The Fork in The Road

A while ago I was in discussions with a potential partner and we were talking about the rules of engagement. While up to this point things had seemed real, this particular discussion brought the idea of what’s possible crashing down. I was sitting there thinking through the fact that the momentum of this thing called Gig Theory could be potentially more than I could handle and could bring the reality of moving back to Nigeria into reality as opposed to a mere possibility. This partner was client number ONE as well as promotional vehicle number ONE and was worried as to whether I had what it took to walk my talk.

I believe that every entrepreneur comes on a moment like this, a come-to-Jesus moment when they realize that they are no longer dabbling but actually implementing the plan that they came up with. This is the moment when they hit the fork in the road that requires commitment on one end and running away on the other. The question becomes: to commit or not to commit?

Commitment means taking the dive, jumping over the proverbial cliff, going over the deep end; I can carry on with the oft used clichés/colorful metaphors but you get the gist.

Commitment means embracing the fear, the uncertainty, the thrill, and the responsibility of driving your own bus.

I mentioned the fork in the road earlier, one side requires you to commit and the other requires you to keep on dabbling. What will you choose?

Bottom line for you:

  • We entrepreneurs face crucial decision points every day that will impact the probability of our business success. One key to making good decisions is not to let fear make it for you.

What you can do next:

  • Understand that fear is a natural part of the human experience and while there is a chance that taking the decision that you want to could result in failure, there is an equal chance that it will be a stunning success. So take a chance.

Go Out There and Do Your Work

I recently decided to volunteer with Paradigm Initiative Nigeria after I saw some information about their TENT program on twitter. A program like that was what started me off in business. When I put in my volunteer form I had no idea that one of the opportunities to contribute to their mission would involve teaching a class. When it came up I was petrified, but I said yes. I had recently read an article where Tina Fey talked about saying yes more was the key to her success and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try the same tactic.

I was tempted to get really formal by using a slide deck and everything, but I looked at my audience and decided to set objectives instead and go with it. That was the best decision I made. The students were receptive of the information that I provided using the objectives as guidelines, and they asked so many questions that helped me realize that my decision to be flexible with the class plan was the right one.

PIN

Myself and the Amazing Students at PIN after class

My initial fear of teaching the class wasn’t that I didn’t think I had anything to offer the students. The fear was based on me wondering if I was ready to get out of the front of a computer and take my material into the world. I read a post on Pam Slim’s blog that spoke to this directly. In her words:

It’s not about you. Here is the truth: if you spend your time worrying about yourself you have missed the point entirely. Your business is about the people you want to help. Their needs. Their fears. Their dreams. None of us will ever be perfect. Some will always be smarter, more productive, more witty, older, younger, more charismatic. Your people don’t care. They want help now.

Reading that post woke me up so hard that I had to bookmark it.

Bottom line for you:

  • Say yes to new opportunities
  • Your customers don’t need you to be perfect they need you to show up and do your job

What to do next:

  • Say yes when someone offers you the opportunity to share your work with the world
  • Share that                      (blog post, recipe, picture of the hairstyle that you just made up, product, insert what you just created into the blank) with the world.

If you haven’t already check out what Gig Theory has cooking for you this month.

How To: Balance

Balance is key for any entrepreneur who is looking to stay in the game for the long haul. Entrepreneurship doesn’t usually involve one hit and then you are done, its usually a cycle of booms, busts, and in betweens. To survive the roller coaster ride of running your own business you need to have balance in your life.

I speak to having balance because it’s something that I’m constantly working towards because it is so critical. It’s particularly critical for my success because I hold a full time job alongside my entrepreneurship endeavors, and I’m going to school part time. With this post I hope to share one of my balance practices:

The key to balance  for me is making sure that I stay engaged with the other things that I love to do, yoga and baked goods.

I try to practice yoga at least 3 times a week and bake every chance I get. How does this apply to you? You need to identify the things that make you light up, the things that you can’t do without for long stretches of time, and you need to make sure that they have a constant presence in your life even if it is for minutes at a time.

So the questions for you are: What are the things you absolutely love to do and how can you incorporate them into your life as often as is practical?

Have fun finding the answers and Happy Balancing!

