5 Lessons from 5 Years of Entrepreneurship
I’ve been running VAUTE for the past 5 and a half years, self funded and leading it on my own as my first full business (minus the dog walking one I started when I was 10, or the art shop I ran from my bedroom when I was 6, my 23 cent pieces were really popular! ;)) has been challenging in ways I didn’t expect. I mean, I didn’t expect anything- when I started the company I just knew I had to give my all to create a fashion label that would be better than wearing animals, I knew I’d do whatever it took.
But nobody told me how much I’d go through with myself- they don’t tell you when you start something how much you’ll hate yourself, how much you’ll want to quit, how much you’ll become a slave to your own mission and business… until you choose not to, until you grow to expect these and know they are not indicators that you are a terrible no good entrepreneur, these are just normal thoughts. They say NYC is lived in dog years. Well if that’s the case maybe entrepreneurship is lived in action flick hours- every day filled with wonder, risk, excitement, growth, hard lessons, and humbling failure, with some high speed chase and life contemplation thrown in. After getting my own place for the first time in my life last April, I’ve spent a lot of time with myself and it’s been really amazing for my ability to create a healthy life for myself and a more capable me for running VAUTE. For any new entrepreneurs or anyone starting anything, here are are a few things I’ve learned that help me, in case they can help you too.
If I was a perfectionist, I would get nothing done. I’d have no business, no life, I couldn’t get myself up in the morning or dream & scheme all day long. I’d be wondering, waiting, hoping, fidgeting. Instead I’m doing, failing, experimenting, inspired. I know that what I create can never be what I originally imagine, but it might be better than perfect: it will be real. Do your best, work with perfectionists to make your product or service the best it can be, but know that if it’s between you putting something into the world, and you never getting it perfect enough, we pick choice A. We want to see what you’ve created, we want to hear your voice. Get it done first. Share it with us. Never getting it out there is failure by default. I’m sure it’s beautiful. Let’s see it.
2. You can choose how you want your day/week/life to feel.
“I want something else. I’m not even sure what to call it anymore except I know it feels r o o m y and it’s drenched in sunlight and it’s weightless and I know it’s not cheap.” Mark C. Danielewski
It took me a long time to realize that I could choose how I wanted my day to feel. To not just give everything of me towards my mission- rushing around trying so hard always exhausted always late feeling so responsible so disappointing scared to look at a calendar- but that I could ask myself: what do I want in my day? After a few years of running the label alone in my apartment I realize now how much I love creating alongside people I know or among those I don’t, sitting in the sun at tea shops, running when I wake up and reading before bed, being alone choosing to do n o t h i n g, and then the magical math of finding out that these things also create more of me to give to my mission anyway. I think when we let go of what we expect of ourselves and being our own worst boss and ask first how we want life to feel look taste and smell it all gets better, we are better. I’m still exhausted some days ha but it’s r o o m i e r and lighter and seeing your faces, feeling the breeze, giggling more rushing less, eating slowly, and adventure- lots of adventure! this is what I want filling my day, this is what I’m grateful for.
3. Last things first. The magical math of listening to myself first.
I used to think I was a really messy person. It turns out, I love to clean. I just never did before because I thought that cleaning was something that mostly benefited me so I left it for the last thing on my list. It hung out there with going to the gym, baths, and reading time with candles. I also used to have hours in my day where I couldn’t get anything done. It was a sit in, a protest of my brain and body that I didn’t quite understand. I’d push and push and ask for more and my brain would say, “NO” with arms folded & pouty face turned away from me, while it made sure I couldn’t focus on anything except endless facebook and email refreshes. You know how when you’re sick your body says it just won’t do anything else? It’s like that- when I haven’t been listening to my brain and my soul, it says it just won’t do anything else until I do.
And then when I got my own place, I realized that there are things that make me feel so good. Like cleaning. And baths. And reading Thich Nhat Hanh while a candle is lit. And doing absolutely nothing for hours while everyone else is out. And now when there are a million things to do, I try to stop first and do something on my list. It’s so hard! Because there’s so much to do, it feels so counterproductive. But then when I’m done with being kind to me, the “productive” things happen much faster, much clearer, and much more effectively. I don’t have those sabotage hours in my day where my brain and body demands non-working time, resenting me, because I have listened to myself and given myself those hours first as a gift with lots of love.
4. Do proactive work first, catch up work second.
There are some things that are endless. Like emails. and more emails. and more emails. I used to try to get all my emails caught up first, and then get to the proactive work second. And then it took a while, but, I realized that I was never getting to my proactive work, ever. It’s like when you’re stuck in the middle of the party talking to the chatty girl who doesn’t really have much to actually say, and you never get a chance to make it across the room to your quiet friend who inspires you. What I’ve found is, if I set aside time in my day to enjoy the heart pumping brain zooming fun proactive work first, then I have more energy to zoom through the emails and catchup stuff later. Conversely, if I do the catchup stuff first, it drags on and on and expands to fill my entire day, and I not only won’t have time for anything super great, but I also won’t feel very good either.
5. Wanting to quit is inevitable. But then you’ll never know what’s on the other side.
It’s something most entrepreneurs never talk about- how much they want to quit. For me- I’ll tell you sometimes not at all, and sometimes daily. Sometimes it’s so loud it paralyzes me for days and sometimes it’s packed inside otherwise wonderful days. And on those days and weeks of days where it smells like I want to cry and sounds like how will I make it? and feels like too too much, I write myself a pep talk. Through the past 5 years of running VAUTE self funded with limited resources, limited team, limited budgets, I’ve realized the fear and self doubt don’t go away, I’ve just gotten used to them. They’re old friends. And I know that when these two are hanging out with me something serious, it’s when I find out how to make peace with them in my space that I realize they are here because something I’ve never done or encountered is arriving soon and these two are standing around the door- to the other side of here. Almost there. Let’s be friends? If I give up now I won’t get to see it. And it’s not just okay on the other side, it’s better. (It is home.)
So, what have you learned through your adventures in making your dreams come true?
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Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart is the Founder of VAUTE, the first all vegan label to show at New York Fashion Week, and was called the “Rebel of fashion week” by CNN. Her label innovates the future of fashion: high tech, high design, and high ethics at once (eco conscious, vegan, made ethically), so that there’s no excuse left to wear animals. She lives in Brooklyn, you can follow her on Instagram here.