I attended a Women’s Entrepreneurship Café organized by Startup Toronto and Shecosystem, a new coworking and wellness community for women. The event was months ago, but that night and the conversations still linger in my mind. It was definitely not your normal networking event.
For one thing, we started the night with guided meditation. I could feel the tension in my shoulders ease and melt away as I listened to our guide talk about breath and mindfulness. Then we were introduced to our “table leaders” – one person at each table was designated as the coach or facilitator to guide our roundtable discussions. We rotated tables after every topic and discussed things like “how to create a thriving ecosystem for women”, challenges and barriers for female entrepreneurs, and holistic wellness.
Underlying every discussion was one pervasive theme: vulnerability. At one of my tables was a woman named Susan. She shared a story about a man she met at a conference. He was a serial entrepreneur who launched several businesses and was the keynote speaker for the event. She went to speak with him afterward half expecting him to be a Startup God, but realized he was anything but. He openly admitted that he didn’t know what he was doing. He launched several businesses in the past that failed and shut down, he almost went bankrupt, and he struggled for several years before reaching success. Even now, he said, he’s not any smarter – just more experienced.
“That interaction made me realize the only difference between them and me is that they’re willing to put themselves out there,” Susan said. “So here I am, putting myself out there.” Several women at my table nodded in agreement. Then the stories came flooding in – how one day you’re on a high, then the next you’re on a low, then the day after you’re very low...
For me, hearing other women open up about their difficulties made me feel immensely lighter, like a part of me that was hiding could finally be free. Comparing yourself to others always leads to disaster, and yet we’re all compelled to do it even when we try not to. The problem is magnified because we often end up comparing ourselves to idealized, inflated versions of the people around us. No one’s life is ever as perfect as it looks on Facebook or as fun as it seems on Snapchat. None of us ever know what really happens between status updates.
Don’t get me wrong – sharing success is hugely important. You deserve to celebrate, and you should be part of an ecosystem that challenges you. But success isn’t the whole story. Talking about success without failure or achievement without sacrifice creates false expectations – it’s basically a lie.
When I catch up with friends or talk to acquaintances in passing, they tell me how they love what Jerome and I are doing. “It looks like things are going so well! You must be making so many sales!” When I tell them honestly that I don’t know what I’m doing and I feel lost, they’re perplexed. Then they try to say something reassuring like, “Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.” I know the intentions behind those words are always good, but they never ever make anyone feel better. Instead, it feels like a dismissal as though your insecurities are unwarranted. I don’t think people react this way because they’re unfeeling. It’s the exact opposite. Vulnerability makes people uncomfortable. They feel the need to brush it under the rug because it’s too painful to see.
But why should it be hidden in secrecy if it’s a normal part of life? I think it’s okay to be vulnerable and to share vulnerability. In fact, after attending this Women’s Entrepreneurship Café, I believe it’s healthy.
So, with that said, here’s a little raw honesty for you.
I love Cambio Market. I love the business and lifestyle that Jérôme and I are building. I love working with our partners, sourcing our products, talking to our customers and delivering a meaningful experience. But I don’t know what I’m doing. I second guess myself at every step. I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about sustainability or business or ethical fashion compared to others in the industry. I constantly wish I had more experience, a bigger network, a better taste for fashion or photography. There are some days I’m so exhausted and overwhelmed and down on myself that I cry for the stupidest reasons. I feel like I’m on the constant brink of failure. I wonder if Jérôme and I have what it takes, or if this was all one big mistake. I wonder what I’ll do if our business fails, if I have other career prospects. Where will we be in five years? I don’t know.
Maybe you feel like I do, maybe you don’t. Either way, what I’ve learned is that everybody has their own insecurities and fears, just in different shapes and sizes. Only in being open and vulnerable do we tell others, “you know what, it’s okay to be down in the dumps. It’s okay to have off days and to feel bad about yourself once in a while. You’re not a screw up. You’re not a failure. You’re just human.”
Sometimes, the grass is greener on the other side because it’s fake. Imagine how different things could be if we were more okay with the real stuff.
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