Who Do You Think You Are?

About two weeks into 2017, before the novelty of a brand new year had even worn off, I woke up startled one morning by a loud and distinct voice saying, “Who do you think you are?” It was so clear, that I looked around my bedroom to make sure I wasn’t hearing things. But the voice was clearly only in my head.

Just two weeks prior to that wake up call,  I had decided to leave my job to attempt to start a business. Now before you go off thinking this is another one of those girl leaves job she hates and finds freedom and eternal happiness stories, wait a minute.

“I didn’t leave a job I hated to travel the world and pursue my dreams. I was working a dream job.”

I got paid to write about startups and entrepreneurs for The Idea Village, and worked with a team that was more like family. I had a sweet setup with my own flexible schedule and a cool work space. It was a job that any millennial would probably run me over for, and drive away without looking back.

But here’s what happened.

About two years ago, I was in a bar in New Orleans talking to an entrepreneur, when I asked him what the scariest thing about starting a company was. Unexpectedly, he told me about the time his wife called him from the checkout line at the grocery store with his three young children in tow to say that their card had been declined. I said to him:

“Oh shit. That’s real.”

I’d spent the past year writing  about the burgeoning entrepreneurial scene in New Orleans. During that time, I’d listened to dozens of entrepreneurs as they opened up about their darkest, toughest experiences starting and growing their companies. Most of it was pretty rough.

Yet, all you’d read about was the seemingly effortless success stories of entrepreneurs, and what I now call the “glamorization of startups”. The big buyouts, million dollar investments, and kushy lifestyles made entrepreneurship sound fun.

“But the truth is, it’s not glamorous or fun. It’s really, really, really hard.”

What I found was a gaping hole in entrepreneurship coverage. There were so many untold stories.

So we set out to tell them. We launched The Distillery-a blog about the real experiences of entrepreneurs- as a project of The Idea Village in October 2015. The stories quickly took on a life of their own.

But here’s the thing.

I reached a point where I knew that I could stay in my sweet gig, writing stories comfortably, or I could give The Distillery a real chance to grow. And I knew there was only one way to find out. So I took a chance – a big chance. And I decided to give it a go on my own.

And there I was. Only two weeks in when I heard that voice in my head shouting loudly at my inability to do it. I had finally experienced what entrepreneur Chris Reade calls “the paralyzing fear”.

You’re just a writer – that voice kept on. You don’t know anything about starting a business. You’re right, I thought.

Since I took the leap, lots of folks have said to me, you’re an entrepreneur now. But I don’t know about that. As far as I can tell you, I’m a writer just trying to make it work.

But here’s what I do know.

Real stories matter. I believe that when we speak our truth, we empower each other.

“It’s easy to talk about our hardships once they’ve passed, but what about when we are living them?”

Can we embrace our truth then? That includes me.

I left my job and took on The Distillery with no money and no savings. (Let’s just say that after I paid my rent last month, my bank account was looking pretty pathetic.) I applied for government healthcare for the first time. That was a humbling low-light of my 20’s, to say the least.

Last month, my sister graciously offered me the money I needed to buy medicine. (I have a chronic illness that requires healthy lifestyle management and two daily medications). When I parted ways with my steady income, I didn’t account for the fact that it would leave me with an insurance plan that does not cover the medicine I need. (Early lesson learned for aspiring entrepreneurs: make sure you have a plan for healthcare coverage in place before leaving behind your benefits to start a company.)

Here’s more truth: I am terrified and exhausted. I feel like I should be settling down, yet I have never felt more unsettled in my life. While most of my friends are starting families, I am starting a company. I finally understand what entrepreneurs meant when they talk to me about looming uncertainty.

But I am grateful, still.

I have an opportunity to pursue something I believe in. I get to tell stories that inform and hopefully inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs in New Orleans. I have an incredible family, friends and community of entrepreneurs supporting me. I have my city behind me.

I know that success is not guaranteed, and failure is a serious possibility. I know that the scariest, most uncertain times in our lives yield the most growth and make way for the wildest possibilities. And I know that no one gets to tell my story except me.

I hope you’ll stay with me for what I know will be a wild, terrifying, exhausting, and exhilarating journey. And I hope that you’ll keep reading these stories, feel empowered by them, and share your own with us.

So, here’s to the truth. May we speak it, stand in it, and live it out loud.

Summer Suleiman, Editor of The Distillery

Summer Suleiman is the Editor of The Distillery. She writes about the real experience of entrepreneurs in New Orleans.

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