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Startup lesson #04: Be yourself

Lessons from 100 days of starting my own business

This is something that we all know and a concept we’re all familiar with. We’ve been told all our lives to just ‘be yourself’ and everything will work out, as if by magic. Unfortunately, although great advice, for many people, figuring out who we really are is one of the great challenges in life. And because we’re all dynamic, adaptive beings, once we think we have ‘being yourself’ nailed for a time, we move on and the new ‘you’ requires some more getting used to. And so it continues.

Being 'myself' is something that I found very hard – perhaps even impossible – whilst working in specific jobs for other people. However, when you become your own brand representative, it becomes essential to work towards better understanding who you are, what you stand for, and what you can offer to others.

You need to appreciate and love who you are because of the things that make you different, and care less about what others think. You need to celebrate the things that make you different and remarkable.

This is easy to say and hard to implement in practice.

When you’re an employee, very often we’re put into boxes according to our job title. This can be incredibly comforting in some ways, and incredibly restrictive in others. In big organizations, this labelling is important, because it indicates to others our function and role within the company and tells other people what to expect from us. However, no labels will ever capture all the details of our personality, or encourage us to explore different areas of interest outside of this narrow job title. It can be very easy to forget that we are capable of more than just our job title. It's easy to fall into the trap of pidgeonholing ourselves.

In my career, I’ve gone from ‘teacher’ to ‘ambassador’ to ‘editor’, ‘project manager’, ‘business analyst’, ‘partnership manager’. Each of those things in turn was what people in the company expected me to be and knew me as. The people who knew me as a project manager had no idea I was capable of also being an editor, and the people who knew me as an editor had no idea there was also an analyst, or ambassador lurking within the same person – and that doesn’t even cover my out of work interests. Once you start adding ‘runner’, 'snowboarder’ or 'dog lover' for example, you get a very different impression of this person.

The good news is that becoming an entrepreneur gives you the excuse you always needed to use your superpowers and to put yourself into a completely different, much less restrictive, category. In fact, fulfilling multiple roles becomes an essential part of your business. You are the strategist, the IT department, the marketing department, the sales team, the editor, the project manager, the developer, the designer, and sometimes also the cleaner. You get to define the roles you play, and it is possible (and in fact essential) to tailor these to your strengths.

If you don’t know at the start of your entrepreneurial journey what your superpowers are, that’s completely OK. I remember being asked this question in April 2016 at Escape the City, and finding it almost impossible to answer. All I could think to answer was the job I was currently doing. The only way I was then able to uncover my real innate skills was to start doing, start building, start creating. And very gradually, my talents are beginning to reveal themselves to me. The same will happen for you, if you throw your energy into making something happen, and commit to it 100%.

No doubt some of your skills will be ones you’ve used in the past. Some will almost certainly surprise you. When I planned to quit my job in May 2016, I never expected to be writing three books for my dream publisher a few months later. And I hadn't decided to focus on my current business idea, Lazy Flora, and I had no idea it was possible to enjoy work so much. At that point, I didn’t even have a blog, and certainly had no clue as to what direction my entrepreneurial journey would take. This blog and Lazy Flora both happened as a result of following my curiosities, taking chances, and just getting on and doing things that felt good, without thinking too much about the ‘why’, or what would happen next.

For many of us, ‘being yourself’ doesn’t happen straight away, and there isn’t an end point. There’s a big period of adjustment to our new way of life and working, and a big old disruptive shakedown accompanies this. Gradually, though, the dust begins to settle and you are able to piece together nuggets of this new-found self. It’s an ongoing process, and you’ll never stop learning, so enjoy the process and don’t expect to ever arrive at a final answer. Your ‘self’ is not fixed: you are dynamic and can adapt to new situations.

I'm Claire Ransom, and I'm a writer and business owner. I founded Lazy Flora, a garden-in-a-box delivery company, in February 2017. This blog post is part of a series on things I learnt during 100 days of starting my own business.

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