It has been 10 years since I took a giant leap of faith and entered the new world of running my own business. I have since started up 2 businesses, built them from the ground up and have now sold them to other investors as part of an exit strategy.
Many people assume that this path was pre-planned as if it was part of my lifelong goal, but the honest truth is that as per many things in our lives, running my own business was one of many unexpected meanders.
It presented massive challenges, and yet has become the foundation of many of the life skills I have gained over the last decade.
During this same period, something else happened too. I was blessed with two girls and the family became a family of four. Becoming a mother is a blessing, but it can be incredibly hard and daunting.
Filled to the brim with things you never expected to learn or do, and when you think about it, very parallel to becoming an entrepreneur.
The world of business and the world of raising kids isn’t that terribly different. Many of the skill sets we need to succeed are common in both worlds.
First, let me set out 3 key things I have learnt from my entrepreneurial journey.
#1. The 5 or 10-year business plan is not of utmost importance. Being agile and adaptable is.
In the course of my career, I have often been asked, especially at job interviews or when I was starting out my own business, what is your business plan? After a decade of being in the entrepreneurial world, this question has become a bugbear to me.
The world is no longer moving in 5 or 10-year cycles, they move much faster than that and if you remain stuck on a business plan done years ago, you will get left behind.
The phone you hold in your hand today is unlikely to be the same phone you held 2 years ago (or even last year), the music you listen to today, is unlikely to be from the same player you used 5 years ago – you probably don’t even own a CD these days.
Don’t get me wrong – a plan is still important – to set out a map for you to head to your destination. But you need to strategise with your head down on the ground, plugged in and ready to change.
Do not be saddled by old ideas, old techniques. Be careful with piling on inventory and fixed cost items which do not allow you to make changes in your direction. And keep humble and continue learning, for the world and its fast-changing trends require you to.
#2. The entrepreneurial world is more personal – every decision becomes more weighted.
Despite my experience as an investment banker as well as an investments personnel in large corporations, doing cross border deals and big multi-million dollar investments did not prepare me for small “deals” that I do on a daily basis which I faced while running my own business.
Why? Because once you are on your own, you lose the umbrella – the defence umbrella as I call it, that your large corporation provides to you.
Firstly, it sure makes a difference when it’s your own money. Every dollar now counts everything that you do with it counts. You do spend a lot more brainpower thinking of the consequences of losing your own money.
Secondly, you lose the shield of corporate policies and committees and multi departments. Take for example, when dealing with non-performing employees.
In the corporate world, there is always another department or a policy that you are able to fall back on – “I am sorry, it is HR policy”, or “perhaps in the next round of promotions”.
When you are the one and only voice in a company, you are literally the Line Manager, HR Manager, CEO all rolled into one. Any decision you make or voice out has no other member of the company involved. It ultimately comes down to you.
The word “policy” means very little to those who work intimately with you. You probably know more about the employees around you than you would have in a corporation.
The decisions I make on a daily basis may not change the world or seal multi-million dollar deals, but they are tougher to make, as each decision is more weighted.
Hard decisions are part and parcel of the entrepreneurial world. It may seem as if it’s no different to those made in a corporate world, but once you have made hard decisions involving your own money, your own dreams and people you know well, you have honed a new set of skills in decision making altogether.
#3. Entrepreneurship is not an occupation; it is a lesson in life skills.
Entrepreneurship is a buzz word these days. I meet lots of young people who say they want to become an entrepreneur. And I always ask “why?”
Whatever your reasons maybe, I do feel that entrepreneurship is not an occupation. It is not an end game and it is not just for those who want to run their own business.
It is a continuous journey and a lesson in life skills. We can all practice entrepreneurship in our daily life. It doesn’t mean that we are all going to be the Steve Jobs of tomorrow, but we can all be better leaders and better versions of ourselves.
Entrepreneurship is like a module of life skills that we can all embrace; at whatever age you are – even the very young. Some of the life skills we can all start honing in our children and ourselves that an entrepreneur needs; the ability to deal with failure, good decision making, communication and negotiation skills, emotional intelligence, and remaining humble and keeping the thirst for learning.
Unconsciously or consciously, I was bringing these lessons back to my own backyard and the lessons learnt from being an entrepreneur has in many ways influenced my parenting style at home.
Many mums are already equipped with entrepreneurial type skill sets. It’s just practised under a different setting.
How Entrepreneurship And Motherhood Isn’t All That Different
#1. Being agile, and adaptable
Kids change as they grow up, and if you have more than one child, you are dealing with entirely different, unique personalities, at different phases of their lives.
Understanding our own parental habits, and being ready to adapt – either to different children or different phases of growing up, is something that if practised well, could enhance the connection and the relationship with our children.
You may have one child who is an outgoing, outspoken person, and have another who is quiet and reserved. Both personality types require adaptability from the parent, in order to bring out the best in each of them.
The same goes for the child who is growing up and moving from phase to phase for e.g. from childhood to adolescence. Instead of focusing (and sometimes lamenting) on how they have changed, perhaps we could view it as a need to adjust and adapt.
#2. It’s personal, every decision is weighted
Here is where mothers are completely in tune with the feeling of making weighted decisions, likely even personal and emotional ones.
Children bring out the deepest part of your core, they challenge your innermost values, and you find yourself balancing logic, emotions, peer pressure and guilt, and yet at the end of the day, you still need to continue steering the ship without letting it sink.
Just like an entrepreneur you face this every day in varying degrees. And just like in business, we all have bad days. But I find that in business and at home, it helps to stay focused on two things – gratitude and who the most important stakeholders are.
#3. A lesson in life skills
Mummies can definitely bring the world of entrepreneurship into the home – by practising and teaching life skills at home. We can’t all be geniuses, and we cannot all be high scorers in every exam – but we can inculcate and develop life skills at home. It’s never too early to practise it.
Some of the skills I mentioned earlier that an entrepreneur needs include – the ability to deal with failure, good decision making, communication and negotiation skills, emotional intelligence, and remaining humble and keeping the thirst for learning.
All of these can be practised at home.
I watch my 5-year-old handle the laundry in our very small confined laundry space where some manoeuvring needs to be done and the clothes dryer is way above her height.
There is nothing I love best than watching how she makes decisions. Like how she needs to get her stool into the laundry area before she brings the laundry basket.
Or when she asks me how to identify which mode to set the dryer or washer to. She now memorises how many beeps the mode dial makes because she is too low down to see the words on the dial.
And another time when she knew when to ask for help when she can’t lift up the detergent bottle. Or when she had to deal with a mistake when she loaded the dirty clothes straight into the dryer instead of the washer, so she had to take them all out again and load them back into the washer.
One task, yet so many learning points. And the best part? Inculcating the love of contributing to the family.
Just like many other things in life, the toughest challenges that we take on tend to become the one that presents the most important lessons.
For me, that moment of taking the leap of faith down the path of the entrepreneurial journey has been a roller coaster ride – filled with moments of anticipation, dotted with moments of terror. But all in all, it is an exhilarating ride.
So too, has been the journey of motherhood. Filled with moments of angst, frustration, self-doubts, but also filled with moments of overwhelming love and gratitude.
By Hwang Siew Ling.
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