Lesson 1: Share your successes AND FAILURES.
If you are an Australian entrepreneur or a fan of Richard Branson, you may have heard of Creel. Creel is an Aussie entrepreneur, husband, father of two and passionate advocate for the power of entrepreneurship and its capacity to make a difference in the world. I met Creel in 2010 when I found out on a random e-news posting about a project he started called Club Kidpreneur.
My first encounter with Creel was in a pub in downtown Sydney. He had rallied a bunch of entrepreneurs to be volunteer business coaches at Club Kidpreneur. Our initiation, to build a tower out of spaghetti and masking tape that was strong enough to hold a marshmallow on top.
The Marshmallow Challenge.
I love entrepreneurs, they are some of my favourite people in the world... They have big visions and jack of all trade skill sets. This enables two things:
To get things done
A bucket load of confidence (needed to back themselves to create something out of nothing) that sometimes masquerades as ego.
The competition was on.
To paint the scene, picture a group of about 20 men and women ranging from 20 to 40 years old reliving their childhood Lego building sessions. The jackets were off, the sleeves rolled up, with a look of determination plastered on our faces. We all wanted to 'win', even though there was no mention of a prize beyond the bragging rights, and that was enough for us!
The sledging started, and the egos were rising as the competition heated up and the clock counted down. But in one fell swoop we were all cut down to size when Creel casually says... "If the kids were here, they would beat all of you!!!" Wallop, straight in the guts as the ego bubble burst.
We all continued with the challenge. I was wondering how on earth, a group of 8 - 12-year-olds could possibly put a competent and experienced group of entrepreneurs to shame. This was my first of many encounters with Creels straight shot of truth. It's a kick in the gut I have come to know, love and respect over the years I volunteered as a Business Mentor for Club Kidpreneur.
But perhaps the most important lesson I learnt from Creel came much later down the road. I was neck-deep in starting my latest project. Timbre Cafe is a social enterprise cafe. The profit went to supporting development initiatives focused on giving young people the skills to gain employment and create a future for themselves.
The problem was, we were six months in, and there was no profit in sight. The income had started to plateau, the staff had changed entirely, I think I was on day 19 without a day off. The silver lining was that I had experience working in cafe's so I could fill the gaps. For the six months prior, I had thrown every cent, bar my rent and petrol money, at this project. At least I'd started a cafe, so I had food to eat! Which I did every day... Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I didn't go out, I didn't go anywhere other than the cafe and home because I did not have the travel money. To say that I felt like a failure was an understatement. I wanted to give up, and I'd love to say that it was my courage that made me hold on. It wasn't. It was that entrepreneurial ego I mentioned earlier that made me hold on to what looked like a sinking ship. I'd shared my struggles with a few friends, but no one person knew the whole story of how bad it actually was.
One Wednesday, I found myself sitting in one of Creel's entrepreneur training sessions. There is nothing like sitting in a room full of entrepreneurs networking and sharing their business successes loud and proud when you are at the bottom of the big black hole. On the one hand, their stories inspire you to keep going. On the other, it magnifies the failure you feel in your current predicament. Don't get me wrong, the knowledge I gained that day helped me make some tough decisions about the project and dig it out of a hole (for a while anyway!).
It was a challenge to stay present and position myself as a student when the crap was hitting the fan at full speed. Then, at the beginning of the final session of the day, Creel digressed from the training program and began to tell a story about the early days of BluePrint. BluePrint, a business he and his business partner sold for over 109million dollars. He told a comical rendition of writing cheques for his payroll to buy him time before his staff cashed them. Being called by the bank manager 20min later as his team rushed to the bank after work eager to get their weeks wage. The part of the story that resonated the most - at the 6month point they had hit rock bottom. Creel had to ride/run from home to the office every day because they didn't even have enough money to pay for the train ticket. It was that day I learnt about the 6month slump!!!
Creel quickly finished the story and moved back to the lesson at hand but my lesson for the day had just been delivered loud and clear... "Where you are at is ok" it screamed... Others have been there and made it through, and you will make it too. I learnt a valuable lesson that day. A story in season, some would say...
But the BIG lesson I learned that day is the need to share both the highs and lows of life with others... Maybe not in the moment if it hurts too much but later when you have made it through the storm... Tell your story. Our ego often says "no one wants to hear that stuff." Our pride says "people will laugh at me." The reality is for every person who does not want to hear it; there are ten that are silently encouraged by it. And, for every ONE that laughs, there are bucket load more that will appreciate your authenticity and openness.
You may never know the impact of sharing your story, I certainly didn't go running up to Creel and let him know how much that two minutes segway had impacted me. In retrospect, maybe I should have. But his willingness to share his story shifted my perspective on where I was. It gave me the courage to reach out for the help that ultimately got me through my own six-month slump. And, to the position three months later where I could confidently leave for a much-needed vacation. It taught me that I wasn't a failure. Even though my project seemed to be failing. It taught me that I was not alone. Others had made it through, and I can make it through, regardless of whether the project itself succeeded or failed.
Since then, I have tried to share my failures along with my successes. And, my challenges, along with my victories. I have no idea what impact I have had thus far, but if it helps one person to step out and pursue their dream, that would be enough for me.
Endnote: Truth be told, the project failed, but I learnt a lot from it that spring-boarded
me into my next adventure!