Leaving my ‘comfort zone’ and into the abyss! - a few important lessons learnt
It has been nearly two years since I left the structured corporate sector life and stepped into the life of a freelancer and an entrepreneur. As a geriatric millennial, who was raised by two baby boomers to follow a straight path of studying hard, having a steady job, and retiring with savings – it was not the most acceptable move.
However, looking back now, I think deep down I always knew that I wanted to live differently – the signs were there, yet all the while I was sidetracked by what was expected by others.
As my baby boomer parents still struggle to explain to their friends what their daughter does for a living now (also having skipped the ‘get married and have kids’ steps), and while I still sometimes catch myself in disbelief that I am my own boss, the past two years have taught me a number of lessons not only about myself, but also about some of the beliefs I had, and what was expected of me.
I hope these lessons will resonate with or help anyone who is reading this. I promise that they are not from a self-help book I read while sipping on a G&T at 11am while working remotely from a beach! (all of which, I have done in the past two years - minus the self-help book!)
Take stock of what you want for yourself from time to time
In October 2018, I took a trip to Tuscany with Unsettled to spend two weeks with 15 other people from across the world – to share stories, experiences, and a whole lot of wine and pasta. Of the 16 of us, only around 2-3 (including me of course) had corporate jobs. All the others were entrepreneurs, consultants, freelancers, and a few were on sabbaticals. Never have I been in the midst of so many people who were free to decide how they spent their day - and for the first time, it occurred to me that there are different ways to live your life. Those two weeks were my wakeup call.
More often than not, we are so focused on what is expected of us from so many others and the boxes we need to tick, compared to what we might actually want for ourselves. It took a global pandemic for many of us to realize what might actually be important for our well-being – mentally, physically and financially. The ‘Great Resignation’, which started in mid-2020, was a result of this realization, with many people opting to make complete life and career changes.
When I speak of taking stock of your life, I’m not merely referring to your job or career path, but where you are in all aspects of your life – family, relationships, money, skills, health etc. Also, making changes to your journey does not include taking drastic decisions as I did. Sometimes, it might include taking up a new hobby, waking up early or even deciding to eat healthily.
One activity I can highly recommend is the Ikigai exercise. To those unfamiliar with the phrase, it is a Japanese concept which means your ‘reason for being. ‘Iki’ in Japanese means ‘life,’ and ‘gai’ describes value or worth. Simply, it is what inspires you to get out of bed every day.
Since I was introduced to this concept in 2018, I have done this exercise every two years, and in every instance, I have seen a notable shift in that purpose – as it should be. It has also helped me decide what I consider important, and what I need to shed from time to time.
Do not wait for another global pandemic to figure out how your life could be more meaningful. Instead, make more regular course corrections, and know that there is more than one way to live your life, than the usually laid out path.
Sometimes letting go, will open up new doors
If you had asked me before 2020 what else I thought I could do apart from working as an equity analyst, I would have told you very firmly that there was nothing else. It is natural that over the years, as we get comfortable with our routines and so focused on the path we set for ourselves, we never stop to question what other options might work for us. I know this is something a number of you out there can relate to.
However, in mid-2020 (after much reflection and some blind faith) I made a stomach-churning decision to leave my very secure career and walk into a dark abyss (as I like to call it!), only knowing that I wanted to have a flexible routine. My career and the work I did had been such a big part of my life, for as long as I had known. However, as I let go of this enormous chunk of what I believed was my identity, a completely new door opened up for me - ReMAtics.
Amani, my long-time friend, who had on several previous occasions floated around the idea of starting a new venture, saw the opportunity to grab hold of my new-found freedom and skillset, and we have not looked back since.
Since then, I have lost count of the new opportunities that I have come across, be it new business, meeting new people, or learning new skills.
Only when you let go of your old habits, old ways of thinking, bad relationships and friendships, and your comfort zones, do new opportunities and possibilities start to find their way to you. As one of my favourite speakers, Lisa Nichols noted “sometimes you have to be willing to let go of something old to grab onto something new. You have to be willing to let a part of you die that you used to be comfortable with, in order for another part of you to be born”.
Your skillset and talents are broader than you think. Don’t sell yourself short
One of the most eye-opening facts since ReMAtics for me, was how little I thought of my skillset. Up until then, I had never given much thought to what I might be good at, except for the skills I had acquired throughout my career as an analyst.
However, since the day Amani and I started to set up ReMAtics, I have had to carry out so many different tasks - from building our company website (not fancy but functional), to creating marketing documents and videos, drafting contracts, carrying out interviews, managing our social media and its content – just to name a few. Many of them were extensions of the skills I already had, and some were skills I had to acquire on the go. And as our business grows, we continue to find out new things we are good at – a constant reminder not to sell ourselves short!
It is also important to remember that skills are not only those that you can monetize. The ability to curate a well-thought-out gift, whip up a meal for your friends, or patiently offer a listening ear are also important talents. Do not let your annual appraisals or the opinions of the world be your benchmark for what you think you are good at or not.
If nothing, the sheer number of small businesses, artists, writers, and inventors etc., that I come across on social media on a daily basis, is a clear indication to me that we are so much more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
Your tribe will decide your vibe; your vibe will decide how you will live
I cannot stress this enough - who you surround yourself with, will play a key role in your overall well-being. The people you decide to spend the most time with will shape who you are. They determine what conversations dominate your attention, and affect which attitudes and behaviours you are regularly exposed to. What they think of success, wealth, physical and mental health, and how they respect you and your boundaries, all have a significant impact on your life.
Surround yourself with people who have different interests – people who like to read, travel, do different jobs than you, those who are into fitness and healthy eating, and people who like to try out new food. If the opportunity presents itself, make friends from different religions, ethnicities, nationalities, economic and social backgrounds. Surround yourself with people who will be honest with you, who you can even talk about religion and politics with.
I’m not however referring to surrounding yourself with people whom you can get something out of – that is being opportunistic and will only leave you isolated and unlikeable in the long-run.
Most importantly, from time to time we must learn to leave friendships, relationships and even work environments (when possible) that drain us and do not allow us to grow. This is one of the hardest things to do, as cutting ties or letting go can be difficult, due to various personal reasons.
People seldom want to make changes to their lives as they are worried about upsetting those around them, afraid of losing those whom they have become comfortable with. However, if you want to improve yourself in whatever way you desire, it would require you to leave some people behind. Do know that it is ok, and remember them kindly.
People will remember you for your integrity
As we launched ReMAtics back in 2020, many of the clients we acquired along the way were personal introductions. We quickly noticed that, for the most part, we were introduced first and foremost for our discipline, honesty, reliability and our straightforward manner in dealing with matters. Somewhere along the way during our corporate careers, we had clearly left behind a decent impression.
Even as we became employers, when recruiting freelancers to work with us on projects, we are most keen to work with those who show commitment, discipline and the willingness to own up, apart from the technical skills they possess.
I strongly believe that technical skills can be taught. However, people will remember you for years to come for the integrity you show in your work and day-to-day life. It is never easy, and we will all slip up from time to time in numerous ways. Yet, we must also decide, in particular at very crucial moments, to what extent we will let our values slide by and at what cost.
Mangalee Goonetilleke is the Co-Founder and COO of ReMAtics, a freelance platform specialising in financial research, writing and analytics. She brings 12 years of experience in the equity and financial research industry. Mangalee holds a Masters in Business Administration in Finance from the University of Southern Queensland Australia and is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, UK.