You Don’t Have To Be Superwoman To Have It All
Janelle Bruland is an entrepreneur, business leader and high-performance coach who inspires others to live highly engaged, impactful and successful lives.
She is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MSNW, a company she started in her living room in 1995 with a handful of employees. Today, MSNW has grown under Janelle’s leadership into a regional facility management company, named one of the Fastest Growing Private Companies by both Inc. magazine and the Puget Sound Business Journal. Janelle has won numerous awards including SBA Washington Business Person of the Year and the Nellie Cashman Woman Business Owner of the Year.
Janelle is Cofounder of Legacy Leader, a leadership development company headquartered in the Pacific Northwest, where she teaches business leaders how to build legacy, transform their leadership, and love their life.
I had the opportunity to interview Janelle recently. Here are the highlights of that interview:
Jill Griffin: Where did you grow up? Describe your early childhood and its significance on your life.
Janelle Bruland: I was born in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, grew up on a dairy farm in the small town of Lynden, Washington and still am a part of the community today. Lynden, with a population of 3,000 in my childhood years, was the typical, traditional small town where family was important, your neighbors were your friends, no one bothered to lock their doors, and the town closed down on Sunday to go to church. My family, consisting of two older brothers and one younger sister, was raised there. I have many fond memories of growing up on the farm: playing with kittens my sister and I would find under the barn, feeding the newborn calves, and driving the hay tractor in the summer time. Like most of my friends, my first job was picking strawberries at one of the local berry farms.
My parents, from the time I was small, taught us strong values and provided a wonderful example of what it means to have a strong and healthy family. My parents have a strong work ethic and demonstrated that we are not simply handed success – that we must be committed, work hard and do our best with the gifts we have been given.
Much of the value system created in my own life was instilled as I was growing up. It wasn’t that my parents were ever really saying things about what their values and priorities were, but it was the example of their lives and how they lived that left a lasting impression.
Griffin: When did you first get the whisper you belonged in business?
Bruland: Let’s just say I am one of those believers that you are “born an entrepreneur.” I have always loved challenges and been filled with high energy and ideas of how things can be done better. My Mom tells me she knew I would be a leader from the time I was running the church nursery at the age of three. Apparently, I had made up a game to play and had all the toddlers organized and following along. She was a little worried about my energy and even took me to the doctor to see if something was “wrong” with me. The doctor let her know I was just fine – I was just out to change the world.
Being an entrepreneur today definitely requires all that high energy and is an exhilarating, challenging and rewarding experience.
Griffin: Was there an early teacher that inspired you? Who and how?
Bruland: There were many teachers who inspired and encouraged me. One in particular that comes to mind is my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Boxum. She saw leadership potential in me and gave me the difficult yet rewarding assignment of mentoring and teaching English to a little girl named Jane, who was new to our school. We read together every day and I was delighted to watch her gain confidence in herself and improve her reading. It was the first taste of my passion for bringing value to others and growing and developing people. Today, I find tremendous reward in helping others reach their potential.
It is amazing how much impact the words of a mentor can have on your life, and now that I have the privilege in my daily work to leading and mentor others, I do not take it lightly. Our words have power and they can either build up or take down.
Griffin: What’s a great piece of business or life advice you received, who gave it to you, and how has it enhanced your life?
Bruland: To be a wise steward of what we have been entrusted. This advice came from my Dad – but not from the words he spoke, instead from the life he lived. As a business owner, he was thoughtful in how he used his earnings from his business, saved for the down times, and simply did not spend money he didn’t have. Observing this in my growing up years instilled my own thoughtful approach to managing money. I learned “cash is king”, and when you don’t have enough operating capital you put yourself at risk.
When I started my service business, though tempting to purchase flashy new vehicles and equipment, instead I started with only the money in my savings account and used equipment I could pay for with earnings from the business. I truly believe this financial conservatism has been a key factor in our business remaining strong and keeping the doors open for well over two decades.
Griffin: Please give me the top three bullet points in your Personal Leadership Credo.
- Optimism – My first response to challenges is a natural tendency toward optimism. This optimism is something I can summon in any given situation and reflects my general perception of life as a “cup half full” versus “half empty.”
- Tenacity – I tend to choose to never give up, no matter what happens. When you fall down, or are even kicked down, you always get back up, put one foot in front of the other and keep going. My tenacity has been challenged on several occasions, and this attitude of perseverance has served me well.
- Growth Mindset – I am passionate about learning and growing. The best leaders are deeply dedicated to continuous improvement and life-long learning. They are constantly seeking ways to grow and improve themselves, and hone their own skills. They use their gifts to make a difference in the world.
Griffin: Describe a painful setback in your life and what it taught you.
Bruland: I went through a very painful time in my life when I suddenly found myself a single mother to my three daughters. My youngest were just four and seven years old, and at the onset, I wasn’t sure how I could possibly raise them on my own while carrying the weight of my growing business.
During this time, I could have given up and certainly wanted to at times. I had a choice to make. Was I going to let this troubling situation paralyze me or would I persevere through the struggles? It was difficult, but I made the decision I was going to be the best parent I could be, the best employer, and have the best business.
We will all be faced with difficult times and situations that will shake us. Also, as leaders in our organizations, everyone is watching our example of an optimistic perspective or one of negativity. I learned through this experience about the power of optimism and that it was my choice to move forward and embrace every day for the gift it was. We can’t always control the circumstances we find ourselves in, however we can always choose our response.
Griffin: What advice do you have for young, talented, ambitious women who want to rise?
Bruland: One of the biggest pieces of advice I have for women business leaders is to not try to be Superwoman. As a business owner, wife, and mother, there have been times where I have gotten caught up in the myth that I have to “do it all.”
The quest to be Superwoman brought me to an unsatisfying place where I found myself exhausted, distracted, and overwhelmed. I kept packing the load heavier and heavier, forgetting myself in the desire to be everything to everyone.
In my book The Success Lie, I describe how I discovered that the way I was living was unsustainable and how to take back control. You can “have it all” but it means making the right choices along the way, and not sacrificing your sanity in the process!