It’s early evening and my daughter and I are sitting in a trendy coffee shop in Istanbul. The many (many) fears I had to overcome to get to this city feel like thoughts from long ago, but the feeling of pride of challenges overcome is lingering. And it’s making me deeply happy.
The fears of coming here were more than I usually have. Perhaps because Istanbul marks a new level of exotic for our trips (I know, I know, there is plenty more exotic places, just taking slowly man, slowly). Fears of Istanbul included, but weren’t confined to: an abundance of street dogs; travelling alone with my children as the husband was already here (flying appeals to me less and less each time I do it); the density of the city; the terrorist attack in Ankara a few days before we left; earthquakes (that one was given to me by my son, who had his own list of fears) etc. etc. But they are long gone now, as I sit and watch the hipsters of Istanbul drink their coffee and, along with my daughter, mouth the words of some reggae playing in the cafe.
The sonorous, soft sounds of the call to prayer echo throughout the neighbourhood. My daughter isn’t sure what to think, but to me I already love it, I already yearn to hear it. It speaks to me of places beyond this little bubble I live in, something beyond our time, of sound echoing through the city for hundreds of years, part of what makes it feel so magical.
A few weeks ago my little girl turned four. And it marked an anniversary of sorts for us and our business. We’ve had a strange, difficult and exhilarating journey building this business. Which is now, sitting and surveying the years, a business I am supremely proud of. I have built things in the past that I wasn’t proud of, and I’ve built things within this business that I haven’t been proud of: it’s never a given. And in fact it’s easier to build things you don’t like or don’t make money from or you resent as they become giant weights around your neck pulling you down, than it is to build something you love and cherish. I agree that:
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Maya Angelou
So in the spirit of reflection, here are the most important things I’ve learnt starting and running our business – in particular what I’ve learnt when the sticky stuff has hit the fan or when I’ve been backed very tightly into a corner.
How to be brave (most of the time)
Without sounding like an American self help manual – and I say this is in the most endearing terms, given that I am married to an American and have many American friends – you could almost say I have a fetish for their straightforward ways of communicating and their relaxed friendliness. Ok – without sounding like any self-help manual – the biggest battleground you have when starting and growing a business is not the market place, but yourself. I truly believe that unless you are really really prepared to look at yourself and look at how your fears and anxieties and preconceptions will impede your business and the choices you make then it doesn’t matter how much you do in the market place, you won’t have a clear and sustainable path to success. If your business is built on choices you made from fear and anxiety – that will take its toll somehow. Either on you or the business – or both.
We are all so laden with fears and anxieties that many of us don’t even realise it. I would say it’s our fears and anxieties that hold us back more powerfully than our talents push us forward. And many of us are totally unaware of how that affects our choices in life.
For me, when I am fearful, even a little, it makes me make smaller and smaller choices. Anything I don’t do right, leads me to be less bold the next time, until I end up making almost no choices at all. Another big issue for me has, conversely, been accepting what I do well and the successes I have and not be driven to run away from them. It makes me feel super fucked up to admit this, but there have been numerous times in the past year when I’ve received amazing feedback on things I’ve been doing for the business, and it makes me want to go away and hide in a dark room. So you know, I’ve got stuff to work on.
I was sent this video recently by my brother, about how your thoughts shape and influence your life and I think it’s completely true. Hey, not only did the Buddha say it – “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
An other wise mind also agreed by saying:
“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” Marcus Aurelius
So if we are the sum total of our thoughts – isn’t it useful to get a grip on what’s going on in your head so that you can challenge your preconceptions, tackle your deeply embedded fears and thoughts about yourself and the world (and of course, business and money!)
And even if you didn’t start out with a bunch of fears that control your actions, business will be sure to kick you in the butt and create a bunch of things that you need to be aware of and challenge.
How to make choices based on passion and money
I learnt early on that most of my motivation comes when I love an idea. I am not deeply motivated by money (and, like your thoughts and fears, it’s also important to know what deeply motivates you). I love having a business because I love nurturing into the world ideas that excite me. And I love that part of me, it’s a very powerful force and when I am deeply excited I move mountains to make it happen. But love of ideas does not equally equate to money making.
Having said that, ideas that are only about money are not those things that set the world on fire. They are not game changers or things that will deeply deeply inspire people. Which is all well and fine if that’s your aim.
