In life being different is a strength not a weakness. As an entrepreneur I have always wanted to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate my individuality. I learnt very early in my business life that you do not need to imitate others and found many people try so hard to be different that they actually just become poor clones of someone else.
I also realised that by imitating others, even those we may admire or look up to, we not only lose our individuality but we also imply that those people are better than us. When you copy others you are not listening to your heart, you are not natural and above all you are not being true to yourself.
In business we need to do all three: Listen to our heart, be natural and always be true to ourselves.
Everyone is an individual; everyone is born different and unique. Your culture, background and family make you different. Since I realised this in business, that everyone has their own built-in individuality, I started to focus on what made me naturally unique. Clearly I have an advantage in the ‘visual identity’ department! I’m a British Sikh. I wear a turban and a beard and in business these things are relatively rare. I have always used these visual identifiers as a strength but even more so in recent years by replacing my black turban with vibrant and colourful ones.
In business your self-discipline is also a key factor in being yourself and letting others clearly see that you have the ability to follow your own path and stay true to yourself. This is also the case in staying true to your venture or your idea and not swaying off your path even in the face of minor (or even major) obstacles. Discipline is something that cannot be hidden and rightly so.
A few years ago I had to meet a banker in the City about a cash flow loan. I had met him a few times before but had never spoken about business or discussed my businesses with him. I had all the documents, business plans, paperwork – everything. I went into the banker’s office and sat down. He heard what I had to say and why I needed to meet him to discuss an urgent loan I required for the business. Before I had chance to show him any of my documents and talk in detail about the proposition I had, he asked me about my turban. I told him that I was a Sikh; that I did not drink or smoke; that I was a vegetarian and my religion and family were very important to me. He listened and then questioned me about my religion, why was it important to me, had I ever considered cutting my hair, and what was the significance of my religion and religious identity?
Towards the end of the meeting I clearly felt that by asking about my beliefs, my religion, and many things unrelated to the business the banker was not at all interested in lending me the money. To my astonishment however, he stood up and shook my hand then said that subject to his team looking at the paperwork the loan would be available to me within a few days. I responded: ‘But you’ve not seen the paperwork!’ He replied: ‘I don’t need to. You just told me everything I need to know. You have discipline and seem true to your beliefs, and that’s good enough for me!’ I saw the banker again recently and thanked him again for teaching me one of life’s most important lessons: if you’re true to yourself, then people can see and sense that and that’s all that matters.
As an entrepreneur, I know what it’s like to be driven by your head and not your heart. But these days I know that you have to be true to yourself; your head can’t rule your heart forever. In those moments just before you make any decision, I think you can always hear your heart telling you really if you are making a good decision or if you’re about to make a mistake. But so often we carry on to make the incorrect decisions – we’re desperate to make a move and attain the goal. Now before I make any big decision I take 10 seconds to clear my mind, reflect and listen to my inner voice. If I don’t change my mind it is an added layer of confidence (I did at least stop to think) and if I do change my mind at the last minute then I know that I’m listening to my heart and being true to myself.
In business many people don’t listen to their inner voice, they don’t trust what their heart is telling them. But they should. Authenticity is absolutely vital in life and in business. It was interesting to see that after the economic crash in 2008 so many bankers ditched their jobs and changed their careers entirely. Many became charity workers or farmers. They left the City and moved to the countryside. They decided to be true to themselves. Banking was unnatural for them. They were copying what others had done before them. Now they realised it was time to listen to their hearts.
In business an entrepreneur is misunderstood more than they are ever understood. That is the reason entrepreneurs ultimately succeed, they see things differently from others. But this often means entrepreneurs are faced with much criticism and negative opinions on the path or venture they feel so passionately about.
It is much more satisfying to try something you believe in and fail than never try it at all and live each day to regret it. But only do what you believe in. Take advice from others but always listen to your heart especially in testing times. They say in the darkness your shadow leaves your side but I assure you, your inner voice doesn’t.
Be authentic. Be yourself. Be committed.