This Is Not What I Expected; Musings of an Unlikely Entrepreneur Celebrating the 15th Birthday of Her Company

woman crossroadsFifteen years ago in March 2003, I founded Inspired Financial from a home office (in my basement, no less) with only my faithful canine companion, Rusty, on my “team.” I had left the cocoon of a secure job with The Vanguard Group to strike out on my own because I thought I could make a greater difference helping individuals with their personal financial planning than I was as a Relationship Manager helping large corporations with their 401(k) plans and other retirement benefits. I also thought that financial planning was the coolest profession on the planet. I’ve got much more to say on that subject here.

The confluence of Women’s History Month and the 15th birthday of Inspired Financial offered an opportunity for me to pause and reflect on my path to this moment and consider the road ahead. I never dreamed of owning my own business but rather, had planned to be a corporate superstar. Being an entrepreneur requires bravery I didn’t think I had and being a corporate superstar requires hard work and (near-) perfection which I thought I could deliver in spades (pardon my hubris; these were just my thoughts, you know, and weren’t edited for public consumption at the time I thought them).* In my naivete, I didn’t realize that hard work and personal excellence would not overcome the messiness of life and were not suited for embracing the unexpected opportunities that I encountered. Divorces and small business start-ups don’t fit neatly into the hard work and near-perfection paradigm.

The combination of messiness and opportunity forced me to find courage I didn’t know I had to leave the Air Force and end up in the financial services industry. To start my own financial planning practice instead of remaining at The Vanguard Group (I mean, who does that?!?). To buy another financial planning practice across the country and move to California without ever having lived there. To focus the business on serving women in transition (predominantly widows and divorcees, initially) rather than trying to be everything to everyone. And, the scariest, to hire team members who are smarter than I am and might not think I’m perfect, after all (because Rusty never told me otherwise). I sought good counsel and prayed a lot in each of these moments but the final deep-breath, step-out moment required an act of bravery I would have doubted was possible for me.

It’s been quite a journey these past 15 years and through it all, I discovered that hard work and personal excellence are important and I was (mostly) right when I thought I could deliver on them. More notably, I also discovered that courage to step out and potentially make a mistake was the quality that was going to enable me to change the world one client at a time.

Which brings me to Women’s History Month and to honor the amazing women who paved the way for me to do the work I do, in the nation in which I do it. It’s not perfect (whoa nelly! the messiness) but it’s better for women than it’s ever been and I salute the women on whose shoulders I stand.

My final thought is that looking ahead, it’s essential that I—and every woman—seek and embrace every opportunity we have to encourage sisters who may not feel they’re brave. We can help them gain confidence in their worth, clarity on their path and most importantly, remind them that they’re stronger than they could ever imagine. From here, the view and the opportunities are limitless!

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” –Winston Churchill (taped to my computer monitor)

* For more on this idea of bravery vs. perfection in girls and women, check out this terrific TED talk by Reshma Saujani.

Evelyn Zohlen on Linkedin
Evelyn Zohlen
“My own life-changing transition inspired me to start Inspired Financial so that I could help other women and their families navigate their difficult life transitions and emerge confident, financially secure and empowered to deal with future life events.”

14 Comments

David

Congratulations Evelyn….but dont forget ….you do a great job for us men too. ….and we appreciate you.

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tom hamman

What a wonderful journey you have had, and the bravery exhibited is awe inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing this personal story
By the by, the picture of the lady standing at a crossroad reminds me of a Yogi Berra quote: “when you come to a crossroad, take it”.

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Evelyn Zohlen

Thanks, Tom! Over these many years of working as a financial planner, I’ve learned (to quote Yogi Berra, again) that, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” and I’m looking forward to the next fifteen years!

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Tony Ceballos

I am gratefull that you had the courage to follow your dream and that the company you bought was ours. We were on the brink of change as death and age were happening in our company, not knowing where we would turn when we needed to change. You saved us having to experience that process by taking on our investments and continuing to allow us to live as we were accoustomed doing, no major changes required. Thank you for living your dream. Looking forward to the next fifteen years.

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Richard Ward

Congratulations Evelyn. You are an inspiration to all of us in the business as well as for all of us who care about making our community better. Wishing you the best for another great 15 years (at least)!

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David Speicher

Congratulations, Z! I am boundlessly happy for you. You are the kind of woman I show my daughters as an example of courage, brains, intellect and emotional intelligence. You recognized other women who have paved the way for you; remember that you are doing a wonderful job paving if for the next generation!

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Evelyn Zohlen

Thank you, David! We’re making great progress and I can’t wait to see where your girls take us in the future.

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Michelle Highberg

So lovely to read your incredible story of courage. It means the world to me reminding my to focus on personal excellence and hard work–no matter what. Every day is a gift for each of us to use our talents to best impact society. I especially embrace and appreciate synergy when working with other dedicated women. Hope you have a beautiful day, Evelyn.

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