For the Babes Who Haven’t Found Their Hustle
Written by Sandy Russo // Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
From the moment my older sister was born, she knew exactly what she wanted to be. She sprang forth from the womb with this unwavering dedication and purpose to be a teacher, and to positively impact the lives of children, no matter what stood in her way. Our parents complained she was “too smart to become a teacher,” and professors warned her that she’d never make any money in public school education. Still, she persisted. It was such an indispensable part of who she was; she could not be separated from it. To be frank, it was annoying. There was a looming expectation that, like her, I would have an epiphany during my formative years that would define my talents and future career.
That epiphany never came.
I was six years her junior without a clue of what to do with myself, paired with a perpetual habit of learning to be relatively good at several things before completely losing interest. Somewhere between a social butterfly and a loner, a jock and a creative, I never found my true groove, and bounced around from job to job all through my early twenties. I worked as a sailing camp instructor, a forklift operator for a car manufacturer, and a chicken-hatching assistant on a dairy farm. I served tables, worked in HIV testing clinics, volunteered with several children’s organizations, and performed burlesque. I could cross-stitch, had basic computer programming skills, could bake, spoke enough French to get by, arranged flowers, and could carry a tune. I liked budgeting, but hated math. I liked zoology, but couldn’t stomach dissection. I went to college for musical theatre and business administration, and at the end of both bachelor’s degrees, was still no closer to my calling. My sister, of course, went on to become a brilliant counselor at an inner city school, right on schedule.
As the years rolled by without a clear direction, women in my immediate vicinity took off with creative ideas and solid careers. It started with just the occasional few: a medical school graduate here, a successful photography business there. I was impressed, but not entirely downtrodden - constantly telling myself that, surely, I’d find my niche soon. But as I entered my late twenties, I was absolutely surrounded by it. Women from my high school days were becoming massively talented landscape designers. Former co-workers from restaurants were opening up hip catering businesses. Friends I’d once let cut my hair in kitchens were becoming internationally-recognized stylists. I’d meet women in bars who would tell me they were CEOs of startup production companies, and the “People You May Know” tool on Facebook became a very real source of dread. I routinely wondered which wildly successful woman social was media going to rub in my face next.
I resigned to ordinariness. I can’t pinpoint a day or a time of when, but I can remember the feeling that there was no use fighting it. I took the knowledge I had of the women who had worked so hard, stopped trying to use it against myself, and instead, I started talking to them. I figured that, at the very least, I could cover my lack of talent with impressive friends.
It began with women I already knew. I invited them out for wine. I asked questions. I bought their merchandise. It was a subtle shift, but before I knew it, I was seeking friendships with some of the very people I’d seethed with jealousy over. My best friend quit her boring job to become a real estate agent on an all-women team. Instead of choosing to compare her story with my despair, I offered to babysit for her as much as I could while she showed homes. An acquaintance of mine I’d always admired owned a wedding coordinating business. I reached out to her via an incredibly embarrassing email and asked for her to consider me if she ever needed help for large events. I now have over ten weddings under my belt.
Soon, I began offering up - much to his chagrin - my husband’s truck, manual labor, and wood shop to women starting up their businesses. My weekends brimmed with local events and grand openings; my days of feeling like I was outside looking in were a memory. I was proofreading copy, arranging flowers, making phone calls, planning baby showers, offering a shoulder to cry on, promoting on social media, bandaging blisters, and having the absolute time of my life. It’s a known fact that small businesses - especially those owned by females - need the support of the community to thrive. I tried to make their success my ultimate goal, whether by word of mouth, showing up when others didn’t, or keeping my friends’ business cards handy at all times.
In the end, I decided I wasn’t hiding from my shortcomings in the shadow of others. In fact, I have begun to consider myself the ultimate fan-girl of my fellow hustling babes. I’m not a business owner. I don't have one specific talent or set of skills. I don’t have a million-dollar idea, and I certainly don't have the financial means to bring one to fruition. What I do have, though, is an extra set of hands and a passion for seeing the women I love succeed at anything they attempt. Just because my contribution is less material, it doesn’t make it any less integral. Being a Jill-of-all-trades and a master of none has given me the opportunity to meet and support women I would have never known, and personally carve out success for myself in a completely different light.
Being successful is not always about being in the spotlight. For me, success is focusing that spotlight on the powerful, thoughtful, creative women that surround me. It means being a tireless cheerleader for their achievements, or a soft place to land when things get tough. I have learned that sharing joy with other women and creating true emotional connections are far more valuable than a large Instagram following or my own storefront.
I am not ordinary, not even in the slightest. My superpower is being the best supporter a girl could ask for. For me, that is more than enough of a hustle.
Sandy has spent all 31 years of her life in Jacksonville, Florida and works in the construction industry. She and her husband, Daniel, own Tongue and Teak Woodshop and love making Pinterest dreams come true. Her passions include succulent gardening, the Investigation Discovery channel, and petting any animal within a 5 mile radius. Find her on Instagram at @cornbreadandcambria.