Over the past few years, I have been on a steep learning curve. Taking complete control and responsibility for building my own future has been extremely rewarding and quite scary at the same time. Even though it gets easier each day as I learn to spot patterns, build momentum and develop a system, I still feel like I live on the edge and that things could change at any second. I have full control of it, yet, I don’t. But life, over the recent years, has taught me to turn fear of the unknown and uncertainty into a feeling of liberation.
Here I want to share what I’ve learned over the past few years building my own business.
1. Your capability and possibility in life are only limited by the wall you create for yourself.
I have always been a competitive person. Not so much with others, but with myself. Since I was little, I always participated in school competitions and aimed to achieve higher goals. I was born naturally driven and self-motivated. I’m not doing it to prove anybody wrong or to inflate my ego; I just really want to self-actualize. It’s just who I am - at the core.
When I last visited home, I asked my family to describe me. The first word that came to their mind was “determined”. My family always saw me as this determined girl who always achieved her goals no matter what. However with self-drive and determination, you still face roadblocks - and they are mostly mental. Since I was little my dad instilled in me since little to embrace the power of self-belief. He bought me a book called “The Magic of Thinking Big” which teaches you to dream big and believe in the possibilities you can create for yourself. At the time, a lot of these things can feel like fluff. Some of you may shrug when you hear quotes like “you can achieve anything you believe you can achieve”. I realize that we were not born with equal opportunities. But once we get past the stage where we have to play by the rules, we can start creating rules for ourselves. If you say, you can’t do something because you believe you, yourself, can’t do something, or because someone close to you believes you can’t do it, you’ve already set yourself up to not trying your hardest.
When I graduated from university, I faced so many rejections. Being an international student in Australia (in other words, an immigrant), I had to fight hard to compete with the other applicants when applying for jobs. I also worked with people who didn’t walk the talk, which taught me many lessons about people. It was an extremely stressful period of my life but I didn’t let that stop me.
I always believed that I would achieve great things. However, when you’re just starting out, things don’t always work out and that makes you doubt yourself. Your family starts doubting you. Your friends start sending out concerns. All you have to do at that point in time is to have faith in yourself and in your own future. You are the only one who knows who you truly are and what you’re capable of achieving. It took me a few years of trying a few different things until I reached the point where I found my absolute calling, The Happiness Planner. The doubt was still there. I remember researching on suppliers. It was so overwhelming thinking about how I could bring this product to life. I had never used InDesign before. I had never designed stationery before. I had never worked in retail or manufacturing before. How would I put all the pieces together? The operational side of this scared me the most because I know I can market anything - but how do I get things made to the level of quality that I am pleased? I remember calling my dad on the verge of tears.
Can you please teach me how to get stuff manufactured and imported into another country? Marketing is my forte but I have never done anything in manufacturing and dealing with suppliers before. I have this great product idea that people say they want. But I don’t know if I can make it come to life. I want to give up now.
How many years did it take for you to learn to play the piano this well? You learned it for years! From the age of 6 to 16! This can’t be harder than that.
That’s it. That one simple sentence gave me such a confidence boost. Every time I start doubting myself and my ability to learn something new, I think about how long it took me to learn to play the piano. If I could learn and master that, then I could learn and master anything.
2. You can write your own future and you can change the world.
I remember sitting in my dad’s car one day as we were headed home. He said to me ….
Everything you see around us and everything you experience was created and invented by someone, even religion, the law you have to follow, and the math formulas you’re learning. And you too, can create something, and influence change in the world.
At the time, I was probably 13. I didn’t completely understand how I could possibly change the world. It seemed like a daunting task. But his words have stuck by me since.
During school holidays and on the weekend, I would normally go for a run with Dad in the morning. I vividly remember the stories Dad told me about how Sony Walkman and Nike started. How when Sony first introduced Sony Walkman people thought it was such a ridiculous idea. Why would you want to walk around the street with a music player attached to you? Every single innovative idea started out with the majority of people thinking it is stupid. That’s just how people are and you have to tap into the early adopters until it slowly catches on to the mass. Dad was going on and on about the concept of the tipping point and how one great idea will first look ridiculous in the eyes of the mass but it will eventually spread and hit the tipping point where it will become a desirable item.
I guess I’m finally at the tipping point where I can feel that I can really influence the future of the world.
