Marissa Levin
CEO, speaker and writer

Marissa Levin

Founder and CEO of Information Experts, a 15-year-old strategic communications, human capital, and training consulting firm. Nationally known speaker and writer, and an expert on how to build a successful business while building a fulfilling life.

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Accidental entrepreneur

Q: In honor of recent graduates: When you finished your schooling, did you know what you wanted to do in life? How long did it take to find a job or profession that "fit" you? Are you still in your original field?

When I was in 5th grade, the Principal of Deer Park Elementary, Mr. William Binder, wrote in my autograph book, "Marissa, stop the chatter and you will perform miracles." (This entry was directly next to my brother's entry, where he falsely told me I was adopted.)

Mr. Binder and I knew each other pretty well. I spent a lot of time in his office. Looking back now, I can see that maybe the principal telling me to keep my mouth closed and my ears open more didn't reflect well on my classroom behavior. But 30+ years later, I'm pretty certain that Mr. Binder had it all wrong. I think I do my best work when I'm running my mouth or penning a column or book.

I don't have much recollection of my academic career in high school. I don't recall ever having a burning desire to do anything or be anything, except to hang out with my friends. Although I do remember who I sat next to in every class, and I had a great fake ID that got me into all of the clubs in Baltimore, and all of the bars on the Fort Lauderdale strip in 1985, the year I graduated high school.

At the University of Maryland, I found my niche in the English department, where I absolutely loved my literature and writing classes. I struggled through "Botany for Non-Science Majors" and "Math 110." I think I always knew that I would be a writer some day, but I had no idea how, where, or when that would materialize.

I am definitely what you would call an Accidental Entrepreneur. I never set out to own my own business; I landed on this path because a former boss told me I would never be worth more than $34,000, even though he was making more than $100,000 annually by billing me to projects.

It was my writing that led me to that job, where my mistreatment and under-appreciation were ultimately the catalysts for launching my own firm. Prior to that position, I was a Capitol Hill journalist covering the telecommunications industry.

If you would have told me 25 years ago that when I hit my mid-40's I would be running a multi-million dollar firm approaching $20 million (and rapidly growing), whose services extend around the globe, I would have thought you were crazy. However, I've learned that my communications skills, my creativity, my genuine desire to help others succeed, my willingness to learn from others, and my ability to be open to all types of people and experiences have played a pivotal role in my success and overall happiness.

While I absolutely believe that we have a lot of control over our outcomes, I also have learned to rely on patience, trust, and faith. It's usually impossible to foresee where our choices and decisions lead us... and they usually lead us somewhere vastly different than where we anticipated. The paths we ultimately take are typically quite different than the paths that we construct for ourselves.

I speak a lot to university students; I am a frequent guest lecturer at the University of Maryland Smith Business School, and I speak at many other campuses. If there is one piece of advice I would give to all graduates, it would be to have an open mind.

Be open to new people, new places, and new experiences. Put aside your pre-conceived notions of who your friends should be (based on religion, ethnicity, race, etc.), how you should be spending your time, etc. Life offers so much more when you don't approach it with blinders on.

One of my employees asked me today if I had any idea that Information Experts would become as successful as it is. My answer is emphatically NO. Information Experts has far exceeded any vision I had for my company, and I have far exceeded any vision for myself. And as the firm continues to grow, and I continue to grow, I will continue to be amazed at the potential of both. I'm quite certain I am only at the beginning of my journey. Surely, the best is yet to come.

By Marissa Levin  |  June 22, 2010; 2:45 PM ET  | Category:  Careers and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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This is Marissa responding to the posted comment. Everyone has to own their choices. I agree that today's graduates are entering a depressed market, and have graduated during an economic downturn. Plus, the amount of debt that today's graduates are inheriting due to the wars and irresponsible, wreckless spending (ie: consumers signing on for mortgages they could never afford) is staggering. They will be paying for those decisions for the rest of their lives. But there are also amazing opportunities for those that own their choices and take responsibility for their outcomes. Their energy should go into productive endeavors, and not into divisive activities. As an employer who does a lot of hiring (we just expanded our employee base by almost 20% in 2 months and we are still actively hiring), I see the talent that is available. There are so many amazing young adults that are ready to seize their opportunities. At the end of the day, they have to own up to their choices, and not expect others to carry their responsibilities. And parents shouldn't be enablers. There are so many parents who indulge every need that their older kids have - they aren't doing them any favors. Obviously in certain cases - such as the BP disaster - which never would have happened if the industry was regulated or if BP leadership was held accountable - we are at the mercy of the horrendous choices of others. But for graduates just starting out, they pretty much have a clean slate, and need to explore every opportunity they have.

Posted by: mlevin1 | June 27, 2010 7:31 AM
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The fact is that if you graduates don't get off your posteriors and decide that maybe you need to be more than the liberals that you have been conditioned and indoctrinated to be, then you will continue to experience a depressed job market and robbed opportunities. You have graduated during one of the biggest economic downturns ever experienced by modern Americans, are seeing a corrupt Democratic party in a drunken-spending spree, and your liberties are being robbed daily.

Unless you inform yourselves and vote accordingly, your future is bleak.

Posted by: joesmithdefend | June 23, 2010 10:21 PM
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