Re-mapping our comfort zone…

Every once in a while in your life there is a moment when things shift. Starting your own business means pretty much every day is like that. But today a big shift in my mind actually did happen. I realised something BIG. Well, at least big for me.

Ever since the initial plan for the coffee shop first turned out not to be working out quite the way I first set it out, I have been punishing myself mentally. “I was supposed to have opened the cafe in 3 months,” I kept saying to myself. “It was supposed to be up and running by March!” I kept repeating the same ‘mantra’ to everyone I met and who cared to listen, and to myself over and over again… gradually driving myself nuts, as it turned out. And then all of a sudden, today, I finally realised that I was needlessly driving myself insane by chasing some artificial deadlines I have set for MYSELF (!) when I was first getting started, when I had pretty much no clue what it took to start a business!

Today I realised it was perhaps time to cut myself some slack! To stop blaming myself for all the failings of the world that mean things never really quite go to plan. And to start planning anew, conscious of the fact that there will be failures, changes, adjustments, and upgrades along the way. But also of the fact that all failings can be invaluable lessons learned.

Today I also realised something else. I went to the one of the business libraries in the town centre and was reading, looking for inspiration. I came across a handful. But this one epitomised my feeling today: “The obstacle is the way” (Ryan Holiday). This truth is something that many entrepreneurs know all too well. Perhaps, just perhaps (because I have thought of it before), I have now truly learned to take it to heart, to make opportunity out of adversity. Perhaps.

I have definitely learned to read again. Or rather to appreciate the power of reading. It has inspired me time and time again. But this time it has pulled me out of a dingy, dark hole… I wouldn’t be able to say whether it does that to everyone, but I am one of those people for whom reading can be a source of magic, change doom and gloom into a brave new world.

So I have a new business plan as of today. It starts with reading, aka inspiration. Followed by writing. I have started this blog to map out my journey to opening the feminist coffee shop, so that others could use it as a blueprint, if they wanted to do the same. But it has become one of my key processing tools. One that I use every time when I come across a difficult point on the journey. And it works every time – by the time I get to the end of the post, I have a clearer picture of what I need to do next.

I have read somewhere months ago that starting a business is not for the faint-hearted. But now I finally get it. A daily dose of inspiration is an absolute must. From now on reading will be part of my daily routine. Whether it’s a good business book, or an autobiography of an inspiring entrepreneur or suffragist, reading always helps me find answers, or the right question, when I’m really lost.

But more than anything else reading has been a massive source of comfort. It has proven to me time and time again that starting up a business is never a walk in the park. I am not the only one going through these difficult moments. Every single book by an entrepreneur I read says the same thing in this respect. Starting up a business is not meant to be easy, and you need to be able to constantly motivate yourself if you are to last on the path you have set out for yourself.

For anyone thinking of starting up their own food business, I recommend Jill Sutherland’s ‘Start and Run a Sandwich and Coffee Shop’. It goes through the whole process from idea and research stage through to generation, and all the potential pitfalls along the way. Reading the section on property has been the biggest source of comfort for me. It has not only confirmed to me that the hurdles the property market in London has thrown at me are very much normal, but it also highlighted others that I have not come across yet that are extremely important to watch out for. Like the fact that it takes approximately 6 months from finding the right venue to signing the lease… Time to get some additional finance sources in order!

Obviously, passion for your idea is important if you want to run your own business. But in order to survive while you try to make it work as a new entrepreneur, one needs to be not just passionate but resilient to difficulties, to appreciate them as valuable lessons learned – and more often than not as opportunities. In the words of Brian J. Robertson: “the human capacity to sense dissonance in the present moment and see the potential for change strikes me as one of our most extraordinary gifts.” I believe anyone can be an entrepreneur, as long as they are open enough to be able to admit mistakes and learn how to improve and change their idea from them.

It has definitely been one of those lessons that I’ve had to learn time and time again. I grew up in a broken home. It forced me to become more mature than my peers in many ways. I never complained about it as a teenager. I saw myself as strong, and I always took pride in it. But continuing on this path of strong woman who can do just about anything on her own when I have set out to start a business has proven to be a bit of a one way street. What this approach does not take into account is that sometimes adversities can be hidden opportunities, signs – to do things better, to change one’s approach to things. Not every difficulty is best treated like a nuisance and bulldozed out of the way… Some, many in fact, might be better seen as signposts that a better route is available ahead.

Let me leave you with the words of the inspirational Helen Keller, who once brilliantly said about the power of overcoming life’s adversities: “You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere, and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles — a delight in climbing rugged paths, which you would perhaps never know if you did not sometime slip backward — if the road was always smooth and pleasant. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.” (1896).

Feeling uninspired? Try setting up a feminist cafe…

This is not going to be another one of the endless selection of inspirational posts. Despite the fact that, every once in a while, I do love those myself, I have to admit. But I am in no frame of mind to be inspiring anyone right now. In fact, I am having difficulty inspiring myself and this post is an attempt at break that frame of mind.

The past few months have been a massive reality check for me. When I first set out on this project, I thought that I would bring this feminist cafe idea to life in just a few short months. I had the perfect spot picked out before I even started looking at property… What a fool, you might say. Yes, the joke is on me.

The reality is that the property market in London is crazy. Obviously, I knew that before I even set out on this feminist cafe journey. The housing market has been top of the news feed for the last few years. Nearly a decade in actual fact. We all know when it all started. This is not going to be another story on the housing market. I simply had no idea that commercial property would be just the same. Finding the right spot for a cafe business in London is tricky to say the least. Let alone when you’re just starting out.

I have seen dozens of spaces, but every time something remotely appropriate comes to my attention, somebody else beats me to it! I have tried commercial property. I have tried meanwhile spaces. I even considered a boat at one point… I have even resorted to applying for a meanwhile space that was on a bus! It would have been a nightmare for accessibility, but I still applied. You know what they say, desperate times…

I am now waking up to a real massive reality check. I have gotten to a point of actually having to go back to working while I search for the cafe space after hours. The reality is that when you follow your dreams, you have to make sure you check yourself as often as possible. Chasing dreams is wonderful but unfortunately reality has a nasty habit of getting in the way…

I now realise that I have taken on a big challenge. A huge one. I am not trying to say that I am giving up. Just admitting that reality just hit me. Well, it hit me a few months back now, but I can actually admit that!

As a former Psychology student, I have to say that I know that admitting a problem is half the success (or maybe it’s romantic comedy wisdom, but who cares, it’s true!) I have been extremely frustrated over the past couple of months. And extremely stuck on the idea of not admitting the reality (read: in denial). Writing is my way of admitting things (sort of) out loud. And seeking solutions.

Frustration is not the best source of inspiration. Denial is neither. Although in this case these are one and the same. Inspiration has been in short supply for me the past few months. I needed to admit my denial to myself. I feel better now. Let’s just hope you don’t mind me doing it in public!

Onwards and upwards! Onto the boat or something 😉