3. Mistakes and failures are part of success.
Growing up with a tiger mom, it’s almost like your self-worth is based on how well you do at school and in life. I was always scared of making mistakes because I didn’t want to disappoint my mom. However, my dad is pretty liberal. And being an entrepreneur who forged his own path - from moving away from his hometown to becoming a national marathon runner, moving to the US for work, and starting his own company when everything else was going against him - he believes that mistakes and failures are just part of success. If you never make mistakes at all, you’re probably not trying anything new.
There are several events in life that, when they happened, they felt like failures, mistakes, rejections, and disappointments. The men who broke my heart, the jobs that didn’t work out, the dishonest people I met - in hindsight, those things happened to teach me something and to put me into the right direction. I learned a great deal from all of those situations and the lessons will continue to guide me into a brighter path in the future.
4. Never forget the opportunity cost.
At some stage of our lives, we get confused about the path we’re taking. Am I really doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Which path should I take when they all seem amazing and exciting? Should I really be taking risks now because I’m scared and I might not be able to afford the cost that will incur if things don’t go as planned?
An ex-boyfriend of mine once said to me,
You have to remember to calculate the opportunity cost. With the time spent doing something that does not align with your ultimate goal, what could you have gained with that time?
Then I was reassured of that term again by my father a few years later, along with reading a few Quora threads that changed my whole perspective about the concept of time and the concept of the compounding returns of intelligence
Time is the only thing you have that you cannot turn back or retrieve. The same goes with intelligence. Intelligence is compounding and the cost of that missing long-term compounding is enormous.
I was so broke and so stressed that the thought of just completely focusing on my business seemed too daunting. But those two words, “Opportunity Cost”, kept pushing me through. When I calculated the opportunity cost of not doing things I truly wanted to do (building my own brand) and compared that with the income I would be earning, I realized that I couldn’t afford to waste any more time putting off pursuing my dreams.
5. Being broke in the early days help me get rid of my fear of failure and fear of the unknown
Like I mentioned before, once I decided to stop looking for a full-time job in Australia and entered the startup world, I was broke. At that point I had two choices: to keep fighting, or, to go back home and run my dad’s business. My parents were pressuring me to go back and they didn’t understand why I wanted to stay in an expensive country when I could go home and live comfortably. I remember waking up every day feeling anxious about how I would afford to pay my rent and buy food. I was constantly thinking about ways to make money whilst trying to pursue my dreams of building my own brand. It was mentally hard and I had to constantly convince myself. The only way for me to really convince myself was to keep reading stories of entrepreneurs and putting all the inspirational and motivational quotes on my blog. Luckily that turned into something that inspires thousands of people around the world every day. If you read my blog posts back in 2013-4, you’d see articles that subtly indicated my own self-doubt and my own positive self-talk trying to convince myself. When you really pour your heart and soul into something and are authentic about it, people can feel it, relate to it, and feel inspired by it. I’m glad I was able to pass on my stories to others through my blog and turned it into what it is today.
Being broke and having to face those mental obstacles, I got rid of my fear of failure. Because at the end of the day, if it’s not for for the fear of humiliation or disappointing those you love, the fear of failure is actually the fear of living uncomfortably. I got over that, I gained strength, and I learned a great deal about myself.
As for the fear of the unknown, having no proper jobs in an expensive city like Sydney with no parents to come home to (as they live in Thailand) was as scary and unstable as it could get. I had no support system. But I took a leap of faith in myself and jumped into the unknown. That was probably one of the most liberating things I ever did in my life. I learned that the unknown is not that scary. It is actually very exciting to know that your future is wide open leaving you with so much flexibility in your life.
6. In the early days, prioritize discovering yourself, building skills, and getting rid of limiting self-beliefs, instead of making money.
We all have negative or limiting beliefs about ourselves - some of us more than others. When pursuing your dreams, prioritize building skills and getting rid of limiting self-beliefs, instead of making money. Of course, we need to live and eat, so we need to make money. But that shouldn’t be your priority. After graduation, we may first realize that we don’t know everything. What we learned at school probably only contributes to 10% of what we actually do in the workforce. You may find that the first thing you need to do is to find yourself. Otherwise you’ll be jumping from one job to another without knowing exactly who you are, what your values are, what you’re good at, or what you actually want to do.
You need to understand your strengths and weaknesses and what you are naturally curious about and interested in so that you could spend a huge portion of your life learning more about it and improving your skills in that field.
If you’re not conscious and intentional about trying to understand who you truly are, you might have to start all over again several times in life. And that’s fine too. But wouldn’t it be better if you knew sooner in life?
