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Purpose, Balance and the Entrepreneurial ‘Dream’

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I was invited to talk at a leadership conference over the weekend, but wasn’t able to make it due to health reasons. Here is my talk for those who were keen to hear it:

I believe that entrepreneurship is in your blood. It’s part of your DNA and just like your very Jewish or very Indian big nose you inherited from your mom, it follows you around wherever you go. It’s something you are stuck with, for better or for worse. Some will say it is a form of addiction because it is all consuming.

Every entrepreneur who ever stuck it out for the long haul has a story to tell about how they were making money as a child through solving a problem in their community. Ultimately that is what us entrepreneurs are, problem solvers. There is also probably a story in there about a legacy of entrepreneurs in the family or a story around poverty as a child and a will to succeed because of adversity.

Some of us were undercutting the school tuckshop by selling cheaper chips from the bicycle shed, others like me, were selling cigarettes from the bicycle shed. In fact, the problem I felt that I was solving in high school was access to drugs, alcohol and trance party tickets!

My mom is an entrepreneur, not a very good one, we struggled a lot! I remember her trading on markets, going door to door selling socks and her art and later, owning her own art gallery in Sea Point.. My mom had three great qualities as an entrepreneur:

An appetite for hard work– something us kids on instagram are calling #HUSTLE  and what she would call, a whole lot of Chuspah!   That woman has a thick skin and she knows how to sell!

But there is more to making it work as ean entrepreneur than sales skills, hard work, and chuspah. You need to understand cashflow management and you need to have the foresight to build a leveraged business, a business that can make money for you while you sleep or when you get sick.

My parents got divorced when I was 3, my dad was in and out of the picture in between his drug binges and jail time. As a child I lived with my mom mostly, she has bipolar and would get sick a lot! Anyone that understand bipolar will understand how scary a manic episode can be. So needless to say that when mom got sick, business took the strain in a massive way. Because mom refused to take medication, mom got sick, a lot! Her business struggled and I realized early on that if I wanted to build a future, it was all on me. There was no trust fund, the college fund had been cashed in a long time ago to pay debt. Things like clothes, school supplies, even groceries sometimes, and any luxuries were on me if I wanted them.

Before you think I’m a  responsible, healthy human being:  I started using drugs at 11, first, it was alcohol and marijuana and then came the hard stuff, Tik and Cocaine.  By the time I was 17, I was a full-blown drug addict, but was using ‘successfully’ at this stage, this is a term addiction counselors and Narcotics Anonymous use to describe a drug user who is not visibility causing damage to themselves and others through their drug use. Usually, the signs of an unsuccessful drug user are stealing things from family in order to fund your addiction, getting caught with drugs in your possession, selling your body for drugs. I was doing none of those things.

Instead, I was a straight-A student who was living alone with her boyfriend at the time, paying rent and working in a bar four days a week. I was 17 years old and earning about R10 000 a month working part-time and I did all of this while using drugs daily.  By the time I was 20 I was a certified estate agent selling Atlantic Seaboard property.

Entrepreneurship and hard work and the feeling of success was in my blood and so was this addictive personally. I was addicted to drugs yes, but I was also addicted to the feeling of financial freedom. I did not want to be one of those girls who had a blesser, who batted her eyelashes at the bar to get free drink. I took pride in buying my own drinks!

Needless to say that living life in the fast lane was not sustainable. I hit rock bottom just before my 21st birthday. I was had been working 18 hours day and using drugs to keep me going.

When I started making money as a teen, I was satisfied with it paying my bills and funding my drug habit, but after some time that was no longer enough for me. The money on its own and even the drugs were not fulfilling anymore.  Because of the nature of the life I was leading, I had ruined every personal relationship I had and lost sight of the meaning of life.

Around this time, the man that I had been seeing for a little while, introduced me to his religion. Having come from quite a hippy, tree hugging family that was part NG Kerk, part Jewish, I had a rich understanding of God but had not really given my spirituality or the notion of a higher power much thought at all.

I spent a few weeks obsessively (remember the addictive personality plays out in many ways) researching this religion of so-called peace, something I was clearly in need of myself. Through my time spent understanding Islam and taking a good hard look at myself, I made the decision to give up drugs and alcohol and go into recovery. I embraced Islam shortly after that.

Life is a series of lessons that we keep learning over and over. Often they are faults that we see in our parents, that we swear we will not repeat, but ultimately do.  My lessons, time and time again have been about purpose and balance and my seemingly endless pursuit of those two things.

My mom was obsessed with work and I resented her for that. To this day she works six days a week for a min of 10 a day. I barely saw her as a child, and while I can respect her for trying to put food on the table, she was absent during my formative years, years that may have prevented me from drug addiction had anyone paid attention and so I vowed to really be there for my kids.

I became Muslim in 2007 and through learning about this way of life, I began to really investigate what the purpose of my life was? What was I here for? How could I serve humanity? What gifts have I been given to share with the world? As a natural storyteller, my journey into media and marketing really got started and I began to really hone in on what my gifts were to this world.  I focused on building those gifts and curating a business model around them that made money.  After having kids, the need for a stable income and the illusion of safety of a 9-5 catapulted me back into the corporate space for a while. I was working in PR on a massive e-commerce brand. It was highly competitive and stressful. I had a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old at the time and was again working ridiculous hours. I was barely keeping it all together. I had again lost sight of purpose and balance.

The Universe has an amazing way of slowing you down when you’re going too fast, but you need to pay attention. My daughter got really sick over this time and was hospitalized and in quarantine for two weeks. My days were spent trying to make PR deadlines and achieve maximum media coverage during the biggest company merge in local e-commerce history, from my daughter’s hospital bed.

When I got my salary that month, I was missing two week’s pay. Upon querying this with my boss, I was told that because I had not been in the office for two weeks, my pay reflected that. This is despite working remotely and meeting my deadlines. An experienced prior this one involved a boss who confiscated cell phones on arrival at work, rationed toilet, and tea breaks and was constantly screaming and shouting and degrading staff. I will never forget how trapped and powerless I felt at both those jobs. The feeling of my future and livelihood being in someone’s hands scares me so much.  I learned how not to boss from these horrible bosses and had a calling to not only continue the pursuit of my entrepreneurial dreams but to do so with three very clear WHY’s or purposes:

The first: I wanted to help other entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

The second: I wanted to build winning teams who loved coming to work.

The third: I wanted to build a life that was lived, rather than worked.

These three clear purposes have impacted how we go about business development, recruitment, and team building efforts. It is what spearheads the hiring and firing of teams members and clients and it is what we continue to come back to when we are feeling like we’re losing our way.

Are we helping entrepreneurs and is this a positive and fun play to work and are we living life or working it.

There has never been a more glamorous time to be an entrepreneur than now. Social media will have you believe that entrepreneurs are this decade’s rock stars. On one hand, you are flooded with images and commentary promoting working 12 hour days, around finding what you love and letting it kill you, on the other hand, you are flooded with images of seemingly successful people with fancy cars or on yachts, living the high life.

My message to you today is simple: if entrepreneurship is in your blood, if you know in your core of core’s that you cannot be anything else but an entrepreneur, know that the pursuit of that perfect work-life balance will be an ongoing journey. There will be times when you are working 12 hour days for months and then you will also have your own version of the fancy car or yacht moments too.  You will feel like you are failing more times than you feel like you are succeeding, both professionally and personally, be aware that as an entrepreneur you have some kind of addictive or obsessive personality that lacks an off button and if you are spending too much time enjoying one area of your life, know that the other one is taking strain.
And finally, know that people do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it and so a clear understanding your why and having fun while you build your empire is crucial to your success.

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