley experience are the lessons that I must learn to navigate my next chapter. Regardless of how long or difficult, the valley experience always holds emotional space for my healing, restoration, and redemption.  

Admittedly, I have not always been introspective about or even receptive to the valley experience. In fact, for many years I greeted the valley experience face down in a full blown toddler temper tantrum complete with kicking legs, flailing arms, uncontrolled wailing, and thumbsucking. Then in February 2006 I began a transformative journey that completely changed me and how I embraced valley experiences.

In February 2006, I started over with two children, two months of outstanding mortgage payments, an empty refrigerator, and $120.00. My marriage ended and I found myself traveling the long cracked path towards divorce. As part of this seismic life shift, I started parenting alone without support. This is not what I signed up for.  I grew up in a two parent household and never wanted for anything. I felt ill-equipped to properly raise my children entirely on my own. This same sea changing life shift revealed an insidious depression that had been eating me alive for nearly all of my fourteen year marriage. For the first time I understood that I had taken up residence in the valley.

At the beginning of each year following 2006, I thought that my career and household would magically fall into place. I had the educational credentials and professional background to provide for my children. Year after year I tried to push my household out of the valley. Despite my best efforts, I could not gain the traction needed to push us up and out.  Instead, I spent each year boomeranging around the valley only to return to where I started the previous January. The boomerang’s sting increased in intensity each time it returned. Finally in January 2013, I had an epiphany. I would not leave the valley until I learned what my sea changing life shift was sent to teach me. My classroom was the challenging terrain of the valley experience.

Valley experiences have force me to face hard truths about myself. It humbles me. The valley experience reminds me to extend grace, compassion, kindness, and forbearance. It builds the resilience that I use to bounce back from adversity.  Because of my experience in the valley, there are a few things that I know for sure. First, I must fully embrace the valley in order to fully experience the mountain top. Second, I cannot avoid or gloss over the valley experience because the boomerang will be waiting for me at every turn.

Now, you may wonder what a valley experience holds for business owners and entrepreneurs. Whether personally or professionally, you are beginning, currently in, or emerging from a valley experience. As a business owner, your valley experience may be precipitated by decreased revenue or market share, larger economic crises, or other factors beyond your control. Ignoring your valley experience could adversely impact your company. What you ignore or refuse to address in the valley will fester and manifest in every area including your professional life. Forward is the only way out of the valley experience.  As an experienced navigator, I rely upon the following during my journey through the valley:

  1.   Strengthen problem solving skills.
  2.   Flexibility while navigating change.
  3.   Refuse to be ruled by my emotions.
  4.   Ask for help.
  5.   Remain mindfully present.
  6.   Let go of Plan A and embrace Plan B.
  7.   Surrender to the process.
  8.   Do the work.
  9.   Walk out the path as it unfolds.
  10. Develop a strong professional and social network.

Stephanie Mitchell Hughes| CEO | |