Photo Day with a Yoga Buddy and her Photographer Friend Tripod Headstand

Photo Day with a Yoga Buddy and her Photographer Friend
Tripod Headstand

Photo Day with a Yoga Buddy and her Photographer Friend
Tripod Headstand

How To: Do Your Work

…that impostor or phony feeling at work or school rarely has anything to do with our abilities, but has more to do with that fearful voice inside of us that scolds and asks “who do you think you are?” ~ Brene Brown, I Thought it Was Just Me

For a good chunk of my life I have suffered from what’s called the impostor syndrome. The impostor syndrome is characterized by the constant feeling that you are a fraud, and the sense that the Family Bear will show up at the house you call your life and “expose” it for what you constantly think it is – a Lie. Like the quote above states, this dis-ease is less about what you know and more about fear rearing its head every time you are about to do something that is even the slightest bit different from what you have always done. I believe this fear originates from the uncertainty that the outcome of whatever you are about to do will be something that you consider favorable/unfavorable – essentially there is a risk of failure.

What does this have to do with going into business for yourself or creating your dream job? Everything!!!

Stepping into the world of entrepreneurship involves a lot of uncertainty, and it could express itself in the form of some of the questions below:

  • What if I fail?
  • What if after investing all this time, money, and sweat I realize that I hate the work that I have dedicated so much to?
  • What if I love the work, but it doesn’t provide a sustainable income?
  • What if I don’t know what I need to know to successfully run this business?

These “what ifs” combined with the fear of failure that they embody and the potential results create a potent brew that results in the impostor syndrome.

So how do you get rid of it,

Feel the fear… and do it anyway.  ~ Susan Jeffers via Bag of Jewels

 

My job involves climbing onto scaffolds on a daily basis, sometimes to heights of 20 ft or more. I’m scared of heights, but I know I have to do it to be able to do my job to the best of my ability; so what I do is every time I am about to step on I have a little mantra I recite to myself – BE BRAVE. I still get the shakes when I climb, but I climb. With Gig theory, the success of this endeavor is hinged upon being able to deliver good content and being able to share my experiences with people in ways that are relevant to what they are going through. Every day I wonder if I can generate this content, if I can set my own ego aside and listen to what others have to say, and if I can offer people advice that will help them regardless of its impact on my personal economy. So what do I do? I write every day, I read something different every day to enrich my vocabulary and knowledge, and I practice staying present in the conversations and interactions that I have with people to fully hear what they are saying. These are activities that I know will help me generate content for Gig Theory. The rough drafts that I write each day may not be web worthy, but they allow me to practice.

So if you feel uncertain or that the world will one day catch you with your pants down –

Don’t hide, go out there and do your work.

How to Take Criticism

I’m currently reading a book called Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields. The basic premise of the book is that uncertainty, risk, and criticism form the triad that is the basis for any creative endeavor. The word creative doesn’t restrict the endeavor to the arts; it can include every endeavor that involves charting an unbeaten path. Today I faced off with one of the triad, criticism. I wouldn’t say I won or we have become best friends, but we definitely moved from a relationship filled with animosity to one with a healthy level of tension.

Here’s the story:

I have been dabbling in web design for four years and recently decided to dive headlong into it. My first top-down piece of work was a point of pride for me and I shared it with my partner to say “look what I did, now pat me on the back.” He took one look and said “it doesn’t look professional.” The impostor gremlin crept up and wanted to fight back to defend my amazing bit of work, but I had the presence of mind to put her on time out for a minute. I put her out long enough to ask what “ doesn’t look professional” meant. At the end of the conversation (aka exercise) I came out with some actionable feedback – feedback that I could actually use to get better.

Moral:

Whenever you get criticism, take some time to dig at the root of it. Ask the person giving it why they thought it was so important to share their criticism of you or your work. Probing can reveal some actionable steps that would help you get better on the path you are treading, and it can also reveal whether you should listen to the critic or not. A good indication that you shouldn’t listen is if they can’t come up with a concrete reason why you should listen to them, and this reason shows itself in the way of actionable steps. Getting actionable steps/feedback help you improve your work and develop a healthier relationship with criticism. I’m not implying that you would love criticism once you start probing; I’m saying that you would develop that healthy tension between hating it and learning to use it to get better at your work/life. Healthy tension is a good thing as it leads you to your goal because you are constantly learning. And whatever goal you have, criticism can be your friend when it is constructive i.e. when you can act on it/grow from it.

One Foot in Front of the Other

Have you watched a fairy tale lately when you see the princess going from a wimpy kid to a swashbuckling pirate in the space of 1 hour and 15 mins? Do you remember the ones that talk about love conquering all in the long run? You know the “prince charming saves the princess in the end” stories. How about those success stories about those overnight successes called the entrepreneurs we admire? You know who I am talking about – Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, The Zuck (Mark Zuckerberg).

