The story of my life. As a young, blonde girl growing up in a rather conservative culture of Azerbaijani self-appointed elite I had my first second doubts about my belonging there when I was 5 years old.
My family consisted of a cultural mix of at least four states of the former Soviet Union making me the perfect example of how the original idea of the Soviet melting pot could actually work out. However, this was only true for my family and our friends, we were rather a minority in the good old capital, Baku.
Some years and one immigration to Germany down the road I found myself in a society where everything was possible. Where I do not have to be married with 21 to some guy, whose family was approved as suitable. But rather I could enjoy my freedom of being young and adventurous.
I liked the smell of this teen spirit and welcomed it rather more than less. Occasionally, I started cultural revolutions in my still not that well adjusted to the Western lifestyle parental home, causing incomprehension, headaches following by resignation and in the end acceptance, thankfully.
Keep it real.
I was used to the fact that people would face me with doubts. About my intelligence, my ideas, my overall potential merely due to the fact that I was a “cute girl”, who looked as if she would still play with barbies, bake delicious smelling cakes and a couple of years later do some pretty good dirty dancing.
The truth is, I have done all of this stuff and I enjoyed it, because: “Hell yeah, I am a freakin’ girl!”. There was no doubt about that. However, being a girly girl got in the way of being taken seriously in the men’s world, in which I aspired to operate.
Always the hard road.
Well, that’s no news for you girls, of course, you already knew that. Duuhh. Some women tend to drop their girlish preferences altogether. And I get it, on the one hand, it is easier for men to accept one as a business person and it is easier for women to just adapt. We are more flexible after all. But it always seemed to me kind of unfair, so I did no such thing.
I accepted this life long challenge of playing “Who has the bigger balls?” and instead of fleeing into the safe harbour of steady, safe employment where my role as a woman would not be that questionable, I took the hard way of self-employment and became my own boss in the rather male-dominant business of digital entrepreneurs and IT. I still have my long, blonde hair and I did not abandon my love for beautiful dresses.
Smelling the fear.
Along the road, I met a lot of interesting people amongst them were a couple of inspiring women. But the sad truth was, there were so few of them. And even fewer of the few would take the chance and raise their voice to share their experiences.
The reasons were always the same and they all lead to our worst enemy: self-doubt.
“'But I haven’t achieved that much', 'I don’t know much about it', 'I’m no pro', 'I’ve never done it before', 'I couldn’t contribute much' ,'They wouldn’t take me seriously'”
Of course, they would not. But only because you do not even do it for yourself. Trying is always better than not trying. That was one of the most valuable lectures of my life. You just have to try, everyone is starting at some point, it never works out the way you wanted it to work out, but if you do not stop to retry, it will turn out pretty great eventually.
When I founded my first company four years ago, I focussed on all the wrong things. I was caught up in logo designing, brainstorming about a cool company name and building a beautiful website.
What I had rather neglected was the crucial part of actually acquiring some clients. Eventually, it blew up in my face and I had to deal with my first real fail as a “grown-up”. I was devastated. My self-esteem hit rock bottom. What now?
The brain has its patterns for such situations, it tends to push you towards the paths that you know, that are allegedly safe and with fewer risks. But shitty situations like this have also its perks because from this point on there is not much to lose.
So I kept going and I learnt on the go and this time I focused on clients, as many as possible. I narrowed down one field of interest (for me it was SEO) and I gained as much information about it as possible.
Several classes, certificates and some more or less successful projects later, I did it tutor-style: I started giving workshops and passing on the knowledge I acquired so far. The more I worked the more I learnt and the more confident I felt. The titel “expert” started to feel more and more like a perfect fit. If there was a thing I did not know, I did not let it throw me off my metaphorical horse. I dealt with it, over and over.
The most beautiful thing that happened to me on my way to entrepreneurship 2.0 was the discovery that I could actually earn a living by writing, developing a product (several times) that is actually worth selling and building a business infrastructure from scratch to enable business growth.
This included some scary things like talking in front of many people about stuff such as SEO, which rather equals some kind of alchemy. The place was an ecommerce meetup full of entrepreneurs and I was one of the keynote speakers. I survived and I gained some clients and discovered the most important business lecture of all: nobody has any clue.
Everybody is following the principles of trial and error and in addition to that: honest exchange of knowledge can be very empowering - hence the networking. You do not have to be brave to go after the things you want. You also do not have to know what you want from the start as long as you at least know what you don’t want. The hardest part is to make the decision to become active. But once you made it, everything else just falls into place.
So this is my recipe for how to break doubts
1. Make a decision and stick to it. Whether you decide to be self-employed, to hold presentations in front of strangers or to ask for a raise at your current job. The decision making itself is the hardest part. Try not to talk with too many people about it, their decisions are not important, yours is.
2. Stop giving fucks. To stand in a room full of strangers and to act like a professional while ignoring the fact that some might judge you because of your short skirt or red lipstick is tough. But it is essential to learn how to block all the negativity and self-doubt in order to perform great and to radiate authority.
3. Find your focus. Everybody knows the temptings of procrastination. It starts out harmless, just a peak at my Insta page, just this one more video, just this one email. You know you are kidding yourself, but you can’t resist it anyway and end up feeling sorry for yourself. There are several techniques on how to concentrate better and keeping a cool mind. For me, it is Vipassana meditation, a strict calendar schedule and a Trello board with my top goals that I glance at every time I get tempted.
4. Do not feel sorry. In order to break doubts, you have to act tough to feel tough. (The principle of fake it till you make it works for everything) This means along the way you will unintentionally upset people. You need to accept the fact that it is not your job to make everybody feel happy. Your job is to make you happy.
5. Know your worth. At the beginning of my business, I actually had a bad conscience while writing bills because I felt that I somehow did not deserve that much money. This is horse crap. Of course, I deserved it and so do you. Do not be afraid to name the big numbers. Repeat to yourself what you actually accomplish every day and the big number won’t seem that big any more.
All of these steps helped me to stand my business ground in a man’s world while being female and fabulous. And of course, it is a process that needs to be constantly nurtured to grow, but you will see results pretty soon and hopefully you then raise your voice and tell your story. Because it is worth to be told.
Text by Inara Muradowa