We are more than a little excited to be featuring Sam Laffey in this week's Entrepreneurial Spotlight. Sam first showed up on our radar at Pod Camp Pittsburgh. She was witty, engaging, and eager to get involved.
As we have gotten to know Sam better—through her participation in the Propelle Mastermind and the Rock It! community—we see her blazing a new path, questioning her comfort zone, and really owning her power.
All things that make us swell with pride.
So, while we know you're going to love getting to know Sam a little better, we also know that you are going to be inspired to step out of your comfort zone and evolve.
Name: Sam Laffey
Business: Pittsburgh Glass Center // Porter Loves Photography
Job title: Marketing Associate // Co-Owner
Website: pittsburghglasscenter.org // porterloves.com
Twitter: @pghglasscenter // @porterloves // @samlaffey
Facebook: fb.com/pittsburghglasscenter // fb.com/porterloves // fb.com/samlaffey
Pinterest: pinterest.com/samlaffey // pinterest.com/porterloves
Introduce yourself as if you were speaking from the cockpit.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen! Welcome aboard flight 2684 flying nonstop from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh. Since we're living out a bit of a fantasy here where I'm the pilot (and because I feel like it, owner) of a plane, this airplane is green (in color and in environmental friendliness), and everyone gets a full plush bench to sit on to stretch out and relax. But there's no time to nap because the flight will only be long enough to enjoy a tasty fresh snack. Yes that's right, LA to Pittsburgh in under 30 minutes- it's my plane, ok?! Also, no elevation change so leave the gum chewing and decongestants in your pocket. Oh! And you can bring whatever freaking size piece of luggage on the plane you want! We know you have a choice when you fly, but not really because all other airlines are exactly the same and terribly awful, so thank you for flying with Sam's Fun Green Fantasy Airways!
When did you earn your wings?
I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at a young age. I never sold lemonade on the corner, but I did sell custom paintings, glass flowers and even conceived of my own custom fountain business at one point! I started Porter Loves with my partner Nathan in 2010 under a different name, with another person involved, back when I thought naively that creating a Facebook page and throwing up a cheap website constituted “starting a business.” I also thought my expertise in marketing an arts non-profit would be totally transferable to running and managing a small for-profit business. We learned quickly that we were shortchanging ourselves and jumped in full force to some serious educational opportunities that really opened our eyes and saved our butts. Some serious changes were made and we officially re-launched with our new name and a clear vision in September 2012.
If you could name a nail polish color after yourself of your business, what would it be?
PGC would be a fiery iridescent orange called Hot One.
Porter Loves, hmmm, Timelessly Awesome? I don’t know what color that would be, but that’s what I’d call it.
And for me, it would have to be Green Fiend, because well, that’s what I am. It’s bright, it’s bold, it signifies growth, the earth and I just downright love it. Seriously, anytime I have to pick out a new anything, the first words out of my mouth are, “does it come in green?”
Not all flights are smooth. Tell us about how you handle turbulence in your business and life.
I used to “handle” it by shutting down and tuning out. I struggle with clinical depression and have spent years wrangling the right amount of chemicals, self-care and self-awareness to get to a place where I manage it instead of it managing me.
It’s only in the last 2-3 years that I really embraced the concept of self-care and self-love no matter what. It hasn’t been easy but it’s been so worthwhile. I have created systems to force myself to do right by myself.
I was so remiss in caring for my long hair that I constantly wore it in a pile on top of my head or had to spend hours fighting back tears as Nathan worked to comb out an accidental dread lock, so I cut my hair short. I constantly forgot to make necessary doctor’s appointments so now I don’t leave one appointment without scheduling the next one.
Seriously, my greatest weakness is doing things that are good for me. I grew up amongst extreme examples that left me feeling as though self-care was equivalent to selfishness. Unlearning that lesson has been hard work. At some point I recognized and fully adopted the idea that self-care isn’t just for my own benefit. If I’m happy and healthy (or at least working towards it), I’m a more effective and collaborative co-worker, a better friend and partner.
Who is the wind beneath your wings?
My sisters. We had our time as teenagers where we each hated each other at least a little bit (not to be confused with the times we sang along to the Spice Girls at the top of our lungs on family car trips) but the relationship we have now as adults is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.
My older sister, Courtney, didn’t really have a clear vision for her career path originally — she changed majors more than a few times, but once she decided that she wanted to pursue nursing, nothing could stop her. She’s one of the most empathetic and caring people I know and she takes that with her everyday when she goes to work. Her road to happiness has been so different than mine, but her commitment to making the life she’s always wanted — being a nurse, a wife and now a mother‚is inspiring.
My younger sister, Kelly, is one of the most selfless people I know. She loves and cares for her friends and family with abandon. She understands me in ways that make me wonder sometimes if she’s taken up residence inside my brain. She recently completed the monumental task of graduating from law school, is taking the bar exam and picking up her whole life to move halfway across the country for a new job in the next month. The prospect of starting a new life is scary but she is tackling it head on and I could not be more proud.
They are both incredibly smart, beautiful, strong and brave women and I consider myself lucky to be loved and supported by them both.
What's your advice to other women as they navigate the business world?
Don’t be afraid to make a change. I’m in this place right now where I thought I was done—I had checked all the boxes. Loving relationship- check, beautiful house- check, adorable four-legged children- check, job I love- check. But then someone asked me what my why was and I stumbled...hard.
At first I freaked out—how can I be a strong female figure in Pittsburgh without knowing why I do what I do? Then I gave myself permission to accept this change. Just because I’ve stumbled with my current why does not mean I’ve never had one. Just because I’m confused and in a place of contemplation now does not mean my choices were wrong when I made them, and it doesn’t mean they are wrong now.
That permission was tough to grant because I am generally a very long term, fiercely loyal decision maker. I didn’t buy my house as a starter house; I didn’t start my job with the intention of moving on in two years; I don’t change hairdressers every year; and I like *this* bacon, so that’s the only bacon I will ever buy ever again. I could also call fierce loyalty a comfort zone.
This isn’t a bad thing in many circumstances, but when it scares me off of changing my mind or trying something new, that’s a problem. In business specifically, you don't have to be loyal to the path you set yourself on, whether you’ve been on it for a month, seven years or twenty years. Evolution does not equal disloyalty. Do not be afraid to get seriously uncomfortable.