Lessons learned on a business anniversary

Fear, Authenticity, Self-worth, growth and not giving up

Facebook reminded me this week that 4 years ago today I graduated from my Yoga Teacher training in Byron Bay – I’ve not taught much yoga since but have done so much else and learned so many lessons which I’ve been reflecting on.

I’d quit my corporate career a few months prior and had embarked on a year out to discover my passions and try and find a new career that aligned with my values – and a new life really having just walked away from a seven year relationship too as part of a process that resulted in me come out.

This journey took me to places like Bali, the Kingdom of Bhutan, teaching English to novice monks in Northern Thailand, silent meditation retreats, debuting in public speaking, starting my own business and writing my first book.  A book that was published a year later and contained much more about the inner journey that had unfolded.

4 years on I look back, incidentally on the verge of a holiday back to Byron Bay next month with my wife to be.  I’m now an author of two books with my own business and invited to speak at events and conferences across the world.  I’ve discovered my passions and feel comfortable aligning with my values to be my authentic self – it was a long time coming and hasn’t always been easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Here are some lessons I’d like to share with you following that journey:

Just because you’ve never done it doesn’t mean you can’t do it

When I left my job I had no idea what else I could do.  I’d trained all my life for one career which wasn’t fulfilling me.  I didn’t know what else I wanted to do or if I’d be capable of anything else, I certainly wasn’t qualified.

When it came to running my own business I didn’t know where to start.  There’s been a lot of learning over the last few years, trial and error and a lot of failing too!  I’ve learned to do things like accounts, marketing, social media and more that I’d never had to consider in my former career. 

It’s also pushed me out of my comfort zone in other ways – networking, building a reputation and a brand as well as being the face of my business (having been someone who prefers to be in the background!)

I used to think – I’ve never done this before it’s not in my skill–set, I’ve no experience in this but I’ve learned over the years that just because we’ve not done it doesn’t mean we can’t, it’s just something we haven’t learned to do yet.

It’s so important that whatever we’re doing we make sure we always learn new things, push ourselves and take on challenges so that we learn and grow.  It also leads me nicely onto my next lesson

Get out of your comfort zone – don’t play it too safe

I avoided risks because I didn’t want to fail but taking on my own business, re-inventing my career meant I could no longer avoid this.  I had to take risks and I became familiar with failure as I battled through the trial and error of learning so many new things. 

I faced many fears as I embarked on this journey; leaving the certainty of what I knew, a career I trained 15 years for and knew well, a regular pay check and company car, an image people had of me – what would they think now?  What if I failed?  What if I’m making the wrong choice?

I had no choice but to get out of my comfort zone but sometimes it seemed tempting to stay there – better the devil you know!  As I stepped out of my comfort zone I faced the fears, uncertainty and risk and at times I also failed.

I put on events that no-one showed up to.  For the first couple of years I earned no money from my business.  Most of my speaking was for free and my first royalty cheque was worth less than $5.

After each rejection letter from a publisher I could have decided to give up.  In fact there’s been many times business got hard, I was out of my depth, I wasn’t earning money and it felt like I’d failed, reached the end of the line, I was tempted to give it up.

One of the things that always kept me going was asking “What has this taught me and what can I do about it?”  This solutions focused reflection forced me into action, rather than wallowing in the fact it was hard and I’d failed it immediately turned my mind towards – what am I going to do about it and scanning the options I had.

Failure is how we learn and grow and is often how we learn to succeed, it’s also something that’s unavoidable if you push yourself, take risks and face challenges, I now see how it can be a positive.  But we can see failure as a sign of our lack, a mirror of our self-worth and it encourages us to devalue what we’re capable of.

Don’t under estimate yourself – you’ve earned your place

We often doubt our abilities, underestimate ourselves or think that our success must have been down to something other than our ability – luck, a mistake, being liked etc.

Throughout my career I would wave away success and down play my achievements almost embarrassed by praise.  I can’t say I’m there yet but I have since learned to respond to praise and recognition with ‘thank you’ which is a good start!

For many years in my former career I suffered from Imposter Syndrome.  I didn’t get a degree, I left school at 16 and as I progressed into senior roles (where everyone had a degree) I used to feel like I was less intelligent, not as valuable or worthy – despite my performance and achievements.

