This Little Light of Mine, Am Gonna Let It Shine…

As I continue on my sometimes merry journey through this thing we call life, I like to think along the way I gain some enlightenment that may one day be useful to some other soul who is making a journey and would appreciate some shared misery, insight, inspiration, whatever.

Been in an extended psyching up zone with some buddies of mine who are also entrepreneurs and who also struggle with some of the same things I struggle, have struggled, with. We talk a lot about how we benchmark ourselves against the best in the business, next Zuckerberg anyone, when we haven’t got a shot in hell of matching them. We pontificate about how we want to build world class businesses in the squalor that we call home and with little to no resources to speak of. Most of the time sadly, we know it ain’t gonna happen and put on a brave front until the next existential crisis, which may range from something as intense as the office manager not buying diesel so the office shuts down, to actually not having any customers to sell our brilliant ideas to.

I recently had a conversation with a lady who I hoped would introduce me to some folks in her network. However, when she discovered that my entrepreneurial/managerial skills were honed in the last few years on the dark continent, her excitement waned. Suddenly, all oohs and ahhhs were replaced by the voicemail message and canned email responses. The love was gone. What I thought was a badge of honour was nothing more than a paper cut out, shabby representation of the United Nations crest pinned to my chest with a toothpick. I thought, how come when the boys from Harvard and Columbia do it, it is really cool and everyone wants to buy them drinks, but for some strange reason the UNILAG reject just HAS TO BE pretending.

The problem was that for more than a split second, I actually questioned myself and my experiences. I questioned what I built, who I influenced, why I was doing what I loved. I realised that for myself at that point, and I imagine for a lot of entrepreneurs, validation came from too many external sources. Now, I don’t mean in the sense of customers, i.e. business was doing well and turnover was increasing, I mean in terms of the ignorant investor, the private club colleague, the chap sat by you on the plane, your mum, your dad, the folks who can speak to you with reckless abandon and cut you to pieces without a second thought. The folks that can distract you from your goals and aspirations.

I have worked with lots of interesting people from a lot of interesting places. Also, I have worked with a lot of mediocre folks in a lot of interesting places. In my youth, when I was less jaded, I had the swagger/temerity to refuse to get Microsoft certification because I enjoyed putting my certified colleagues to the sword with my superior knowledge. Just because some folks look the part, doesn’t mean they should get the roles.

Alas, youth has fled and one is left with the realities of life, this life as a business man/woman. Here’s the thing, regardless of your position, you have to walk into the room like you own it because it has already been ordained by the most high. Pastor Rapu will surely appreciate this section. You have to believe that you have already succeeded even if you don’t have any customers, or product. You have to…here it comes, LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE! It is not everything but it can be the difference between a fund manager deciding to sit beside YOU and not some other wannabe entrepreneur at a conference. Yes, substance at the end of the day will prevail, but walking with confidence and not being apologetic about being at the table with folks we imagine are smarter and have better products than us goes a long way. You have to appreciate yourself before anyone else will appreciate you.

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