You guys, starting a business is haarrrrdddd. And not just for the reasons you’d think. Yeah, learning new skills like how to build a website, getting comfortable marketing yourself, and of course the demands on your time and never really feeling “off the clock,” yeah, that’s all hard. But I’m talking about something else, something you might not really expect. Something you can’t just “push through” with another cup of coffee.
When I started working at Soapwalla, my boss (aka the owner/founder of this awesome natural skincare company) told me that starting your own biz is like attending a personal development workshop everyday. I didn’t doubt this assessment, but it was even more accurate than I could have known at the time. Lately I feel like I'm constantly asking myself, “Who are you?”
Years ago I thought I had myself pegged: I didn’t like to travel (hilarious); I could never live in NYC (hmmm?); I definitely needed a “normal” salaried job (HA!); and I was incapable of sitting still or meditating (mmm… I do this daily). I had built myself these comfortable little boxes and nested right into them, and since they were so readily accepted I never felt the need to leave or explore more about who I really might be. Until I did leave, for what I thought was just a quick peak outside the box, but then I couldn’t fit back in. And I realized I didn’t want back in, so then came the challenge of figuring out what I did want. To figure out what my inherent skills and qualities are, and what kind of work they might lend themselves to.
I’ve spent the last few years sorting that out, and when I thought I had it down I decided I was ready to start my business, not realizing how deep the depths of this question would go. To create a brand and put yourself out there, well it’s a scary thing and it will test every thing that you [think you] are. It’s not enough to just decide to be a wellness coach (or jewelry designer or skincare maker or yoga studio owner), I must decide what kind, who are my clients, what is my tone, my message, my style; what are my values and where does my integrity lie; where do I draw the line? Why am I special? What is my voice and how can I use it to help everyone who will listen?
It’s trying, and yet you find a little more freedom with each answer you uncover. I imagine even if you have no desire to start a business, it’s important to ask yourself these questions. It’s important to wonder if you really know yourself, or if you’ve created definitions and boundaries and boxes that help keep you “safe” and comfortable, but never feeling fully satisfied. It’s important to wonder if you’re just going through the motions, or living life on purpose, according to something deep inside you.
One of the best ways I’ve found to dig deep is to think about who I was when I was little, before any conditioning or fear or self-consciousness set in. I’ll stare at old photos and ask: who is this kid? I’ll search for the connection I have to that child, me. I’ll consider that I am in that same body, with the same birthmarks and scars, the same feet that have gotten me everywhere I’ve ever gone, the same hands that have weathered all the years.
I’ll ask, what was that kid all about? What did she want to be before anyone told her what was expected? What made her laugh? What made her sad? What did she looooove doing, and what did she do when nobody was looking?
I was a weird kid. I would make funny noises and laugh with a snort to make others laugh. I’d literally stay home from school “sick” and polish all the wood in the house, and was busted for taking long showers only to reveal that I was actually in there cleaning the tile. Around age ten I’d climb up onto my desk every night to reach the giant white board mounted on my bedroom wall, and update the 5-day weather forecast in dry-erase markers. I’d show the high and low temps, and illustrate it with suns and clouds and rain drops, just like they did on the news.
But this is the stuff that makes me, me. And the deeper I’ve dug, the more I’ve learned about who I am and how that can be expressed here in 2016. I've realized I've always been a planner, a caretaker, and a bit of a comedian; I'm a tomboy and a builder and, well, apparently I like things clean. I’ve recalled the things I wanted then, and how that might translate to things I can actually do now. I’ve tapped into the seemingly unrelated combination of things I’m passionate about, to work on creating a life and business that is uniquely "me."
Have you ever considered who you were before the world told you who to be? That maybe your ideas and dreams as a kid weren’t so far-fetched, and that maybe there is a way they can be applied in your life today? What would little you think of the life you’re leading now? Would they want you to play more? Love more? Paint? Write? Hug? Adventure? Work harder?
These might be tough questions to answer, so get help! Ask your parents what you were like as a kid – remember they were adults at that time, so their perspective might be more cohesive than your memory!
Ask the friends in your life now, how would they describe you? Sometimes getting that outside perspective helps highlight the things that make us stand out, the skills and traits we tend to underestimate about ourselves.
As for me, it's a work in progress. I know there's more in there, and I'm digging it out only to face the next challenge: owning it.
What were your quirks as a kid? How do they show up in your life today? Share in the comments below!