Wins and fuckups: My last 10 years in business — Cara Szellemes
It’s been 10 years since I first started my own business. I remember walking into the business name registry (back then we had to apply in person) with $120 in hand to secure my business name.
10 years ago, I would spring out of bed, excited about creating and marketing my little business, Mumatopia.
Facebook business pages were thriving marketplaces for small operators back then. It was really easy to sell stuff and everyone was excited about the possibilities.
In the years since I’ve done pretty much everything from selling my own handmade wares in markets and online to entering and winning a startup competition and running my own content marketing consultancy.
I’ve had a lot of wins but, like many other women in business, I’ve also experienced my fair share of failures. And when I’ve experienced failure, I’ve been particularly hard on myself… harder than anyone else could be.
In fact, in the past year particularly, I’ve taken out the proverbial club and beat myself senseless.
The conversation you have with yourself when you fail
I recently wound up my startup Writally after it became clear that it just wasn’t going to work on the scale I wanted it to. The biggest hurdle I ran into was being a solo founder. It’s tough and it puts investors off.
After validating a few new ideas (or not validating, as the case may be), I started work on a new startup in the innovation culture space with a brilliant co-founder.
If I’m honest, I felt a great sense of shame and embarrassment at having to close Writally’s doors. I get it happens in the startup world. I get I’m not the only one, but it hurt nonetheless.
Since making that decision I lost my mojo a bit.
Imposter syndrome hovered over me as I dealt with the fallout from closing my startup.
The conversation I’d been having with myself about getting out there and doing something new was pretty nasty.
“You’re a failure. You’ve fucked everything up. Everybody thinks you’re an idiot.”
The story I made up about myself was so unkind and harsh that it was ridiculous. And yet, some days, I treated it like it was real.
In those moments all of my business achievements seemed meaningless.
The impact of listening to your internal dialogue
The impact of indulging my internal dialogue was pretty huge.
The moment I thought about sharing my expertise, I experienced this overwhelming sense of panic.
Last year, I wasn’t living into the possibility of being a global changemaker and kickass businesswoman. Instead, I wallowed and hid. Mental health was an awkward topic in the startup world.
When I did feel a spark of motivation, I started to play the comparison game. I’d see other women doing amazing things online and I’d tell myself “you’re not good enough. You don’t have your shit together. Why would anyone listen to you?” And so I didn’t even try… a far cry from the woman who ran 3 mums’ retreats, spoke at midwifery conferences and ran a successful local business for years.
As I moved through the vicious cycle, I started to feel more anxious, so anxious that some days it paralysed me.
The doctor gave me a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. I didn’t take it but I kept staring at the bottle. I knew numbing the pain wouldn’t solve anything. Eventually, I flushed the tablets down the toilet so the temptation was gone.
Reflecting on what I have accomplished
I’ve done so many amazing things in the past 10 years. I have travelled the world, written a bestselling book and won a startup competition. I have won awards and grants and all kinds of accolades and contributed to the success of some amazing organisations.
Yes, I’ve had some massive setbacks, have fucked a few things up and not lived into my potential.
No, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure and that I have nothing to contribute to other human beings.
And so I continue on… searching, growing and dreaming.
Surrounding yourself with believers
I am blessed to have amazing people in my life who look at me way more kindly than I looked at myself.
They think I’m awesome, kickass, capable and a dynamo but they also know when to hold space and just be with me through the ups and downs.
So, I’m making a commitment to live into the potential others see in me in 2020. No more comparisons, no more wallowing and doubt, no more beating myself up.
Focusing on what matters
Where I did have success last year, it mostly boiled down to focusing on what truly mattered to me and being intentional.
It seems risky to share all this. Risky, because it’s so human and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. However, I figured that I wasn’t the only one, and if it makes you feel heard and gotten, it was worth sharing.
If you’ve been hard on yourself, had imposter syndrome and experienced failure, I’m right there with you. You will be okay. There are just lessons to be learned and next steps to take.
My first decade in business certainly took me on a rollercoaster ride but I’m still strapped in.
Bring on the next 10 years.
Originally published at my old website casmccullough.com on December 12, 2019.