It is 2006. I am teetering on the overused legs of a mass produced dorm chair three hours from home in a tiny slice of living space I’ll share with someone I just met five minutes ago. The desk electrical outlet shorts out on the metal edging of our desk and shocks my fingers when I place them on the keyboard to type. I am 18 and I will begin college in three days. I am aware of my strengths (and even more so of my weaknesses), but not sure what to do with them. I am standing on the steps of the next big phase of life unsure of what awaits me on the other side of the door. I am afraid of what the world will do to me if I let go too much.
It is 2011. I am lying on the floor of a hotel conference room near the Atlanta airport. We are doing some kind of meditation exercise. No one in my family knows where I am and I don’t have my cell phone. I am 23 and I will graduate college very soon. I am aware of my strengths (and even more so of my weaknesses), but not sure what to do with them. I am standing on the steps of the next big phase of life unsure of what awaits me on the other side of the door. I am afraid of what the world will do to me if I let go too much.
It is 2014. I am sitting on a rickety beach condo straw couch. Sand is grinding its way into my thighs. I am 26. I have just left my marketing job and have started a business. I do not yet know who my first client will be or how I might actually go about making money. I am aware of my strengths (and even more so of my weaknesses), but not sure what to do with them. I am standing on the steps of the next big phase of life unsure of what awaits me on the other side of the door. I am afraid of what the world will do to me if I let go too much.
It is 2017. I am lounging on the front porch of a house half a mile down the street from where I was in 2014. The air is weighted and wet in Florida’s typical way. It is both raining and sunny all at once. I am 29 and I feel as though I have so much more to figure out. I am aware of my strengths (and even more so of my weaknesses), but not sure what to do with them. I am standing on the steps of the next big phase of life unsure of what awaits me on the other side of the door. I am afraid of what the world will do to me if I let go too much.
The seasons languidly bleed into one another and the earth melodically makes its inevitable journey around the sun, and I am aware that nothing ever really changes. The concerns do not simply melt away because I have one more year of experience on my resume. The tide of worry does not subside as I rack up more hours of labor and thought. The stakes change as expectations of income and put togetherness rest heavy on my shoulders. I change as the lines around my eyes deepen and I gather my collection of observations and tribulations and form them into the person I am. But the problems? The worry? They are still here, wearing the same costumes they always have. Poking their noses into corners that might otherwise contain happiness or contentment. They’re not going anywhere.
And this I am learning is not just the life of an entrepreneur, but also of a human person.
We provoke ourselves into plodding through each day under the false pretense that somewhere just beyond our current horizon is an answer, a magical pill we can swallow to sift away the things that keep us up at night. But there is no pill, and this idea that we must struggle to seek our way toward it is a super unfun way to live.
I know because I’ve lived it. For the last three years, I’ve struggled my way through carefully crafting my identity as an entrepreneur. I flocked to the internet to tell me what to do with my life. I bounced from artsy meet ups with other creatives, to baby boomer-filled community meetings, to corporate boardrooms all in the same week. I literally cried in fear in front of a room full of people at a speaking workshop. I formed partnerships, broke partnerships. I tried to figure out what it means to curate an Instagram feed and maintained my dismal following. I took on clients of all shapes and sizes. I said yes, a lot. I threw out the popular notion of sticking to one’s brand in favor of experimentation. I started viewing my business as a start up rather than an artfully defined repertoire. Every movement I made was up for analysis.
Every time I ran into an old contact at a networking event, it seemed there was confusion about what I was doing these days. “Did you start a new business?” “Wait, I thought you were a wedding photographer?” “Don’t you only design for corporate businesses?” I was a branding nightmare.
I looked around at my peers and saw people who waltzed through life with crystal clear vision, carefully defined purpose, and perfectly penned website copy to sum it all up in a way that sells without being pushy. I was very jealous.
But as I dug deeper and got to know these internet idols on a more personal level, I realized that they didn’t know where they were going either. Some of them had the manpower, the copywriting skills, and social media savvy to make things look quite the opposite, but on the inside, they were wandering too.
I decided to stop apologizing for my wayward path, and let it be what it was, a journey.
I left corporate life because it felt stifling to work for someone else. Everyday felt predictable, and the few things that were left up to question felt terrifying. (Will the company fold next year? Is my coworker going to bail and leave me with her complicated responsibilities? Is this all there is?) I left because I realized that the skills I had to offer the world probably didn’t fit into a cutely formatted Indeed.com job posting. I wanted limitless possibilities, endless growth, unbounded potential.
Then, when I got there, I expected the stars and the universe to fit in a nice box.
It is taking me years, but I am coming to terms with the fact that before anything else I am most probably an entrepreneur. A strategist, a creator of things, a figure-outer, one who builds. These things don’t conform nicely to standard business card jargon, but at the end of the day, they’re the most honest thing I can say about who I am. They’re impossible to fit in an elevator pitch or a sales script, but everything I plant inevitably comes from this fierce and feral root.
This isn’t really the post I wanted to write upon the third anniversary of my business baby. I wanted to tell you about the Top Five Ways I Found Success Building an Online Business or My Top Three Tips for Building Your Niche. I wanted to celebrate with some shiny accomplishments, something concrete to prove that I have arrived, and you can too, just read my blog post and you’ll be one step closer to There.
But to write those things would just further underscore the ugly undertone slithering around the world of entrepreneurship that success is just one blog post reading away, when the reality is success is such an inward and personal experience, it can never be defined.
Success to me these days looks a lot less like a follower count and a lot more like being able to sleep at night without fighting against the throbbing pulls of a pounding heart.
It feels less like numbers in a bank account and more like building a garden in my backyard and not killing everything.
It feels less like a crammed calendar and more like space to breathe.
It feels less like being certain about what it is I’m actually doing here and more like giving myself the permission to dream again.
So if you’re an entrepreneur too, just be that. It’s enough, I promise.
Build a brand. Find a niche. Cultivate an audience. Streamline your offerings. But don’t let all that refining and defining stifle the fire inside of you. It’s okay to pivot. It’s even better to play. Give yourself permission to keep evolving so that the knowledge you acquire and the you you become have the space to breathe in your business. Any great boss would encourage you to do these things, can you be that kind of boss to yourself?
Read the textbooks, but keep imagining. Know the rules, but push them aside when required. Stay grounded, but stay grounded in the stars.