Founder’s Log: Day 761, Straight-Up Truth

Experimental Civics
Jul 29 · 10 min read

It’s the first of May in the year 2019 and we’ve just passed our 2-year mark and I have all the feels, but I wanted to highlight 3 takeaways of the thousands of lessons I’ve learned in this short window of time.

I’m caffeinated, I slept well last night (even though my air conditioning unit decided to break last weekend), and I’m coming out of a short burnout phase.

My business is never far from my mind — it’s like a child in that I can never leave it alone for too long and I find myself giving every ounce of my being to help ensure it’s success. While being a parent and a startup founder are obviously not the same, both journeys are incredibly challenging, revealing, and ultimately, rewarding.

SLA Foundation — Presenting to high school students about our human-centered design thinking practices

So how do I truly feel about being a founder?

I struggle with this question immensely. I experience a cocktail mixture of dozens of emotions every single day and yet I know I’m still on the steep incline towards the vision I have for myself and my organization. While I can look back and see how far I’ve come, the vast distance between where I stand and where I want to be will take years to cross.

I do make a point to take short, quiet moments to enjoy what I’ve done. I’m grateful for what I have, but I’m still growing and learning every day which is the best of this bottomless adventure. Back when I was starting out a few years ago, I was a very different person. Launching this startup has changed me, for the better, and taught me many incredibly valuable life lessons — here are just a few:

Lesson #1 Each Moment Holds Its Value

All too often our lives become weighted down by the mundane, everyday activities. This is why I love to travel. When I’m traveling, I’m completely in the moment; I cherish every second and my mind is awash with new sights, sounds, and possibilities.

Travel disrupts my routine and there are no distractions pulling my attention and focus. I am single-minded and completely immersed in my experience. This is similar to the intensity and clarity of purpose I felt as a child.

But when did I lose that? When did the magic of the moment fade behind the monotony of my to-do lists? When did I take all of the magic inside me and stuff it into an old toy box shoved under my bed?

I’m sorry but I didn’t sign up for an adulthood where magic doesn’t exist.

When starting this business, I actually enjoyed getting up at 5:30 a.m. on the weekend and racing over to the coworking space before anyone else was there so I could plan out my tasks on the giant whiteboard. I spent my Saturdays and Sundays plotting, planning, discussing, trashing, crying, rewriting, mapping out, redesigning, laughing, and playing some Lizzo or Deadmau5 until nearly 9:30 p.m.

That, dear reader, is called F-L-O-W. I look back now and think, “Those were the days.” I am the type of person who always has tons of energy when I’m building something, but little did I know that the path was about to get steep.

When I had to pivot to selling, recruiting clients, and getting myself out there, it was a struggle — even for an extrovert like me who enjoys interacting with others. Selling is about understanding the value of what clients need and how I can service them. However, I soon realized that my biggest hurdle wasn’t narrowing my product or service, but how I valued myself.

Audience with HRH Prince Constantijn SXSW exclusive presentation 2017

I had to reevaluate and break down the walls that I had placed myself in (or had been placed in) to redefine my worth and value and adjust my pricing to reflect that shift. I began to emphasize value, both in how I valued my time, experience, and worth, and how others around me truly valued me.

Talk about tipping the scales.

I can say with confidence that your time is the most valuable thing. Your efforts are your personal capital. Your heart and soul are obviously going into this project and you deserve to get the value of your labor.

Every moment carries tremendous weight.

From my first client, first hackathon event, first successful event, first PR mention, first mistake with a client, first legal issue per business name, first time rehashing my taxes, first time handling all business finances to all my recurring and strengthening experiences after…once you carry the weight of these moments and understand what you are doing, there is a wonderful harmony between being grateful, not settling for less, and developing an elevated perspective on what you value in life.

Lesson #2 It’s Okay to Talk to Yourself, Only You Know All of the Answers

I’ve always talked to myself.

I find that it’s an extremely rewarding sensation to talk yourself through something you just wrote or read and begin to break it down. When I first started my business, I listed several words which held value for me on a whiteboard, and had piles of doodles, Post-it notes, and scribblings for reference and inspiration. I slowly started to organize these items and VOILA, I had already built a moodboard and developed the tone and beginning brand for the company.

My best friend in college (shout-out to Rachel Brinitzer) bought me this book and I’ve been filling it out since 2011. Slowly, but surely, but if you’re unsure of how to begin interviewing yourself, this book has everything laid out!

