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Being & Becoming a Solopreneur

It's been over 2 years since I went out on my own, with 18 years experience in a corporate role.

When I started, my biggest fear was financial.

Would I survive?

Would I make enough?

My business now earns well above my last drawn salary. What eclipses this outcome though, is my learning in this new life is many many times over. And that's what I'd like to talk about today.

Here are some things I've picked up so far, as I continue being and becoming a solopreneur.

1. I'm alone

On some days, when dawn broke, I woke up to a feeling of loneliness so crushing that I had to literally heave myself out of bed to start the day.

That's the solo in solopreneur btw. It's real. And sometimes, so debilitating that I nearly gave up.

There's no boss giving you guidance. No banter with colleagues. No gossip over coffee. No security guard saying Good Morning. No one in the cafetaria to make your usual snack of sandwich and tea. No commute in Bangalore traffic, though that one I can live without!

The loneliness can get to you. And at times, it did, especially because last year was ironically filled with emptiness. I lost many loved ones, and death can confuse, but also make many things clear.

I get through loneliness because I realized something.

2. I'm not alone

On most days, I wake up knowing who I can count on. Who is there for me, who will pick up the phone, who will help, who will come running in an emergency, who will support me no matter what.

And that gives me peace. That even though I am solo, I am also not.

3. Everything starts with me

That book.

That business idea.

That coaching proposal.

That training program.

It all starts with me, and if I don't own it, nothing starts.

There's no Big Bang, no beginning.

It has taken some discipline to ensure things don't always stay on TODO lists, and somehow get actioned. That first step, as they say, is indeed the most important.

Taking ownership, and moving just that little bit - is a superpower.

4. Everything ends with me

That book.

That business idea.

That coaching proposal.

That training program.

I started it, but it's not going anywhere! If I don't keep working on it, a quiet whimper is how it ends.

It is tempting to think that the buck stops with someone else, and not me. But that's a fallacy if there ever was one. I have learnt to either keep doing something, or drop it completely. The barbell strategy, as they call it, keeps things on either side of the barbell. There's no comfortable middle, where things stay and slowly die.

Taking accountability for getting things done - is a superpower too.

5. I'm riding a roller coaster, on a ship, in a storm

Yes, it's exactly like that!

There's a blog to write, a client to reply to, a training to prepare for, a coaching class to schedule, an invoice to send, a long overdue email still in draft, a travel plan to make, a book cover to design, a dozen unread messages on LinkedIn, a dozen more on WhatsApp, a hundred unread newsletters causing FOMO, and of course that most important interrupt of all - an unclaimed Amazon voucher for more stuff I don't need!

After struggling with many ideas, here's what I finally realized.

6. I'm managing energy, not time

This HBR article from 2007 is something I still refer to as my time management guide.

Because it helped me realize that productivity wasn't about time, it is about energy!

Even though I keep trying, no time management system has really worked very well for me. When I reflect on when I do my best work, I realize it's when I am feeling up for it. So I now guard and ring fence my high-energy slots! Mornings are for exercise, reflections and work.

Afternoons for operations and logistics.

Evenings are for winding down, resting and refreshing.

And if something doesn't get done, it just doesn't. And that's ok.

That comfort with knowing it's ok comes from Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand weeks, which transformed my relationship with time. I am now so much more aware of what I am doing with it. The most important question I keep asking myself now is - "With about 2000 weeks left, is this what I really want to do now?"

7. My ikigai isn't at the center, it's everywhere

You may have seen that popular Ikigai graphic urging you to be at the intersection of -

- What you love

- What you are good at

- What the world needs

- What you can be paid for

Ikigai simply means your "reason for being", and it could simply be having a morning coffee, or reading a book, or talking to a friend. I connect with Ikigai as being "in the moment" and not some life defining philosophy.

There's a lot of pressure to find that intersection in the graphic, but as a solopreneur I find that I am in all areas, but not always at once.

I do what I love, I do what I am good at, I do what the world needs and I am paid. And I do many different things that tick some of the boxes some of the time, but not all the boxes all of the time.

And that's ok. I am not here to find the perfect balance. In fact I am doing something else entirely.

8. I'm not balanced, I'm balancing

I am never completely balanced when I am riding my bike. I am always micro-correcting either way. I am never perfectly straight. When I move a bit to my left, I move right to center myself. When I move a bit to the right, I move left to center myself.

I am not looking for a 50/50 balance.

It's sometimes about this, and sometimes that.

I am not trying for some of this, and an equal of that.

I am not trying to be balanced.

I am trying to balance.

Noun or Verb. That's the distinction.

I want to keep moving. And for that I need to keep balancing.

9. Start, use, do

I shortened Arthur Ashe's quote - “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”, and said it to myself whenever I felt a bit stuck.

Start where you are - I reminded myself of my strengths

Use what you have - I kept growing my mindset, skillset and toolset

Do what you can - Even. A. Single. Step. Is. Enough.

10. I'm here, fully, now.

2022 is over. 2023 is yet to unfold.

One is in my memory, and the other in my imagination.

If there's one thing being a solopreneur has taught me, it's this.

I used to be regretful of the past, and afraid of the future. As I learn to live in the present, I become fond of the past and expectant of the future.

So that's what I am going to do.

As you continue your career journey, may you find more of what you seek.

I am rooting for you.


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