Often when you are someone who is motivated by ideas you get yourself going and then when you’re not making enough money you panic and think – ‘OK, shit! Think brain, think – how can I make money, and quickly.’ Making choices when you are in a deep state of panic about what your business could be doing is rarely a pathway to riches. Sometimes when you have your back against the wall it can pull out of you a beautiful, pure and worthwhile idea. But panic usually breeds useless, foggy ideas. Even if these do help get you to the end of the month and pay your bills, they are not the shining glittering ideas that will make your business strong, and grow you a fortune.
The true magic happens when you have an idea that encompasses both – money making potential and a deeply inspiring idea. This may sound like an obvious distinction, but when you are down in the trenches getting your business up and running, moving small and enormous mountains out of the way, dealing with hundreds if not thousands of things on your to do list (many of them not going right) then clarity of purpose is often absent. Most small business owners are thinking – how can I make enough to pay all my bills this month? Not, what is my overarching vision here, and am I on track to make more than enough money and create something that people both love and want.
This has been a slow burning lesson for me. I have done more projects that are purely beautiful ideas or beautiful ideas that make some money but not enough to justify effort. I have been in the trenches many a time, working in a short-term way and trying to get to the end of the month. But no more. I refuse to make only short-term choices, and instead everything I do is now weaved into a larger, long term plan.
I am now dedicated only to the ideas that will justify acres of time spent crafting something incredible and launching it into the world. I have some really exciting plan for the next twelve months for our business. And I am thankful for everything I have done that regardless of their effect, has got me to this spot.
How to accept my husband, for who he is
As you can well imagine working with a spouse ain’t easy. In times of stress things have been said and done between us that I shan’t repeat. They would incite deeply painful prickles of shame which aren’t helpful to where I am now: we have arrived at a good spot.
Just like my belief that you need to know yourself when you are running a business, and to be aware of all the thoughts and preconceptions you have – the same is true for your relationship. The husband and I had been together for twelve years when we started this business. I thought we’d endured a high level of trauma – a late loss in pregnancy followed by multiple miscarriages, death of a parent, severe financial stress, multiple moves including moving country etc. I thought we’d done trauma. I was wrong.
But you know what I’ve learnt throughout all of the discussions about who should make this decision, which bill we should pay first, who should be allowed to work today and who should look after the kids. Or the generalised stress of being 24/7 with your family will invite.
None of this petty shit that we argue about matters.
I have come to the conclusion – who cares who is right and who is wrong? It’s our whole lives that matter.
Now I ask myself- what do I want from today? And it is never arguing, disagreement, stress. So I have pulled forces out of my ass to move mountains and remain cheerful and positive with him, most of the time. And you know what, the more cheerful and positive I am, the more cheerful and positive he is – as is the rest of the family. Who knew I was so influential?
So maybe he was rude to me when I asked him a question on the boat yesterday. I say, that was rude and then I move away, calm down and instead of allowing myself to get wound up for minutes or even hours by perceived injustices I push my mind to think of other things. I respond to things as they arise, and try not to drag our history into every small argument we have.
I don’t want to be pulled hither and thither by the multiple emotions I can have at any one time about my husband. I don’t want feel deeply annoyed. I want to feel love and joy and respect. And the more I put out those things, the more I get in return. And being with him so very much, especially when we travel, has made this essential in remaining sane, and being happy.
How to live
By the time I was thirty three and I started this business I realised that I was laden down with habit. I had created a life that was lovely, and full of things that I had ‘learnt’ about myself – I must have coffee as soon as I wake up, I am a night owl, I don’t trust strangers in public places. etc. It seems weird to me now that I had created so many – ‘this is who I am and what I do’ – thoughts. It was almost like I had closed myself off to most of the new experiences that were available and open to me.
Part of our business involves travelling for weeks or sometimes a month or two. And it was during these trips that I realised that I was skating over the surface of life, I wasn’t jumping in and enjoying all of what the world had to offer. And the more I relied on my preconceived ideas of this is how I am – the more I realised how much I was then thinking – this is how other people are.
By attempting to give much of that up, I realised I could experience a lot more of life on a much deeper level. I could meet people and see who they were, rather than whatever random thoughts appeared in my mind.
Once I started being open I started to meet more people, have more interesting conversations and have amazing and beautiful experiences. In Rome earlier this year we met an amazing Italian/American homeschooling family in a park and ended up spending almost two weeks hanging out with them, having dinner together, talking, walking and having amazing fun. They had vastly different political views to us and that ended up being part of the fun. Listening to the other side.
This business has taken me to the nether regions of myself, and pushed me to my limits and beyond. But I have learnt and grown so much. Like giving birth, starting a business will stretch you in places you didn’t know was possible. I have learnt to stay open to new ideas, new experiences and new ways of doing things – and in the process I have never felt more alive.