Being Alone

Last month, I wondered how to make my 50th birthday special. And after a lot of thought and back and forth, I decided to do a solo trip. I have never done it. A couple of months ago, it may have even been unthinkable for me. I still ended up choosing the safest places to be, but I did it.

So from the outside it looks like I took a holiday. Umm…I was working on most days, even on a Sunday for an hour or two. But there was no expectation from anyone that I had to. But I was just doing the bare minimum to keep things going, so it wasn’t stalling anything. So yeah, it was a holiday.

From the inside, was it a holiday? Yes, sure. But it was more than that.

Holidays are for the privileged, right? Yes. But as soon as I reached Goa, I realized that there is a whole new level of privilege, holidays or not.

That is the privilege of being alone. Because most Indian women can’t possibly get their head around this. We are so defined by our families and extended families, so stepping out of the city by yourself is met with a lot of questions: We can do a family trip, can’t we? Why don’t you ask our friends to join you? Are you going for work? Won’t you get bored?

I went alone. I sat in restaurants and watched the people on the other tables. A North Indian family, out on a holiday, but it sounded like they carried their morning breakfast table conversation to Goa: how bad the tea is, how thick the alu paranthas, and so on. I could talk about the whiny attitude, but that’s not what this post is about. It is about them not knowing that we carry our group dynamics wherever we go, so we will never get to see ourselves, truly. What we could be if we had no one around. And it’s not a sorry state at all. It’s of exuberance and pause and gentleness and joy for no reason. And also your ups and downs, and the space to have them.

What a privilege.

And why women? I saw men who looked like they didn’t want to be on this holiday. I saw men giving their wives the break they needed from the kids. Wouldn’t they like to have this privilege too? I have a few guy friends who know this: some go for their yearly solo trips, some gave up after they got married, some have restarted after their divorce. But they know the thing about being alone. For that time, to not be defined by their work or wives or kids or parents.

What a privilege. To know that you are all that, and more. Or less, as the layers peel off, even if temporarily.

What a privilege, to sit quietly and have a drink and a bite of your choice. That doesn’t need to be dependent on what the others are having.

What a privilege, to not have to do anything, and just be. To not be caught up in chores or see if everyone is comfortable. Or if the meal is balanced and to everyone’s liking. Or that the clothes are washed and everyone has clothes for the week. Or that you have to leave the phone on at night, because your elderly parents might need help (mine are gone, so I can now switch it off at night). Or that there is no shrieking dementia person or post-chemo patient in the other room who needs your attention. Or not feel guilty about not putting in your volunteering hours.

What a privilege that you have a team that can step in to do your work. Or that you don’t have to be in the day-to-day things that keep the revenue coming in.

Do I sound uncaring? As if being alone means running away from responsibilities. It could but it isn’t. That’s one’s choice really. 

The point is to give yourself the space to be yourself. I do that all the time at home as well. But it’s still a physical space that needs attention. It’s an emotional space where others need attention. 

Consider taking this privilege, of being alone. Because you need your own attention.

Allowing it Through

When you are a doer, you just keep doing. And doing, then doing some more. In fact when you are not doing, you feel like something’s off.

Sometimes you might hit a place where you’re running on empty. Even then, you just do, without even having to think much, or feeling passionate or anything really. When I hit that phase recently, and spoke to David Hrostoski about it, he said it felt like I was at a point of contraction right before a big opening.

Maybe, maybe not. But today when I look back on these past few weeks, I think it was just my mind getting out of the way for things to rearrange themselves in some order. So that I would not be driven to ‘fix’ or ‘force’ things into shape.

It made me think of a specific discussion in an entrepreneurship program I had attended many years ago. It had a really great format—entrepreneurs facilitating conversations among participants to answer questions that would bring phenomenal breakthroughs, which if allowed by the business owners would change their businesses as well. The session facilitator spoke about how sometimes solutions come when we have had some quiet following an intense time spent researching, exploring, doing, failing, experimenting, hitting walls, and so on. It’s the quiet—maybe a nice long sleep, or a walk in the park, or a relaxing bath—that brings us that little insight that is needed to allow all the pieces to fall into place. This happens more often than we realize. Call it the Eureka moment if you want. But probably it is not always that dramatic as Archimedes had us believe.

Back in December 2017, if you had asked me what 2018 looked like for me, I wouldn’t have been able to say. I would have been able to tell you some bits here and some bits there. But a cohesive picture? No. Not only did I not seem to have the grasp on the road ahead, I didn’t even want to talk about it. I was okay to listen others talk about it, and just listen. Not give inputs. I guess it was a probably frustrating time for my co-founders, but they let me be.

We had our team offsite in the first weekend of January, and the vision for the year ahead was laid out by my co-founder. Nothing new for the co-founders, as we practically live the vision everyday. But putting it together for the team to be able to see it as we did was important. I went through his vision document. And as I mulled it from the team’s point of view I was able to come up with the key themes to keep the team aligned for the year. It just took me a few minutes. Of course we would still have the task of translating the themes into each person’s day to day work, but that could be done over the coming few weeks. But at least we had a vocabulary for everyone to align to, to use in their work, to use as their North Star for the year.

The offsite went well, and we have been having some great conversations since. And we are also working on drilling down the yearly themes to daily work.

While the vision was clear and is in the process of getting clearer for all, we still didn’t have the year’s sales numbers locked down. During the course of a day earlier in the past week, my co-founder asked if we had to discuss something related to automation for sales. I said no, but I did need help figuring out the sales numbers. So we went into the conference room and sat for maybe less than an hour. And emerged with sales numbers that looked realistic, yet a stretch for us. It all just fell into place. These numbers had always been a struggle for us in the past years to arrive at, but not this year. They just came through. And it happened without any drama, any excitement, any debates, any raised eyebrows. Smooth and easy. And both of us believe in it too.