I didn’t earn a lot of money in the first few years of my career after graduation. I probably didn’t earn a cent from co-founding startups. However, the experiences were valuable. In hindsight, all of the little things I learned - either from work or on my own during those times - have been beneficial to my current venture and will be for the rest of my life. I have also learned that the biggest teacher in life is yourself. You have access to the Internet, books, and people. If you learn to ask yourself the right questions, then you can find the answers. It starts with having the curiosity and the thirst to learn and know more.
7. You have to stay afloat of change. Things are constantly changing.
I remember that just 4 years ago, Facebook ad trading was a new thing. I was working at a media agency and everyone was scared of change. Companies were trying to preserve the way things were. Snapchat didn’t even exist yet. Magazines and newspapers were still testing their digital platforms. Look what’s happening now! Things change so quickly that if you snooze, you lose. You just have to stay afloat of change and be adaptable. New media and technology influence change in consumer behaviour, attitude, and lifestyle - from the way people live, to the way they consume products and media and interact with one another. The scary thing is other brands and companies can come in and compete with you anytime. The good thing is that you can also come up with something new and kick the big dogs out anytime too if you do it right.
8. Wisdom only comes to those who reflect on life experiences and realize what they’ve learned from them.
Most of us let life pass by without reflecting on the life experiences and turning them into wisdom. My dad always told me to keep a journal. Well, my blog is actually my journal and I share it with the world. I used to write a lot when I was a kid, and I stopped when I had a full-time job because I didn’t have time. I’m glad I picked it up again because through writing, I learned to reflect on life experiences and turn them into wisdom. Moreover, writing helps me structure my thoughts and become a better communicator. It also drives me back into my childhood, looking back to the things I learned since childhood, like words of wisdom from dad which I would never have thought about again if I wasn’t writing a blog post and reflecting on my life.
Every now and then we should take some time off for ourselves, to fully embrace our ‘me’ time and think about everything that’s going on around us. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in work, in social outings, in family tasks and financial responsibilities that we forget to stop and pause for a second to really feel life and embrace things as they are. Practicing mindfulness, yoga, meditation, going for a jog or a bike ride - all of these can give your mind a chance to breathe and really re-charge itself. I find that one of the most valuable practices I’ve done in life is reflecting on my past year and planning ahead - thinking about the highs and lows, the lessons learned, those we’re grateful for, and envisioning how we want our lives to be in 10, 5, and 1 year’s time. This practice helps me achieve my goals and feel confident in the direction I’m taking in life. You can also download our free printables here from our website which you can use to reflect and plan ahead.
9. The only currency you should care about is value.
In 2012 when I was traveling from Melbourne to Paris for L'Oreal Brandstorm competition, I picked up a book from the airport called “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable” by Seth Godin. The book talks about how to make yourself valuable and indispensable. At the time, the concept of value didn’t quite catch me yet. I remember turning to my dad for career advice when I landed my first full-time job. I was so excited and I was telling my dad about my boss and the company. However, the pay was quite low which was standard for the industry. He told me to not focus on the pay, but instead, focus on creating value - the pay will come. He then told me about the time when he was working for a company; he didn’t get paid that much at first, but because he was such a valuable asset to the company, the company was willing to pay as much as he wanted so that they could keep him. After finishing my contracts with two companies, I realized my skills and talents weren’t what they were looking for. My skills and talents weren’t valuable to their companies. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not valuable. We just weren’t the right fit. It’s all about supply and demand. What I could supply isn’t what they had demand in.
So when I decided to become a freelance social media consultant, I had to learn more about how to price my service. I then understood that it’s all about the value you create.
“You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.”
- Jim Rohn
Most of us are used to the system of calculating payment and salaries based on the number of hours. We even calculate it based on the market rate. However, if we really look deep into the surface of numbers, we will realize that it’s about value - how valuable the role (and skills) is (are) to the company and to the society, how valuable your advice or service is to the company, and how valuable your product is to your customer. This way of thinking changed my whole perspective about things. Even in friendships and relationships, it’s all about the exchange of value. So for me now, I focus on creating ‘value’ for my customers. What do they want? How can I create products that improve their lives? How can I create more value for the world? Because at the end of the day, no one wants what you create unless it provides value to them.
I hope this blog post has provided some value to you and inspired you in some way. We read so many articles about entrepreneurial success, but rarely the struggles they had to go through. No matter what journey you’re going on, remember to feel grateful for those who have helped you in any way and feel proud for how far you have come. :)