When you become an entrepreneur, you take ownership of a specific problem or need in your community by imagining a solution, which makes you a leader in change. And, unlike any time in our history, we need more leaders to start tackling the problems facing our communities, so we can nurture more diverse and sustainable economies in the future. However, in my experience, gathering the courage to take the entrepreneurial leap is only half the battle. The other half relies heavily on a person’s ability to take full responsibility for their actions and decisions, good or bad.
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned since I joined the world of entrepreneurship in 2014, is that self-leadership is the first step to changing the world around you. Anyone who’s been down the startup road knows that it will test you in every way. So, if you’re not confident enough to have every decision you’ve ever made questioned or every conviction you have undermined, then you’re not ready for this journey yet.
I knew I was ready to blaze my own trail when I realized that my convictions outweighed my fears. But to assume that anyone can eliminate fear is unreasonable, and unnecessary, because it’s the mechanism that allows each one of us to assess the need, danger and value of our decisions. But for me, my path has been less about mitigating external criticism and more about managing the critic within. Here are 5 things that can help you take ownership of your life and promote change with your entrepreneurial spirit.
1. Don’t accept or make excuses
Although our innate humanity will make us to falter at times, you should always try to find a way to accomplish your goals, if only partially. The minute you start blaming others for something you couldn’t accomplish, you give them power over your destiny and you undermine your social agency. While I can’t deny that there are many people out there who face very real and demoralizing challenges, we all know in our heart of hearts the difference between when we get in our own way or somebody else does. Ultimately, the blame game doesn’t really help anyone, because regardless of how much you point the finger at someone else the problem will remain until you decide to find an alternative, a creative solution or you give up. If you consider the aforementioned odds, you still have a 2 out of 3 chance of accomplishing your end goal if you’re willing to put up a good fight.
2. Don’t undermine the power of your actions
The biggest disservice I ever did to myself in the past was to downplay the impact of my actions on others, no matter how big or small. I believe that even picking up a piece of trash can cause a ripple effect. Why? Well , who knows? Maybe the person who threw the piece of trash that you picked up was raised in a family that didn’t teach them that littering was bad or how to value the environment. However, by modeling the correct behavior, you can disrupt their behavior model and create some form of cognitive dissonance in their mind, which may lead them to alter their ways. Or at least question them. Change might not happen overnight, but if you choose to be a consistent ambassador of correct or new behavior, people will start to pay attention to what you’re doing. Regardless of what anyone thinks, I believe that every action matters, because I choose to give my actions meaning. Anybody is capable of changing the world, and if we’re lucky, hopefully one of our actions might be the reason someone finds the inspiration to change their community.
3. Don’t seek external validation
A core part of taking responsibility for your life is realizing that defining your self-worth is an internal process. Having said that, that doesn’t mean that you can’t accept the praise and encouragement of people who truly care about you and have your best interests at heart. In my journey, I have discovered that insincerity is the death of entrepreneurship, because entrepreneurship is not about conforming. It’s about being genuinely passionate about change and changing a consumer culture is hard enough, even when you’re not trying to use your startup as a way to boost your self-esteem. It’s easy to get caught up in the “sexiness” of the startup world and crave the attention that comes with it. But if that’s the only reason you’re in the game, believe me, there are way easier and more cost-effective ways to satiate this need for attention than founding a startup. If you really want to be content, find out what makes you happy to be you and why your business is important to you before starting your startup journey. That way, you can always assess whether you and your startup are on the right track, regardless of what other people think.
4. Don’t be flustered by ruffled feathers
Personally, I ascribe to the “shoo fly don’t bother me” school of thought when it comes to haters and doubters. I won’t say that I haven’t EVER been discouraged in the past, but when it comes to facing critics you have one of two options. You either evolve or you give in. And well, let’s just say that giving up isn’t in my genes. So, whenever I receive criticism, I always try to see if there is something that I can learn from it. If I can’t extrapolate ANYTHING of value, I toss it into the “ain’t nobody got time for dat” pile and carry on with my life. You can’t expect everyone to understand your vision, but that doesn’t mean that you should let them make you doubt it. If you believe in something, talk about it with so much conviction that you leave your listener questioning their logic, not yours. In my case, I believe that Arab youth and entrepreneurship will be vital to building stronger societies and economies in the MENA region in the future. But I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who think that my ideas are far-fetched, or worse, naive. What they call naivety, I call vision, and in my heart I know that change is inevitable. So, whether my critics believe my vision or not, I have chosen the side of history that I want to be on and they can join me when they’re ready, because I’m not changing my mind anytime soon. Choose what you believe in and stand your ground.
5. Don’t get lost in the “politics”
While I understand that this can be difficult to avoid at times, you should try to avoid unnecessary or frivolous squabbling at all costs. Entrepreneurship is hard enough as it is, without turning it into a battle of the egos. Having said that, there will always be entrepreneurs who delight in making everything in their life a competition or a zero-sum game. There is nothing you can really do but stay away from these people and hope that the universe’s auto-correct mode will adjust their behavior. However, once you’re able to leave these hostile entrepreneurs, who are stuck in their own private hamster wheel, behind, you will find a wonderful global community of people who are willing to help you and your startup grow. If you want to be a part of this community and contribute positively to the growth of your startup ecosystem, make sure that you share your resources, networks and startup lessons with the people that you feel would benefit from them the most. Because you never know what opportunities might come your way when you pay it forward!
In sum, not only is self-leadership a key element of being a happier person, it’s also an important part of being a resilient and successful entrepreneur, because when you change your inner world you inevitably change your outer one.
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