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What Living In A Tent For 3 Months Taught Me About Being An Entrepreneur

Note: This is a guest post by Vicki Childs. You guys should check her out.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation that psychologically strips you bare and forces into sharp focus the realities of who you truly are, both the good and the bad?  I’ve had that kind of experience.   What I learned had a profound affect on me, impacting my perspective on life even to this day.  As a solopreneur I still fall back on the lessons I learned and they help to hold my focus and keep my eyes on the prize.  

Totally unprepared

At the age of 22 I decided to go on expedition to Ghana in West Africa, a third world country nestled between Ivory Coast and Togo, two countries plagued by civil war.  The expedition was run by a charity organization that takes young British adults to developing countries to work on community and environmental projects.  Now believe it or not I’d never been camping.  Ever.  I wouldn’t even have known what to take camping.  I’d never been anywhere that wasn’t in Europe or the US, and then only with my parents.  I’m an only child who attended a tiny all girls private school in Windsor, England.  My graduating class was just 24 girls.  After school I attended a small university in Surrey where I studied psychology.  After college I fell straight into a well-paid consultancy job and it was at this time that I began planning my ‘grand adventure’. I must have been insane.  I had no clue what was in store for me, but soon I began to realize with growing horror what I’d got myself in to.

What the hell have I done?!!

The next 3 months in Africa would put me in situations I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

I tripped on hallucinogenic anti-malarial tablets, faced down poisonous snakes with sticks, and crapped in holes in the ground while groups of local kids watched with amusement.  I hiked 8 miles a day carrying everything on my back including tents, water canisters and medical supplies.  I mixed and poured cement to build rangers stations in the jungle, and I taught villagers about the risks of untreated cataracts.  For 3 months I ate and washed out of a 6-inch metal mess kit.  Yes – the same one.  It was an amazing experience, and I hated a great deal of it.

Finding peace with the madness

The first month was truly awful.  It was a soul destroying, unforgiving marathon of dirt, sickness, exhaustion, and loneliness.  I was miserable and nobody gave a damn.  I was a spoilt, privileged brat who needed to get over herself and just get on with it.   By the second month my perspective shifted and I began to come to peace with the madness that was my daily existence.  Even to embrace it.

Coming back to England was quite a culture shock.  After 3 months of living out of a stinky rucksack, having my very own closest filled with clean, ironed clothes seemed bizarre!  I now saw things that previously I’d taken completely for granted and that subtle shift in perspective has stayed with me ever since.

What I learned that I apply to my business today

 1.  Prioritize in the face of scarce resources:

In Ghana water was scarce and we were filthy.  When you’re allotted 2 cups of water to wash with every day it tends to make you prioritize!  I started to view a clean face and clean ‘essentials’ as the sign of a good day.  And hey – if there was a rainstorm I might even get to stand under the gutter and wash my hair!

Today in business I find that there are so many things I want to be doing but now my scarce resource is time.  I use that limitation as a filter for everything I do, constantly questioning whether a particular activity leads me to my ultimate goals.  So many entrepreneurs value their financial budget but squander their time.  They forget that time is just as finite and precious as money, if not more so!

 2.     Accept that very few people will truly understand:

It was so hard for me to describe my experiences of expedition to my loved ones.  I would write letters home while I was in Ghana recounting my daily trials.  My family and friends were horrified, impressed, proud and often just downright confused.  I think that unless you’ve actually experienced something like that you can never truly understand what it’s like.

I find the same is true for entrepreneurs.   Although those around you can sympathize and tell you you’re doing a great job, if they’ve never experienced the raw emotional roller coaster that comes with running your own business then they will always be to some extent, a supportive observer. It’s essential to find others who ‘get’ what it’s like to be on this journey and can give you support and perspective.

 3.     Reduce unnecessary noise.

It’s strange but one of my most vivid memories of my returning culture shock was standing in the cereal isle of a grocery store.  I couldn’t believe how many cereals there were!  Rows and rows stretching into the distance in a myriad colors, and I’d eaten nothing but porridge every day for the last 3 months!  I realized that we have so much choice in our daily lives, and if kept unchecked it can overcomplicate things unnecessarily, taking our focus away from what’s really important.

I see so many unseasoned solopreneurs fall into this honey trap.  There’s so much valuable information on the web that if you’re not careful you end up doing nothing but consuming more and more of it.  But that’s just an excuse for inaction.  You can read all the articles you like but you’re never going to make anything happen until you actually step outside the door and take a risk!

My question to you is this:  If you were forced to strip away all the unnecessary busyness in your day, if you could focus on only the most critical— If you were brave enough to step right out to the center of the stage not knowing what might happen, where could you take your business?  Sometimes what we’re most scared of is amazing things we could achieve, if only we were brave enough.

My name is Vicki Childs and my mission is to help successful women recognize and celebrate their brilliance while creating more balance in their lives.  I help them to re-focus, re-organize and re-prioritize, and ultimately release their true potential.

I qualified as a coach in 2009 and I have been working with amazing women ever since.