My Number One Piece of Advice for Entrepreneurs
One carefree Saturday morning a few years ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table of my San Francisco apartment with a couple of my roommates. I was living in the Mission at the time with 3 guys, each of us inhabiting a bedroom off the long hallway of the apartment—the classic SF layout. We were having a lovely lazy morning, sipping coffee and hatching adventures to get into that day. Sunlight poured in from our open back door, the same door the neighbor’s cat we dubbed Garfield would wander through on occasion.
For some reason, we were talking about our opinions on abortion. I was voicing my pro-choice beliefs, saying that the decision to have a child is deeply personal, especially for the person giving birth. I was the only woman in the conversation, and was speaking to the empowerment of getting to choose when to have children so we can experience the world and do all the things we want to do before becoming parents: pursue a career, explore our identity, travel the world.
One of my roommates snarked, “You’re going to abort a baby so you can, what, go travel? That’s pretty selfish, Ali.”
His sarcasm was palpable. He was disgusted with me, with the idea of me putting myself before an unborn fetus.
I made the universal face we humans make when we’re shocked into silence. You know the one: blinking slowly, pulling the head backwards in space, then opening the eyes much wider than they were open before. You know, The Face of Shock.
It’s a little like a deer in the headlights with a double chin. That face.
I was so stunned by his disrespect of me and disregard of my point of view that it took me a moment to stand up for myself.
When I recovered, I said something like this: “I think traveling gives us a sense of perspective in the world and teaches us about other cultures. It gives us empathy. I think it’s important to get that education before becoming a parent—it makes you a better parent.”
My roommate backed down...a little. He conceded that he saw my point, though I wasn’t sure I believed him.
I could’ve said so much more to support my opinions, none of which I should have needed to say in the first place. I could’ve given a TED Talk about how waiting until you're ready to have a child (if ever) is a gigantic contribution to the world as well as yourself. I could’ve given a whole second TED Talk about how it was none of his goddamn business why I held the beliefs that I did and also how wildly out of line it was for him to gaslight me like that.
Instead, I made The Face, said my piece, and we all moved on.
What I was trying to say—and what I still believe to be true—is that I think it’s important to do all the growing and learning you possibly can before having kids. I’m in an intense period of internal growth right now, and one of my biggest drivers to work out my shit is to avoid passing it down to my hypothetical children. I want to be the last woman in my bloodline to deal with feelings of unworthiness, to have to convince herself that she’s valuable enough to take up space.
From what I can tell (as a non-parent, mind you), it seems that parenting is as much about modeling the internal as educating about the external. I want all the conditioning rooted deep in my tissues to wilt away with me so I never model it to a child. Ever.
I don’t have kids yet, so my perspectives on this are all hypothetical and based on conjecture. But even without children, I still understand that the way I walk through the world impacts the people around me. None as profoundly as children are impacted by their parents, but still, there’s a ripple effect.
And while I don’t have children, what I do have is a business. Rather than modeling my behavior to children, I’m seeing the ripple effect my personal state has on clients and collaborators.
I’m learning that whatever personal growth I experience outside of my business impacts the relationships I cultivate within it. Similarly, whatever shortcomings I feel in my internal world come roaring into my entrepreneurial sphere, uninvited.
This idea of a distinction between our personal and professional lives is convenient...but it’s total bullshit. I mean yes, we can separate the two in terms of tasks, time spent, and goals. But we are each one holistic human person. It’s impossible that the version of us that shows up to a client call is radically different from the one who hosts friends over for dinner. We might talk about different things, express different boundaries, and discern how much of ourselves to reveal in each situation, but our essence is the same. (Or at least I hope it is. I can’t imagine the kind of inauthenticity required to be a completely different person.)
If someone were to ask me for my number one piece of advice for succeeding in business, it would be the exact same piece of advice I’d give to someone looking to further their personal growth, or nervous about becoming a parent:
Go to therapy.
Work on yourself. Reflect. Get quiet. Journal—a lot. Meditate.
Whatever introspection we can find outside of “working hours” we inevitably carry over into our business, too.
Lately I’ve been working on seeking my own personal truth rather than relying on external validation. I’ve been tuning into my own intuition and learning to stop asking other people if the decisions I come to are ok. (Holy shit y’all it’s so hard. But that’s writing for another day.)
I’m realizing that all this work I’m doing personally is carrying over into my business without me consciously making the connection. During client calls, when we’re trying to figure out a solution to a challenge, I’ll pause for a moment and say, “Hang on one second, I have an idea formulating.” I’ll actually take a second to close my eyes or look off into the middle distance and be quiet—something I wouldn’t have done in the past because I would’ve thought it rude to make my client wait for a second. Or I would’ve thought it unprofessional to not immediately have all the answers.
When I have it, I’ll say, “Ok, I have an idea.” I’ll lay it out, and then I’ll ask them how it feels, if it feels right. I’m gonna be cocky for a second here: Usually, it’s dead on. (For the record, this is definitely not a superpower unique to me. I believe we all have this ability, it’s just been taught out of us by conditioning and formal education.)
When I give myself permission to tap into my instincts, both my clients and myself benefit. Plus it’s fun. It’s genuinely enjoyable to pull a new creative idea out of the ether, have the client try it on, and realize it fits. It’s exciting and inspiring. It allows us to create a new plan of action that feels fresh, invigorating.
All of those benefits come from the internal work I’ve chosen to do on myself. The time I’ve chosen to allocate for myself—before having children—to be “selfish.”
So to my old roommate, the one who was so disgusted by my selfishness, today I say, “You’re welcome.”