A Life Full of Hustle - Discovering Your Entrepreneurial History to Conquer Fear

Photo: Jeremiah Zabal

Photo: Jeremiah Zabal

Have you just started a new business? Or maybe you are waiting for a sign from heaven that you should, but you are SCARED OUT OF YOUR MIND?

I mean, how could YOU do it, right? That’s something other people do! Entrepreneurs. Business people. They seem to just… do it. But you are so scared. How do you start, how do you even start to do it, really? You are so new to business! You’ve never done it before!

Or have you?

I feel like when someone is thinking of starting a business the number one fear is the newness of it. You are confronted with something new you haven't done before, which is why it is scary. But I'd be willing to bet that you are not so new to business, and that you have an hustling spirit that you just haven't dug into. Once you find it, fear will fade away and this new opportunity will be exciting, not scary. So, let's try to find your entrepreneurial spirit in your own life, in your own history. To give you some ideas, here is mine.

A Life Full of Hustle

My earliest memory of wanting to "sell something" was when I was about six and I tried to sell my extra Halloween candy. I had absolutely no selling skills whatsoever, and I've always been a shy introvert, so I was certainly not yelling, "Candy, candy! Get it while it's hot!”

I remember going out to the parking lot of the building complex we lived in. There were a few spots where you could sit and play. I carefully set up all my candy and I waited for someone to come and buy it all. That never happened. And I looked like a weird little girl that displayed her lollipops and hard candy for no apparent reason while sitting in silence in front of it.

At least I was quite observant. I noticed that's how the old Mexican ladies do it on the streets in Mexico City. To me, they simply set up shop by picking a section of sidewalk, putting a tarp on the concrete, and covering it with candy or small cheap toys. And you always saw the swarm of kids around it. So you would think my business plan would work. It obviously takes a bit more than that.

Years later I signed up to sell newspaper subscriptions. I think I tried a few doors. I never went out to do it again. If selling candy on the street was a challenge, selling anything door to door was just completely out of my skill set. Even now, it feels like a very scary thing to do.

In elementary school I made little crafts. Remember Shrinky Dinks? I made little Shrinky Dink earrings and pendants of Hello Kitty and her gang and I sold them to my friends in school.

I also made pies and pound cakes that my dad would take to work and sell for me. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure HE was the one who bought them and just shared them with his co-workers. I made good money that way.

I somehow “invented” scratch-off games, or the kid version of it. I would cut little cards, write with marker or pen the three options and then cover them by going over them with pencil. The pencil covered up the marker (and looks metallic like the scratch-offs of that time) but instead of scratching you would erase. I sold those to my friends for a Mexican Peso each, and just like any other gambling game, sometimes they won and sometimes they lost.

My first Halloween in college (freshly moved from Mexico to Washington, DC) I saw an ad at a coffee shop asking for an art student willing to carve a pumpkin. The pay was $50. That was my first paid job here in the States. I hauled that pumpkin about 5 blocks to the metro station, across state lines to Maryland, a short bus trip, a few suburban blocks, and a flight of stairs down to the basement where I was living. Mind you, I had never carved a pumpkin in my life! Yes, ladies and gents, we don’t carve pumpkins in Mexico, thank you very much. I did love my $50 and I spent them on trousers at Target.

A year later, still in college, I needed to buy an expensive Epson printer to print all my graphic design homework projects. I already worked part-time and the girls from the group house I had just moved into used to hire a cleaning lady twice a month. Not only could I not afford paying a cleaning lady, I could not miss the chance to BE the cleaning lady and make some dough. I bought my first fancy printer a few weeks later AND I had managed to work and save enough money to pay for half of my first trip to Europe (thanks Mom and Dad for the other half!).

By the end of college I had a nice graphic design job and I would freelance occasionally. With my newly found free time after 5pm (no more homework and late nights working on school projects), I started making jewelry as a hobby. I did mostly beading, and spent my hard-earned money on nice gemstones and such. Pretty soon my coworkers noticed me wearing it and asked to buy some, so I started selling my jewelry to them. Extra cash! How fun!

Years later I did my masters in jewelry and then started a small jewelry business. I stopped that a few years later to focus on a more stable gig. After I got married, I built a graphic design business with my husband, but about five years later I had this "thing" in my heart that told me I needed to go back to do something I loved. Not that I don't love graphic design, but I needed something else. Something mine.

I had entered the world of sewing and fabric shopping when I started quilting and sewing for my first daughter. Soon I had identified a niche market for custom knit fabric. Sewing women go bananas for fabric, and I thought it would be a great idea to start my own custom fabric business. I designed my own fabric, found a printer to produce it, set up pre-sales and pre-orders, and killed many hours on social media trying to make my business work. I thought I would cut fabric day in and day out. I'd be such a hit I would ship it to all my fans and followers worldwide.

