Reporting from: Istanbul, Turkey
Local Contact: Tara Agacayak
What kind of work are you doing in Turkey?
My clients would either call me a business consultant or a life coach though I describe myself as a problem-solver. Most of my clients in Turkey are from the international community who find it difficult to work here because of permit issues, language difficulties, cultural mis-matches or because their markets are elsewhere. This experience has brought me clients from around the world, such as an energy healer in a remote mountain wellness center or a microfarmer in rural America, who are working to solve the same kinds of logistical problems of isolation, displacement and a need to open themselves up to a market that might not be where they are geographically.
At the very heart of my process is identifying where someone is, where they want to go and how they’re going to get there. Sometimes these are business problems and sometimes these are personal challenges. I work with my clients to identify the steps they need to take and support them as they take each one.
Someone might want to know where to buy canvas to start painting, another might be searching for the right voice to use on Twitter and another may just want to create space in her schedule to write. I tackle all of these things. My job is to get people moving forward in the direction they’ve identified they want to go.
What inspired you to dive into the business of “challenging creative entrepreneurs?” Was it an aha! moment? Or did the idea come to light gradually?
I’ve never been known to do anything quickly; I’m such a slow poke. It has definitely evolved gradually and no doubt will continue to unfold as my work deepens.
Curious about human behavior—why we do what we do—I studied psychology. In a turn of events I took a job as a data specialist with the US Department of Defense. I had the opportunity to study Information Technology at the Naval Postgraduate School which is where I met my Turkish husband. We married, moved to Turkey and shortly thereafter I experienced a debilitating (albeit insightful) identity crisis. Because so much of my life had changed, I had to redefine myself. This happened through a process of trying on different jobs.
Since I couldn’t find a job in the small town where we were living I created my own. It started when my step-mom encouraged me to open up a little shop on eBay that I could run from home. This was in 2003 when eBay was just starting to pick up steam. I would buy products from the Grand Bazaar and auction them through my online shop. When I ran into supply problems I started teaching English. Unfortunately this really wasn’t for me; quite honestly I hated it and it showed. I was underchallenged and unfulfilled by my work and the dissatisfaction was making me physically ill.
Around that time I attended a women’s leadership program back in Silicon Valley. The program stressed the importance of social responsibility and global citizenship. So I decided to give my e-boutique another try and redesigned my model to support the local women handcrafters I was meeting every day. This turned into business development courses and design workshops and boutique shopping trips in Istanbul to promote local artists and designers.
Throughout this time the social web was really coming along. I began blogging in 2006 and opened my Twitter account in 2007. The ability to connect and do business around the world fascinated me, especially since by this time I really didn’t belong in just once place, but called two different countries home. The web expanded my opportunities. It gave me a voice and it gave me access. And it gave me a platform to develop personally and professionally by connecting me with people and ideas and resources.
That is the experience I draw on with the my clients. Knowing that something is out of alignment. Knowing there’s something deep in you that wants to come out, but not necessarily knowing what it is or how to manifest it. It’s the business of you. I think that who you are should be what you do. This is your creative potential. This is what you were meant to be doing in the world. It’s why you were made.
A well-designed business solves a problem or fills a need. An entrepreneur is a person who designs an enterprise with initiative and risk. When I say I challenge creative entrepreneurs, I mean that I challenge you to take the next step in your own development, whatever that looks like. To build a business by being a solution to the problems around you. To be the solution by being who you are.
At the moment I’m collaborating on several local and global projects. One is plotting the growth of the global niche community; an international collective of people around the world working on building their professional web platforms. Another is a local program with Kadinlar Arasi (Among Women) supporting Turkish entrepreneurs by supplying them with international funding, franchise and training opportunities. This spring I was approached by a Silicon Valley start up to do business development for their product which I’ll be incorporating into these two projects as well as with my private clients. All of the work I do is grounded in the idea that we create a work/lifestyle that suits us personally.
What have you seen there that inspires you artistically, creatively or otherwise?
Anything that provides contrast to your normal perspective can be inspirational and living abroad gives you that opportunity daily. There was one event that was a real turning point for me. It was when I was teaching English and quite miserable. My husband and I were visiting with some friends of his—two ceramic artists—at their home in Antalya, a town on the Mediterranean Sea. We were all sitting on their hand-pebbled patio at their hand-tiled table talking about the adventures of where their work was taking them—this exhibit, that studio, this country. The stars were in full view, I could smell the sea and we were surrounded by their pottery and works of other artists that decorated their home. There was something electric about the evening.
In between the pauses and laughter of the conversation I recognized that I thrive around creative people and I was withering away as an English teacher. Not surprisingly my mother is a painter and my father is an entertaining storyteller. I would say my craft is writing. I recognize the beauty of self-expression and feel like the people I work with are my tapestry. I stitch them together with my words. Losing and finding myself in Turkey helped me to see that.
Tara Agacayak is a creative catalyst, global business developer and writer originally from Silicon Valley who blogs from Istanbul. She is known for gently asking probing questions that become the seeds of personal and professional alchemy. Visit www.taraagacayak.com.
Christine Mason Miller is a writer and mixed-media artist who loves to travel, wander and explore, whether on her own or vicariously through others. Her next book – Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World – will be released in November 2011 by North Light Books. Visit her at www.christinemasonmiller.com. Eager for more of her travel musings? Visit www.gypsygirlsguide.com.
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