Why? What was different about this year?

I just think in the past few months we had already done all the hard work, the debates, assessing the highs and the lows, looking squarely at what was working and what wasn’t, what we wanted for the company and what we didn’t and so on.

When the quiet happened, all of it just cohered into oneness. And it all just felt right. All we now have to do is keep doing things as per the vision, the themes and the numbers. And correct course when we see things going off track.

So now I am back to doing. Just do. Because, for now, I have allowed the real ‘what needs to be done for the company’ to come through.

Give Yourself Time to Recuperate

It’s been an incredibly hard week. At all levels one can think of. But that’s what trepping (my shortcut word for entrepreneurship) is about. One tends to think of the entrepreneurial challenges as these really hard ones that a few brave through. The revenue challenges, growth troubles, team problems, issues with clients, and skirmishes at the tax department. But that’s really a usual day at work for treps (entrepreneurs).

Then there’s all that personal stuff to be taken care of: this week, atop the usual issues of having a dementia ridden elderly person at home, I found myself in the flurry of buying a new car, selling the old one, and then closing the week with the kid not doing well in school, going against her usually easy conquests at studies.

You know, these are not really hard issues, if you think of it. If you manage your time right, say No to a few things, focus on the key things, and stay balanced, you can slay the week.

But the fact is, I didn’t.

I am just exhausted. And happy to see my bed, and sleep for straight 10 hours.

If you look at what happened, there’s nothing out of the ordinary, this week. A client mail asking to take a pause in the billing cycle. Warning bells ring, cash flow issues ahead. If you’re an entrepreneur, then you know this. You’re up against this frequently, if not nearly all the time. This was followed by a call, where we set the intention to get things smoothened out, get teams aligned and focused on the same goals, and move ahead. Fairly common in an agency life.

But for once, this call wasn’t easy. I am of the opinion that we have done our work, and gone the extra mile several times in the past three months of an inbound marketing project just to get the client team comfortable and achieve their goals. I think process improvements are in order, and my team is ready for that. The client team is of the opinion, that there are no results, cleanly ignoring that the website went live just 27 days ago. And yes, there need to be process improvements, cleanly ignoring that the laid process has not even been followed by their own team.  

To avoid a game of ‘he said, she said’, and to be focused on the end game, which is to have a successful project, I went into the call agreeing to the pause in billing while we got things in order. And we ended the call with the right intentions going forward and to have a game plan with buy-in from all stakeholders.

Phew. Why does it have to so hard? Doesn’t anyone get inbound marketing? Why is the agency at fault for issues at the client’s end?

These were some of the questions running in my head.

And I am sure the various people on the client was thinking: they seem to be doing a lot of things, but there’s nothing to show for it. They don’t get strategy much. They don’t get execution much. Etc etc.

This happens all the time. And we have processes in place that tackle a lot of these issues. And still we falter, as each client team is different, and you need to have modifications in your process to enable smooth functioning.

It’s just a thing to be done so we can get back to the fun bits of creating great content for them, have a good ABM plan running, hit the ball out of the park with their social media and ads, and so on. The numbers are already looking good, and we are going to have fun with this.

But I was exhausted all the same.

Once the call was over, I headed straight to the car dealer’s where the car awaited us, and so did all the paperwork, the demo, the explanations, the ceremonies (they actually played devotional music, rang a temple bell to create an aura of sacredness for the purchase).

I was beat.

And trying to get my head around the last two hours: the stress of trying to not lose a client, which had exhausted me and the excitement of buying a car, which I wasn’t feeling. My friend heard about it and said, I should learn to see the humor in the situation.

That was Tuesday evening.

Then came Thursday morning. Weekly brainstorm with one of the co-founders on what’s next for the business. And got to hear some harsh things, about my work. I saw that what he said was valuable, and right for the business. But he isn’t exactly the diplomatic kinds, and doesn’t have a way with words when he sees incompetence.

I was already smarting from the call of just a day ago. And here was more; pride being attacked.

But we are treps, right? Never beaten down, right? So I agree with him, say that I see his point. And as GaryVee says, triple down on work.

And that’s how the week ends.

Nothing new in this week that should have crumpled me up, really.

But think back two more weeks, and that’s where it really began.

I had a trauma of sorts. Coming smack up against the realization that you will be let down by people who you took for granted, who you think have your back, will take your side at the time of reckoning. The day of reckoning came, and I found myself standing alone with my handful of values that no one cared for.

I grieved for a bit. And two and a half days later was back to work. A week passed, and I started to taste normalcy. The week ended. And then that Tuesday that I mentioned earlier happened.

So, here’s the thing. It’s not so much about the challenges. It’s about the fatigue of having a challenge after challenge.

And here I had thought I had overcome that a long ago.

But as with all things, you just find a new level to find your ease with.

Here’s my new finding this week. When a core belief of yours get challenged and you’re trying to put your head around it, your stamina to handle the rest of the stuff can go down. You might need extra support, or time out or meditation (or whatever helps you resolve and let go). Treps like me are used to being on our own and will not immediately see this. If I had sought support or taken some time off, I might not have finished the week this exhausted.

Sure, some of us think we don’t have the luxury of a time off. I do. I have great co-founders, a great team, clients who would understand. But I don’t allow myself that. I should have.

I can see it is detrimental. And why it has been this hard. I haven’t allowed myself the time to recuperate, integrate and find my bearing again. And without that, more challenges, even minor ones, will drag me down.

You need the stamina. I am telling this to myself, and any entrepreneur reading this who is like me.