Well, THAT didn’t go as planned and I closed shop later that same year.

DiscoverING YOUR entrepreneurial HISTORY TO CONQUER FEAR

After that terrible failure (or so it felt like), what could I do? What was next? A new business? Meeeeee?

HOW COULD I START A BUSINESS AGAIN? How could I face that terrible failure? HOW?! I’M SO NEW AT THIS!

Actually, I’m not. And probably you are not either. After having to face the reality of a failing business I felt pretty destroyed. I had felt so sure about its success and I certainly put many many hours of work only to never see it take off. While trying to find courage and a new idea I had to do some deep thinking and soul searching. Was I really meant to be a business owner?

I had to find the entrepreneur, the hustler, the boss in me. And this is when I realized I had been all those things all this time. Don't get me wrong. This is not a bragging essay. Nor am I saying everyone should, or want to be an entrepreneur. What I'm saying is that if you have that business itch, and you crave to act on it, by looking back into your own life you can find your strengths and weaknesses and use them to build yourself up when the road gets hard. More so, you can decide what kind of road you want to build and discover what things come natural to you, and which ones you'll need help with.

I’ve taken you through 30 years of hustling. When fear hits me, I think of these anecdotes, my entrepreneurial history. They are simple little snippets of life, but they show the spirit of trying, of hard work, of adventure, of dreaming and hoping. And truly, a fearless spirit, and more specifically in my own life, the will to take chances and jump at them with excitement. It’s only recently that I felt FEAR and HESITATION in my heart. But why? I'm not really sure. I never feared carrying a pumpkin around town, or feared what people thought of me cleaning a house to buy a printer. I jumped at those opportunities. I grabbed on to them with the vision of something good to come.

I just didn't know (or had not thought about) my life full of hustle. I had never felt like a "woman in business", a "boss", or an "entrepreneur".  And to make it even harder, I went to art school, where we never learned anything about starting a business. So it had NEVER occurred to me that I have been doing this ALL MY LIFE.

So, does this mean that in order to be a boss you need to start at age six? I don't think so. I don't think all stories start the same way or look the same way. But by telling you my story I want to encourage you to look into yours. Perhaps you were a middle child and always had to make deals with the old sibling and the baby sibling in order to survive. That takes skills. Or you were always the unofficial leader of your group of friends, and what you say usually agrees with everyone. That's a skill. Maybe you can get your kids to eat their veggies and pick up their rooms. That's a skill. Maybe you can get amazing deals when you go grocery shopping, or know how to get a great bargain. That's a skill. Or you are a planner extraordinaire and can get a party going with just a few calls. See? All of those skills are assets an entrepreneur can use, and some are in our nature, some we learn, some we can hire people to help us with. I want to tell you this: when I was a teenager still under my parents' care and love, I could not for the life of me order a glass of water at a restaurant. I'm not kidding you. This is how shy and insecure I was. That's how much fear I had. But hey, here I am! I moved to a whole different country when I was just 18, I've had pretty awesome jobs, met great people, started and ended a few businesses and I'm sharing my story here with you. All from a girl who couldn't ask for a glass of water.

If fear and doubt are stopping you from starting a new adventure in business, please stop for a moment and think of your entrepreneurial history. Find those things in your life that make you unique and fearless, and hold on to them! The things you don’t know or lack experience in, you can learn on the go. Do not wait until you think you know it all. That's pretty impossible, actually. YOU CAN DO THIS. And you will probably do it not just once, but more than that.

Proof of that is that just a few months after I closed my fabric shop (and gave birth to my second baby) I finally landed on what I needed to do so badly. I started designing and making jewelry again. It has only been a few months from starting again, but boy, talk about great timing. Perfect timing. I will tell you more about this new adventure in another post, but let's just say that closing shop was the best thing I've done for my business.

Remember the story about me sitting outside with my Halloween candy waiting for someone buy it all?  How funny is it that nowadays I stand behind a table at local markets and invite people to try on my jewelry and purchase it? It is not in my nature to sell, but making jewelry for people to wear and feel beautiful and unique is in my nature, my heart, and my soul. I’ve had to learn to smile, and put myself out there, and I actually enjoy meeting my customers, finding out what they need and like, and talking to them about my work. I'm not a natural salesperson, but the excitement of this new opportunity takes over my shyness. And you know what, I actually enjoy to do it now.

So, go ahead. Look for your story and write it down. Don't let yourself forget about those episodes in your life, and lean on them when fear and doubt sneak in. They are your tools, your shields, your swords against anything that wants to scare your hustler spirit. Use them! Better yet, after you have gone through this memory exercise come back to this post and comment below with any stories you have and want to share. I would loooooove to read them all.