Eight years ago I was living my dream. I was a Soldier in the U.S. Army, traveling the world supporting global missions and bridging the gap between the military and American People through music. But when I was severely injured while preparing for deployment, everything changed.
What was supposed to be a decades-long career of service ended in an instant. Not only was my dream cut short, but I now faced life as a disabled person in a wildly inaccessible world. What I used to take for granted was now difficult or impossible. And support was limited.
Through my experiences, it became my mission to help make the world more accessible for disabled professionals like myself. I went back to school, developed my skills, and eventually started my business. During my journey to entrepreneurship I faced many of the same learning curves and challenges that most of us face when just starting out: finding a niche, messaging and marketing, attracting clients, streamlining the backend, etc.
Like many budding entrepreneurs I searched for knowledge and support in getting the foundations of my business set. I worked with a coach or two, read everything I could get my hands on, and went through a lot of trial and error. But through it all, it was my life as a disabled veteran that taught me the most and helped me grow. Here are the three biggest lessons I learned about entrepreneurship from life as a disabled veteran...
1. Mission Matters
There's a saying in the military that "mission comes first". It's the one thing that drives every decision, action, and plan. It's what makes the military such an adaptive, impactful force. More than that, the mission is what strengthens service members' sense of unity and direction. The same is true for running a small business. With a strong mission, a business has a clear vision for itself. It carves out a place to serve and connect with the community, and empowers every system from branding to operations.
For me, the mantra of mission became an empowering tool during a time of uncertainty and transition. It helped me get clear on my goals, develop strategies quickly, and use them to make meaningful impact. I often say that accessibility didn't become my mission until it was my life. And that remains true. But without already deeply understanding the power of mission-mindedness I'm not sure I would have landed so firmly.
2. The Power of Community
After my accident, I struggled to find my place in the world. Embracing my identity as a disabled veteran and accepting my new needs was difficult. I spent the better part of two years unsure of who I could be if not a Soldier. It was the people I met along the way that allowed me to not only survive the most trying period of my life but to thrive. I found solace in the stories of others who had similar struggles and knowing I wasn't alone. And they gave me strength and confidence to forge my own path. Likewise, the power of entrepreneurship is in the human connections it builds. I've met some of the most diverse, creative, and humbling people since starting my business. Entrepreneurship has even brought me some of my best friends. Each one teaches me something about myself that makes me better. We challenge one another, and ultimately grow.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from becoming a disabled veteran is flexibility. Coming from the military, it was a somewhat familiar concept already. "Hurry up and wait" because being prepared is better than behind and "stay on your toes" because the plan will inevitably change 12+ times became my way of life. But adjusting to a body I could no longer trust took flexibility to a new level. My disabilities forced me to reassess every part of daily life I once took for granted. Going to the grocery store, keeping a steady schedule, and being in crowds now take extra preparation. Even walking and standing up alone are not always guarantees. But with flexibility I'm able to stay prepared and adjust when necessary. And still live a life I love. The same is true for entrepreneurship. Whether I'm updating my backend, refreshing offers, or shifting my message to connect with an evolving community, flexibility is what determines my success. It's what allows me to scrap something I love because it benefits my clients and keep a creative energy going that never lets me get bored. And flexibility is the foundation of my ability to connect with others, build a thriving community, and fulfill my mission time and time again.