Two Years Of Being A Solopreneur
This past week it’s been two years since I piloted Be You For You.
Two years of being a solopreneur.
Last year, when a participant attended the first Be A Better You For You – the advanced-level workshop on self-expression through writing and personal narratives – she commented how much growth she’d seen in me over the course of that year, as a facilitator.
It took me another year to see for myself how much of who I am today has been nurtured from sharing spaces with over 100 participants (a milestone I crossed in February 2018) from different parts of the country (Hyderabad, Delhi, Bengaluru and of course, Mumbai) belonging to different age groups (from 14 to 59, so far) as well as professional backgrounds (human resource, banking, teaching, sales, marketing, counselling, business development, communications along with freelancers, bloggers, entrepreneurs, homemakers).
Over the past two years, I have shared feedback by those who’ve attended each Be You For You workshop. But today, I’m going to share my experience of being a solopreneur; of being on the other side of all those workshops – facilitating but also learning, unlearning and relearning.
Preaching what I practice
I began writing out my concept note on Be You For You in December 2015 – seven months before the pilot.
Back then, I was guided by something – something I like to call ‘grace’ – that convinced me that my passion for writing lay beyond writing for self-gratification or even external validation. Writing has been my constant and I was driven by the urge to bring this to more people.
Between tweaking my concept note to nail on paper ideas that were zooming in my head at the speed of light and researching evidence on writing-for-self-expression to support the ideas I was being inspired by, I began simultaneously piecing together themes and activities that would become the curriculum for my workshops.
During those seven months, I was both, the facilitator and the student and my only filters were: – is this (theme and/or activity) something I have worked through in my own personal life? – can I attest to its efficacy based on my own lived experiences? – do I know what it’s like to have tried an approach and failed at yielding the desired result AND can I bring myself to share these experiences with folks who would show up in the room as participants?
In other words, from the very beginning, more than the idea itself I was making sure I knew what I was talking about. That I would preach only what I had experienced through my own practice. That I would be the only thing I know how to be: authentic
Owning my power
At first read, all of the above sounds easy-peasy. It wasn’t. It still isn’t.
Angst and dread of failure (more than anything else and among other things, like my own crumbling mental health) filled every corner of my being as a solopreneur.
Who was I to design a workshop on expressive writing? So what if I had experienced the rewards to self-expression, how was I now going to ensure this translated into more or less of a similar experience for those attending a workshop? What were my ‘qualifications’? It went on…
The questions – more infamously known as ‘the imposter syndrome’ – paid me more visits than I’d have preferred. Over time, here’s what I learnt: I know what I know. And more importantly, I know what I don’t know. This was where I would begin. By owning my power, my ability. And my story.
I owe it to the workshops that I’ve felt emboldened enough to want to speak about my mental health issues. I owe it to the workshops to want to let myself be seen as I am; not how social media would prefer for me to make myself be seen.
When conversations during workshops gravitate very naturally towards topics we don’t address or speak to in our private circles whether amongst family or friends, it serves as a reminder that owning your story and standing in your power is all it takes to begin forming connections.
And that, vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness!
Growing through what I go through
Did you know that … I wasn’t doing any ‘expressive writing’ at the time I was running the pilot workshops because I was struggling with personal issues of my own? Or that I had to cancel my first open-to-all workshop because I came down with dengue? ... as someone who identifies as an introvert, hustling and planning the logistics of every workshop is something I have resisted as it has the potential of sending me down rabbit holes I often lose my way in? … during the October – December quarter of 2017, five out of six workshops planned over a period of eight weeks got cancelled because there hadn’t been a single registration and I sunk into a state of despair? …I have a preference for being ‘in control’ of most situations (to the extent possible) and showing up in a room full of sometimes known and mostly unknown folks fills me with dread I have learnt how to work my way out of?
My list can go on.
The challenges for anyone who is a solopreneur are not too different. And yet, experiencing them first hand led me to believe that I was the only one who had ever felt the way I was feeling!
Strangely enough, despite all the challenges, at no point have I ever sensed the urge to call it quits. Not because I am afraid of being a quitter but because: …showing up in a room full of participants even during a period when I was unable to find expression through words helped remind me of ways I could ease my way back in. Writing, after all, has been my constant. …introvert me is actually energised after every workshop session because doing what I love makes me come alive. …even when despair got the better of me as workshops had to be cancelled, knowing that I was choosing the story I was telling myself helped me from letting go of myself. …training myself to be at ease with my craft is something I have had to and continue to be mindful of. In turn, I have continued to seek opportunities to upgrade my skills!
To keep growing through the brickbats and the bouquets Life keeps sending my way continues to be my biggest takeaway from this journey so far as a solopreneur.
What I take-away as a solopreneur
As I look back at these two years of being a solopreneur, I cannot help but acknowledge my learning curve (not to mention it being steeper than all of my education put together, including the two Masters’).
For one, I have begun taking up speaking engagements, addressing groups - including delivering my maiden PechaKucha presentation.
This learning curve didn’t take place in a silo. It was enabled because of the folks I have had the privilege of coming in contact with.
I don’t mean to sound patronizing but every participant has in turn been a potential teacher to me.
The gift I have received through this process is that I have shared moments of connection with strangers, acquaintances and friends across the spectrum of diversity at a time when ‘What’s up?’ and ‘Aur batao’ have asphyxiated the ways in which we communicate!
That I am a recipient of text messages that begin with: “Elita, I wrote today and I made some discoveries…” or “I have started taking better care of myself and I owe part of that to Be You For You” or “After the workshop, I sat down today with a box of crayons and I can’t tell you how happy it’s made me feel” …are the things my gratitude prayers are made of!