So if you’re considering a new project, going through a transition, or are launching a business, look at what’s around you, and pay attention to every detail; you never know what will inspire your next leap forward.

In addition to giving you a greater appreciation for your value and worth, talking to yourself breeds trust and confidence, which are essential in business. A few years back, I used to listen to every piece of advice, I would soak it all in like a sponge. There were opposing strategies — one person would recommend X and another would recommend Y, but Z was a trending TED Talk.

Look, there are a TON of resources out there. I’m not saying that some can’t help you along the way, but I would caution you against letting others’ voices stand in for yours. Nothing is more precious than your voice and why it is you’re doing what you’re doing.

Try this exercise and just sit with yourself after reading an article or piece of information.

What did YOU like about what you just read?

How did YOU react?

What are the best bits YOU can take forward?

Which are the parts YOU don’t want to ever read or listen to again?

What can YOU add to this piece from your own experience?

I have gone through my struggles with imposter syndrome and the journey is not over yet, but I do understand the value of what I bring to the table for my clients and my business.

When you’re looking in the mirror, when you’re driving to work, when you’re sipping your fourth espresso and it’s 6 p.m. so you know it’s going to be a shitty night — tell yourself that you have something to add. I’m all about the dramatics, but it’s what helps me get through the challenges.

I know leadership is tricky. The expectations, the judgement calls, and the fear of risk. You have nothing to lose in this lifetime. You might lose a few things in terms of your savings, time or material items, but none of those things should deter you from achieving your dream. Only you know how to take the next step from A to B.

Lesson #3 Health Matters

After only 14 months as a startup founder, I already started to notice the physical toll it was taking. I would get incredibly groggy after eating certain foods, yet I really struggled not to just eat anything I wanted since I was “working so hard.” I didn’t have weekends and my play time was limited to just a few hours, which was rough. I was managing my stress through massage therapy, meditation, but I was always feeling like I was in a state of catch-up instead of release. I needed the scales to tip so I could learn how to find balance.

I was getting irritable at work and after a dear family member passed away, I realized how my happiness needed to come first, so I quit my full-time which I had been leaning on to launch myself, I shared my need for departure with my clients, and I took 2.5 months off and booked a trip to Nepal to seek the deepest self-love and to sit at the base of Everest.

Those 2.5 months feel like a lucid dream of serenity, happiness, endless time, love, joy, and thought. Those moments carried heavy lessons for me around physical, mental, and emotional health, and everything in between. I had always worked hard and worked smart, but now I need to level up my game and protect myself even more.

Post-Everest, I began to focus on my ability to set boundaries against habits that were not serving me was crucial and taking complete ownership. I had a personal trainer who hosted training sessions for me prior to Nepal for the EBC trek, but after I got back, I started making the workouts my own.

I wanted to eat healthier so I piloted a strict Keto diet for 47 days and then scaled back to an on-and-off plan. I reorganized my kitchen pantry and fridge to always be full of healthier choices and cooking books to inspire me to get creative.

Through all of this, I found that my health has become a huge priority — not just because I want to be able to do things like climb mountains if I feel like it, but because being healthy gives me the energy and strength I need to continue on this path.

The entrepreneurship path is steep and it’s going to be challenging, but as we said on the long road to EBC, “Just breathe deeply and keep moving forward.” Even if the steps were sometimes incredibly small, we had to be able to keep pushing through the temperature, the altitude, and all the other barriers.

“Your speed doesn’t matter. Forward is forward.”

If I had the opportunity to give myself some advice two years ago, I would tell that ambitious and eager woman to stay true to her values; to cherish every moment, even the lowest ones; and to prioritize health.

How many entrepreneurs hear this message when they are reading through Zero-To-One for the billionth time? I have STACKS of books, articles, Harvard Business Reviews, etc., but very few touch on the true journey of self upon which every entrepreneur must embark.

While there are plenty of resources available on this topic, bear in mind that this journey is solo and is different for each of us. If you manage to stay true to yourself and listen to your own voice, you’ll be on the road to success, but you will likely encounter many other hurdles unique to your circumstances and vision that you will have to dig deep inside yourself to overcome.

With that in mind, the most powerful piece of advice I can give you from my 2+ years of experience is to find your FLOW and ride it. Grab hold of whatever sparks your creativity and don’t let go. You know your company, your customer, the power of your product/service, and what you’re capable of achieving. Now you just have to trust in yourself and your vision and go for it!

Experimental Civics

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We design spaces for people to experiment with their ideas. experimentalcivics.io

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