Well what we don’t get in the 1 hour and 15 minutes is that while they are able to fit those transformations in that convenient time period, it takes much much longer for the princess to find her sword hand. Also you know prince charming finding snow and kissing her? Well she might have been waiting for years and years. Oh let’s not forget the entrepreneurs, those guys were working at it for long before they became famous. In the age we live in when people’s lives are summarized in 140 characters or less, it is so easy to romanticize the success and happiness that we see broadcast on TV. In the reality called our lives it usually takes so much longer to get to the peak point that we are aiming for, so what do we do – well we tend to get down on ourselves.

This post is a reminder to all of you like me who think that overnight successes are the norm and it should be happening to you, or that your fairy should come to its conclusion in the same amount of time it takes to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It is a reminder that the people that we see out there doing their thing have been working at it for years. It is a reminder that the success they have now is a result of incremental tasks, the little ones that a lot of us tend to ignore, and not huge breakthroughs. It is a reminder to us all that we need to enjoy the process because even though it hasn’t happened yet, everything that we are doing right now is working to get us one step closer to where we want to go. The difference between “overnight success stories” and our stories is that those guys kept going. They kept putting one foot in front of the other, despite setbacks or realizations that they have been doing things wrong all along. Such realizations didn’t result in them giving up, it was just a sign that they needed to chart another course to the destination they aspired to. What separates these people from us mere mortals is courage, and I’m not talking the prince, princess, or pirate kind. I’m talking about the type of courage that keeps you putting one foot in front of the other despite seemingly insurmountable odds; the type of courage that allows you to stare at all the work you have done for the last ten years and throw it in the trash because you just realized that you made a wrong assumption at the beginning that renders it all unusable; the type of courage that allows you to pick up from the correct assumption instead of giving up on your goal altogether.

As a woman, and a feminist, I have heard so many times that the evil of fairy tales is that they teach women that they need to wait for a prince charming to save them. I think a bit differently now. While that concept is not false, I think the true evil of fairy tales is that they give us a false idea of what it takes to get to our happy place, wherever that is. So chuck all that and adopt “the one foot in front of the other” type of courage.

To summarize in the words of Eddie Cantor:

It takes 20 years to become an overnight success

With that said, let’s get to work folks!

How Do You Define Success?

Growing up I had certain ideas on what success was, some of them were:

  • Being a doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, or something equally important like a college professor.
  • Having a ton of money,
  • Marrying well

These ideas were deeply entrenched and helped guide what I decided to do for a career. I chose to become an engineer because I liked to fix things and I thought that was really the only way to make a living doing so; at the time I made this choice I didn’t realize that the things I liked to fix were more situations and social problems than bits of metal. It wasn’t till a few years into my program that the whole “being the female engineer and making a ton of money at it deal” didn’t really work for me. In the spirit of finishing what I start, I carried on and even got a job in the field. The money I made was parlayed into discovering what I loved; I bought books on business, innovation, and creativity and I thoroughly enjoyed devouring them. I started a course on entrepreneurship, and as they say the rest is history.

A lot of us have predefined success in ways that have nothing to do with what we really want out of life, and a lot of times when we realize it isn’t what we wanted all along we believe it is too late or that course-correcting would mean that we have wasted a good chunk of our lives.

No experience, no education is ever wasted because it helped you get to where you are today, wherever that is.

Sometimes we are of the opinion that knowledge is wasted when it isn’t used in the way it was intended i.e. the convential way. But that isn’t always true as some of the most amazing innovations can come from unrelated fields, see behavior one. Shifting gears is also inherently entrepreneurial:

“Following the rules is fine for army captains and cops, but not for entrepreneurs.” ~ Amy C. Casper, Editor-in-Chief Entrepreneur Magazine

I would like to expand this last quote to say that it is not just for entreprenuers, but for everyone who wants to life a fulfilled life. Life is too short to live by somebody else’s rules for success. So the questions stands:

What is success for you?

What do you want to do?

What is your picture of success and what is required of you to get there?

These questions are too important to leave to someone else – society, family, friends, or anyone else – to answer. If you are wondering on the marrying well bit, luckily I was smart enough to define that part for myself and was blessed with the sense to define what marrying well meant, so I did.

On Doing What You Love

Growing up the dominant societal message was “do what will earn you a good living.” And then at age 16 when it was time to make a decision on what to study in college I was faced with the dilemma of wanted I wanted to do vs what would make me a good living. I wanted to read for a living, but I didn’t know what a paying job for that would look like. So my fix-it mentality and encyclopedic dig through my father’s archives helped me choose mechanical engineering, or as I like to say:

An engineer is what happens when a bum toilet and an encyclopedia meet.

