3 Extremely Important Points to Learn When You’re Youthful, Smart, and Disrupting the Status Quo
I was twenty-six when I launched Alchemy Consulting and assumed the self-awarded title of “Entrepreneur.” As most people who have taken this leap of faith will tell you, I went through a rainbow of emotions in the first year of my being in business: there were moments when I was all excited, upbeat, determined and proud of myself. And then of course there were moments (many of them) when I was disappointed, frustrated, scared and kicking myself for being “foolhardy.” And through all those days, I learned three extremely important lessons.
Both discovering and then fully understanding these unspoken rules has helped me navigate some pretty rough scenarios that are common in the lives of those who choose this path. So here they are:
1. Many People Will Not Take You Seriously
There is only so much a black suit and pinned-up hair will do for you. The sad/hard fact is that if you are a young female entrepreneur, chances are that there will be many people who will not take you seriously. There were times at networking events when I told people about my startup, and that I am a facilitator and communication skills coach, and found that they would smile at me and say, “Oh, but you look so young!” As if the two were correlated somehow. Then there were times when I would start a conversation with a senior corporate leader at an event, and after the first twenty seconds or so, she (or he) would start looking over my shoulder to see if they could find someone more “important” to talk to.
There were also times when I had the following conversation:
Person: So, a communications business is a good one to start, isn’t it? There are low barriers to entry, not much investment and anyone can do it.
Me: Yes, it’s a good business to start if you love speaking, sharing your experiences and inspiring people. There is a huge investment involved – it’s called life.
Person: Oh, so your husband works for a large investment bank. Good for you, you can pass your time trying to start this business.
Me: I didn’t start this business to “pass time.” My husband works in an investment bank and that is “good for him” because he loves it. I started my business and that’s good for me, because I love it as well.
Many people found it really difficult to believe that I was a young female entrepreneur who launched a learning and development startup simply because I loved training, facilitating and coaching. So I learned early on that these things will happen from time to time. And that I will have to make my way around them.
What did I do to overcome this situation?
- I learned to speak in a deeper voice with a lower pitch. After all, if a deeper voice could help CEOs get higher pay, as a Psychology Today article notes, it would certainly help me get noticed.
- At events where I wanted to exude more authority and seriousness, I showed that through my body language and appearance. When I would enter the room, I would stand tall, with shoulders back, and my head held high. When I would sit at the meeting table, I would take up more physical space by spreading out my belongings and looking comfortable.
2. Many People Will Tell You It Will Not Work
- “There are lots of companies here who talk about “Presentation Skills” and “Communication Skills.”
- “You don’t seem old enough to coach senior professionals.”
- “Every year, so many people start a training business in the city!”
- “The market is saturated with people providing corporate training.”
- “Why don’t you actually leverage your cultural background, and teach people how to set up their business in India?”
These are few of the many sentences which my “well-wishers” told me – verbatim. Many people also had lots of different advice to offer, from how my current business would not work to what I should do instead. I remember after such instances, I would feel frustrated, angry and hurt. I would go back to my office (the dining table in my living room) and call one of my rock-solid-support-members (husband, siblings, parents and close friends) and cry my heart out. And then, after five minutes of crying, shouting, cursing and eating, I would be back on track. Slowly my endurance and indifference towards these naysayers increased. I learnt that each time someone would tell me no or put me down, they strengthened my determination.
And through these experiences, I understood that there will always be people who offer many reasons of why you can’t succeed. But I realized that if I know in my heart even one reason why I can succeed, and I go for it with every ounce of energy in my body and passion in my soul, I will make it happen. It is not about doing something different; it is about doing something differently. Eventually, people will sit up and see you win.
3. Some People Will Help You, Understand You and Root for You
I also found that there was a silver lining to my cloudy experiences. By taking the entrepreneurial leap, no matter how young or inexperienced I was, I always found people who believed in me and my work. People who helped me in one way or the other to move towards where I am today. I learned early on that these are the ones I need to hold on to. These are the people I should turn to for advice and mentoring, when required. And most importantly, I learned to always remain grateful for whatever nudge or push they had given me, and decided to pass on the good karma by helping other young (by age or at heart) people in whatever way I can.
Lastly, I understood that living an entrepreneurial life is not going to be a smooth road at all. But it’s going to be completely worth it – for me. And at the end, if I keep showing up with all my heart and all myself, I will be able to create my own space in this universe.5