Written by 46 South African entrepreneurs – I was honoured to have been asked to write a chapter for this book, alongside some of my favourite entrepreneurs – an inspiring read!
Here is my chapter.
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At the end of most of his podcast episodes, Tim Ferriss asks his guest, ‘If you had a billboard to get a message, a quote, a word, an image, a question, anything, out to billions of people – what might you put on that billboard?’ I think about this question a lot, probably because I listen to Tim Ferriss’ podcasts a lot (and you should too because it’s great!), but mainly because I think it’s such a powerful question.
If I had a billboard, and a guarantee that all the inspired entrepreneurial minds of the world would see it, what might I put on it? It was the question I asked myself before sitting down to write this for you. And that led me to my next question: What is the single most important thing I have learnt in my 20 years as an entrepreneur, and how can I expand on that in as much detail as possible to help you implement that into your own entrepreneurial journey?
In order to share this with you, I’ll need to start with a story …
Ping! A WhatsApp message from my employee Sam.
Shan, have you seen this?! says the preview on my iPhone. Intriguing. I open the message and there it is.
‘What? They did not!?’ You know those moments, when you see the truth of something so clearly, and time seems to pause? It suspends you there until you can feel all the microscopic cells of your body begin to react. ‘No,’ I think to myself. ‘Is this a joke? Surely this can’t be. Just no! Whaaat?!’
I’m in absolute disbelief.
I cannot even begin to describe the surge of adrenalin that flooded my body on that unsuspecting Sunday morning. But, within seconds, I zoomed out to transcend all time and space. I scanned all possible future scenarios laid out in front of me and returned with a deep knowing. I stared at the screen, every cell in my body firing.
And my intuition whispered …
This is a gift. Use it wisely.
The above moment in time is in reference to a situation that arose in my life where a well-known corporate company blatantly copied my product; the pattern, the name, the colour – and launched it as their own. There were so many ways I could have dealt with that situation, and trust me, I fantasised about all of them. But, thankfully, I managed to stay grounded throughout the process, which allowed a terrible situation – that easily could have ended my business – to become one of the best learning experiences of my life, and in turn catapulted my business to a new level.
But more importantly, led me to meeting some of the most down-to-earth and generous entrepreneurs and human beings that I now have the pleasure of calling my friends.
However, I’m not here to tell you about that story. I’m here to help you make the most of those moments in time where our world stands still and we have to make choices that will affect the course of our lives going forward. Those ‘sliding door’ moments where we get to jump the train from Platform A to Platform B and catch the express, because we’ve made the decision to stay grounded in love.
All my life, my favourite movie has been Sliding Doors, with Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s led me to explore the ‘many worlds’ theory, where they say that in every second that passes and every choice we make, the universe splits, and another version of us goes on to a parallel universe, and that happens in every moment. I love mind-bending concepts like this, because whether they’re true or not, they can bring so much awareness to our daily lives – and every breath that we are blessed to take further along our journeys. Every. single. second. matters. And we have the power to jump timelines whenever we choose. Our choices matter, greatly.
For me, sliding door moments are those moments where you feel yourself about to go into an auto-pilot reaction, but then you catch yourself and you don’t. You pause. You find the gap, and you decide to tune in and listen. You anchor in love and make your next move from there.
This is easier said than done, but with practice, comes skill. And nothing can help you practice this kind of patience and presence like having a kid can. (When you know, you know!) Children – our precious little manifestations that we love so much, but who have the ability to trigger us beyond any trigger we could ever imagine!
Having a baby was something I always wanted. I dreamt of that day that I would be holding my beautiful little baby, rocking him or her to sleep, having one of those Instagram-style Moses baskets next to my MacBook Pro in my home office, while I continued to entrepreneur through my days and rock my own life as a new mama bear. LOL.
Motherhood hit me hard. Like a slap in the face when you wake up from the worst hangover you could ever imagine. All I could do was cry. I got everything ‘wrong’. And it sent me into a very dark place.
Until one day, a friend gifted me a stretchy wrap – a long piece of stretchy fabric that you basically just wrapped around yourself and your baby, and this was meant to put them to sleep and keep them happy. At that point, I would have tried anything. There was a bit of a learning curve to get it right, but with minimal effort I managed to figure it out, and that day was the first day I left the house on my own. I almost didn’t, but looking at myself in the mirror, I had a ‘sliding door’ moment, and I did it.
With my baby strapped to my body, I nervously took a little stroll down to the beach. I felt the sunshine on my skin and I could hear and smell the ocean once again. I even touched the water with my bare feet. That day, I felt hope – in and amongst all the other very dark feelings, I felt hope. And I could feel a very dim light, flickering within.
This experience is what eventually led me to designing the Ubuntu Baba baby carrier – a simple little product that met all my needs and helped me to ‘step out into the world again’ (which is still the tagline, today, for our business). This simple little product gave me my life back, and to date it has done this for 15 000+ parents worldwide. It still blows my mind.
It has been the journey of building a business, and the journey of being a human. Two journeys, intrinsically wound up in one another, in and of every moment (and yet we box them into totally separate categories in life, pretending that the one exists without the other).
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I used to think it was something to aspire to when entrepreneur friends would say, ‘Yeah man, I’ve been working 14-hour days straight lately, made so much progress.’ If someone tells me that now, I’m like: ‘Do you need a hug, R U OK?’
I used to think business was about selling something with the sole purpose of making a profit and never sharing any of my secrets; of hustling hard, then taking my hard-earned cash home to enjoy. I thought it was about growing year on year by following the numbers, and when we had one bad month, analysing what we had done ‘wrong’. Based on monetary growth only, as if progress is a straight up incline – no dips – and as if there is nothing to learn in the shadows.
Yet when it came down to it, with the one business that really created itself and that has sustained me, my family and a small team of machinists for just over eight years now, that’s not how it worked out at all.
With the birth of the idea, just like with the birth of my son, came a deep knowing that there must be a better way to do things. A way that embodied all my personal values and the way I think about life; a way that allowed me the freedom to figure it out while growing, instead of rushing into scaling or choosing which box to fit into.
I knew the way, but only because I had learned how to become still enough to pause, find the gap, and then swim downstream with the support and natural flow of the good energy surrounding me, instead of struggling upstream by falling into conditioned thinking, or making decisions from a clouded, fear-based state.
Understanding that we live in a vibrational universe, with sliding door moments, has given me so much freedom. It’s allowed me to create a business that has morphed and changed in so many ways over these past eight years. If I had to show you timestamps of how I was doing things in Years 2, 4, 6 and 8, they’d all be wildly different.
Sitting here now, in Year 9, I can tell you that I am the most calm, present and engaged with my business than I ever have been before, and that is because of my commitment to my own personal growth journey. There will be ups and downs, and you should celebrate all of them, because there is much to learn from those challenging times.
I am so grateful for that little WhatsApp message because it changed the course of my life, along with many other sliding door moments. These moments have allowed me the opportunity to jump on the express train and experience things I never would have experienced if I had missed taking that pause and reacted on auto-pilot.
So, what would I write on that billboard? What do I want you to know, after 20 years of playing this game, and still waking up and loving it?
My billboard would say: This moment is a gift. Use it wisely.