 

Three years into my degree program I started to figure out that stress, strain, and myself couldn’t live our lives in complete harmony for the rest of my time on this earth. So I started searching for my next big thing. Entrepreneurship has always been an option as it is something that I grew up around, but the question on what kind of business I wanted to run needed answering. Over the last six years I have been refining the answer to that question and the answers all had several common themes:

  • Treating people like the multi-faceted individuals that they are and allowing them opportunities to do meaningful work.
  • Creating a company that provided lasting value to those it served in whatever business space I chose
  • Treating people like I want to be treated.

The core of it was treating people right and creating sustainable value for the company and the customer. On looking at these three things on paper I realized that they embodied the value system that I have employed for my personal life:

  • Respect for self
  • Respect for others
  • Responsibility for my actions
  • Openness to new experiences

I have found that loving what you do requires compatibility between the values that exist in the workspace that you operate in and your personal values. The places I enjoyed working at the most had values similar to at least two of the values listed above. And I have learned that a mismatch usually results in unhappiness. This is why I think every entrepreneur should have a solid understanding of who they are and should be able to articulate this understanding in terms of values even before they start to flesh out the kind of business they would like to run. While you start to unearth the values that drive you, I will leave you with this:

…expect a struggle. Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail. Even if you succeed, it’s rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight, you’ll be more likely to arrive at it*. If you know you can love work, you are in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you are practically there.” ~ How to do What You Love by Paul Graham via Brain Pickings

The quote isn’t meant to discourage you; on the contrary it is meant to encourage you to identify what is important, to name it. It is the first step in the journey to knowing that you can love work. Like Paul Graham says it will be a struggle, but choose your destination – in this context that means the business you want to run – and you would have started to eat away at the barrier between you and the work you love.

Postscript: The quote above us from an article that I found via Brain Pickings and it is a great read on doing work you love. P.S. Brain Pickings is also a great site to browse through on a day you are after some inspiration.

*emphasis is mine

Who Are You?

Who are you? What I am asking for is what makes you who you are, I’m talking:

Values, Loves, Could do withouts, Can’t live withouts, What breaks your heart, What makes it sing…

Essentially what makes you tick. What makes all this important?

Dream jobs are more often created than found, so they are rarely attainable through conventional searches. Creating one requires strong self-knowledge. ~ Business Model You

So this week we are talking about You.

Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up ~ Pablo Picasso

 

The question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” comes up for many of us at a very early age. This is a great thing because when we are young we are mostly oblivious to the expectations of society and those around us. We are also very in touch with the things that bring us the most joy. What is the purpose of pointing out this obvious fact? Well, this “obvious” fact needs to be pointed out because what brought you the most joy as a very young  child will highly probably, and I mean most likely, contribute to your overall satisfaction as an adult.

To give a personal example, as a child reading and lying around and kicking thoughts around in my head were two things I loved doing and was amazing at. I wanted to do a job where I could read for a living, but in my limited world view quickly “realized” that there was no such thing. That and the more than frequent rebuke to stop “staring at the ceiling” (my thinking mode) “helped” me “realize” quickly that my loves and making a living were highly incompatible.

Fast forward 12 or so years later and I find myself actively creating a career that puts reading, thinking, and of course executing in center stage. I have been opened up to the world of entrepreneurship where the ability to distill large amounts of theory into practical tactics and thinking up new ways to solve problems and convert these solutions into sustainable businesses using some of these tactics as part of my every day.

How does this help you? AKA So What?

In the environment we live in where dismal unemployment figures and poverty statistics are part of our everyday existence, a means to make a living that taps into your innate abilities – the things that you couldn’t imagine not doing as a child – might sound like pie in the sky but the purpose of all this is to tell you that it is not. The purpose of this all is to tell you that it is possible to create your own job, possible to take your destiny into your own hands.

  • It won’t be easy
  • It will take take sweat and maybe tears (if you are like me)
  • It will take long nights and sacrifice
  • It will involve mistakes, triumphs, and everything in-between
  • It might even involve failure

But ultimately it will involve the satisfaction of taking the task of creating your own livelihood into your own hands

If I still have you, lets take a ride. The first part of answering this question is to take a moment and think of yourself as a child. And similar to the story I unearthed about myself, write down the one (or two, or three) things that you could do all day (outside of play of course).