Start-up state of mind - 6 learnings in 6 months

Six months ago, I left my corporate job to venture out on my own. It has been equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking. Reflecting on the journey, I’ve quite a few learnings. Here are my top 6 (and for anyone thinking about doing the same, I hope they inspire you!).

1.    Saying 'no' to wrong opportunities

It’s such a cliché when people say success depends on saying ‘no’ a lot, but I’ve found it very useful. Two months in, I ended up taking another corporate role with a hope that it would somehow align with my start-up world. It only took a few weeks for me to realise it wasn’t the right opportunity, so I walked away. I resisted the temptation to double think, ‘make it into a right opportunity’, and I decided to stick to my guns. I am glad I did. On any given day, I encounter so many directions, without saying 'no' to some, I would never make any progress to be honest.

2.    Owning my decision

Last year, I resigned from my corporate role after two years of back and forth with my startup dream. I had worked hard for over a decade to get to a position that allowed me a foot-in-the-door to the executive world. After reaching that point, I found that I simply couldn’t commit. I wanted to build the next phase of my career on my own terms, create things and not be driven by circumstances. Eventually I made a decision to give myself a real shot at achieving this by leaving the job. Frankly that was the easy bit. Hard bit was owning the decision. The day, week or even months after I left, nothing really changed. I reached a point when I was willing to own my mistakes, it was only then I was ready to give it my absolute best.

3.    Confident being alone

I was completely caught off-guard by my ‘co-dependence’ nature. A friend helped me realise that I tend to seek out company before starting anything. This was such a dangerous trait which prevented me from travelling alone, picking up a workout routine, and even kicking off any new project. I landed in this country when I was 19 and made a life for myself. Co-dependent is the last thing I should be and yet I was. It took me a while to realise that startup journeys are mainly solo. We cannot rely on outside reinforcement to get going. There is no one to tell me when I am taking a wrong turn, give me a tap on the shoulder when I did well or provide guidance on overcoming a challenge. I came to terms with the fact that, on the tightrope, we all walk alone.

4.    Centre myself

I have struggled with clarity. This isn’t new: I always have. I just couldn’t afford to be that person anymore if I wanted to sustain my start-up path. I have looked for help. Everybody is good at something which comes naturally to them. For me, that was running. In my moments of doubts and fear, I ran. Some of the greatest moments of clarity came in the midst of a run and I took that as my next priority.

5.    Being kind to myself

My swimming coach told me something which struck a chord with me. Once, after a few rounds, my coach told me that she could not do her job if I continue to be tough on myself. She wanted me to be kind to myself so that she could help me achieve my goals. I have been told that before and I decided to give it some serious thought. Since then, if there are days when I ignore my morning alarm. Instead of getting frustrated, I just reset and start over. I apply this philosophy across many things in my life. I imagine a magic reset button which puts me back on track so that I don’t waste time being hard on myself – I’m kinder to myself and I’m more productive as a result.

6.    Letting go becomes easy

Here is the thing about letting go. It only becomes easy. I still remember the nervousness and anticipation I felt the week I decided to leave my job. Six months later, I’m still a work-in-progress for letting go of things in the hope of better things. A comfortable lifestyle, a designer wardrobe, expensive holidays and many more things had to be adjusted. That was all great, but absolutely nothing beats the anticipation of not knowing what’s next. Life has never been so liberating.

Shamima Sultana