Other people’s opinions seem to carry more weight than our own and it’s only the feedback I’ve had from others over the years that now allows me to believe I can do this and that people love what I do.

I remember worrying in my first workshop I’d been asked to do for a big business – am I qualified to do this?  Will they enjoy it?  Will it be good enough?  Who am I to be posing as an expert in this field? – all those questions played on my mind despite having written a book on the subject I was speaking about!

Late last year arriving at parliament to do the same workshop I finally felt like I belonged, that I’d earned my place and that I had something important to share that would be of value to those who’d asked me to come.

If you’re getting praise you’ve earned it.  The success you achieve is because you’re capable and have worked for it.  It doesn’t have to be perfect to be success and you also don’t need to have all the answers.

You don’t have to have all the answers

For many years I’d put off leaving the security of my corporate job.  I needed a plan first.  If this wasn’t my career I needed to know what was before I made any changes.  Where I’m at now I could never have foreseen then.  It’s been a result of the journey I’ve taken and the things I’ve learned along the way that have helped informed my next move, developed me and taken me to where I am.

Often we feel we need all the answers, to see the whole stair case before we take the first step and begin.

There was trial and error, trying things to know if that worked or not.  Training to teach yoga to see if this could be the future me or where else that might take me.  Whilst I had a plan, I had no idea where I’d end up and it was only as I made progress the next steps began to emerge.

Sometimes we have to be comfortable with uncertainty because we don’t know what’s next.  We might have a path set out but end up somewhere different, or sometimes we end up in the same place but take a different path or route to the one we planned, either way it works.  I’m of the opinion now that there are no wrong paths and there are lessons learned and experiences gained even from the tough paths I wish I’d not chosen – I wouldn’t go back and change it.

Align with your values – be yourself

For many of my former years I tried to be who I thought I should be, what the world wanted, to fit in.  I denied my sexuality for many years and took the corporate path of success as my own.  It was only when I realised status and salary were not markers of happiness that I began to look for work that aligned to my values – I had to figure out what those were.

As a young leader I felt there was a mould to fit.  I had to be a certain way to pass as a leader and as a result I devalued some of my skills that I didn’t think had a place at work.  I used to leave my ‘Jess’ hat at the door to put my ‘Leader’ hat on.  I now release these are the same hats and things like kindness, compassion and empathy are major leadership strengths rather than character weaknesses – what a relief because we all know pretending to be something we’re not is exhausting!

Being able to show up as my authentic self both in life and in work makes every day so much more rewarding.  It also allows people to trust us when we’re genuine and relate to us if we’ve walked in their shoes.

Choose your people wisely

I’m lucky to have had support around me, cheerleaders, people who believe in me.  Support from my family even though they had no idea what I was doing and feared my exit from a corporate well paid job to clean composting toilets in a yoga ashram may not be a great career move!

It’s taught e the value of those who surround us.  The people I’ve learned from and aspired to be who inspired me to carry on, even when it got hard.  But equally those who’ve challenged me to grow and pushed me.

I used to feel jealous when I looked at those who’d succeeded, like they’d done it right and I was doing it wrong; “why can’t I be on the stage at this event rather than in the audience?”  It made me feel like I wasn’t as capable rather than just on an earlier stage of my journey.  It’s important we respect these people, learn from them but never compare to them or feel their success threatens our own learning.

Find people who support you but challenge you positively to grow, respect them and be inspired by them but don’t compare yourself to them or feel jealous.  Avoid negative people who hold you back – surround yourself with those who’ll nourish you.

It’s also taught me the power of collaboration.  I’ve met so many amazing people doing similar kinds of work and often now when I organize events I’ll use it as a platform for other women to inspire my audience too and invite guest speakers.

I’ve also been fortunate to join business groups and communities full of supportive people willing to share their knowledge and time with me.

Often we’re taught to compete, that our success needs to be at the expense of someone elses.  I’ve learned that we are much stronger together than we are apart.

Find out more about Jess on her website www.jessstuart.co.nz  and visit the blog at www.inspireyourlife.org/blog