10 Things I’ve Learned in my 20s
I was humbled to have been asked to contribute a chapter to The Female Edge book and share my thoughts & advice. It’s an anthology of inspiring stories and essays on female entrepreneurship from 13 badass businesswomen in the UK, conceptualised by the wonderful brand expert Annelies James. To all you beautiful independent ladies out there, I hope these words provide some insight and help you feel even more empowered as a woman. Here’s a copy of my chapter below.
Having turned 27 a few days ago and now coming up to my 5th year of business this summer it’s safe to say it’s been a crazy and wonderful rollercoaster full of many highs and lows! At the age of 22 and with no prior experience of being self-employed, I dove in and learned along the way. These are the top 10 things I’ve learned in my 20s:
1. Find your passion
The majority of your time will be spent working, you might as well do something you’re mighty passionate about! Others will feel this energy and will naturally be drawn to you. Entrepreneurship is a labour of love so creating a business that makes you happy and makes money is the sweet spot. I knew that photography is what I had to do in my life, share that joy with others. It’s such a buzz having clients and collaborators feel the same way about my passion as I do. It’s the ultimate fulfillment.
2. Know your ‘why’
It’s all very well having a goal to make lots of money but people will see through that, especially if you’re a service based business. Take time to reconnect with yourself, dig deep and find what your values are. Growing up I’d get all excited when I’d see my father take out his old Canon 35mm camera and take snaps of me, I’d show my cheesiest grin. Having those memories of pure joy, that sense of togetherness and how the camera symbolised happiness especially in the family unit, I knew photography was my calling. It was only until I experienced photographing weddings did I realise I always had this in me and that I wanted to make as many people have that feeling of pure joy too. Have a good hard think of discovering what your true ‘why’ is, it’ll open your eyes to greater things.
3. Don’t be afraid to express your individuality
Yes it’s easier to conform and stick to what everyone else is doing but you’ll never know your full potential and you won’t truly feel yourself if you’re copying someone else. It’s scary to stick out and do your own thing but if you do a simple Google search of ‘iconic people’ (think Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Oprah, Malala Yousafzai, Frida Kahlo, Serena Williams, Meryl Streep, J.K. Rowling, Simone Biles to name a few), you’ll see they’ve all created their own paths and success in their own fields and it didn’t come from being the same as everyone else. There’s only one of you and your people will love you for who you are. If they don’t, they’re not your people and don’t deserve your awesomeness!
4. Be brave. Be bold – you won’t know until you try
Women are often perceived as being risk-averse. We may have been taught from a young age that to be a good girl, our best asset is to look pretty or to be polite and that can have harmful effects later into adulthood. I believe a woman’s greatest asset is her intelligence. There’s so much more in life than mediocre experiences, carve a new path for yourself and try something new if what you have isn’t doing it for you. I knew being employed in a corporate job, 9-5 at a desk just wasn’t for me and hindered my ambitions and creativity. Taking the plunge to be my own boss was the best decision I’ve made and feel more confident in myself knowing I have that inner strength. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try.
5. People will put you down but it’s their insecurities projecting on you, not yours
This is a lesson I’ve only starting to realise in the past few years and to get comfortable with. I know a lot of my female friends struggle with insecurities (I know I do on a constant basis!) and when people say negative things towards you, it’s often because they’re envious of you or just lack the imagination to see it happen. Learn to take that as a compliment because deep down they know you’re doing something great and wish they had the strength that you have.
When I first had the idea of setting up my photography business, there were a lot of negative people around me. Not by the fact that they wanted to see me fail necessarily, but they just didn’t think a brown Asian girl could create and run a successful business. I think this was partly because the media doesn’t show many people who look like me doing what I do. So I suppose from their point of view they thought to be successful I had to be a white, middle-aged man to run a photography business, because that’s all they had seen and they just hadn’t experienced being self-employed. It’s that fear of the unknown that crept in and felt they needed to box me in with what was the ‘normal’ way to do things. Just remember to keep your head up high, your self-worth comes from within, not others.
6. It’s okay to have bad days and lose your way a little. We’re not perfect
The pressure to be perfect is crippling especially the high standards society puts on us and in turn we put on ourselves. I know all too well that it’s a common occurrence that I aim for perfect but it’s just an idealised notion in my head and it doesn’t really exist. Teaching myself to say I am good enough and the work I’m creating is good enough is a hard long journey but such a positive and comforting thought. When running your own business, you carry that weight on your shoulders so reminding yourself it’s okay to have bad days and lose your way a little, as long as you know you have the strength to pick yourself back up again you’ll get there. Success doesn’t come overnight and you’ll tumble at times and that’s okay. I believe perseverance is an entrepreneur’s greatest strength. We’re all learning and growing and that’s just a part of the journey. It would be boring if a story didn’t have many ups and downs, the same goes for our own personal journey.
7. Exercise your right to say no
If you identify as a people pleaser like me, you know all too well that putting yourself first is a challenge and knowing when and how to say no can be difficult. I think for women especially, we don’t want to let people down, turn away opportunities or even just appear to be impolite. There are so many reasons why we say yes though deep down we want to say no or not take on too much on our plates. Being an entrepreneur is taking on so many roles in itself from being your own marketer, bookkeeper, salesperson, service provider, admin assistant and many more whilst being a CEO too, it’s no wonder we can often head into burnout! Although saying no may be counter-intuitive to your personal and business growth, it’s knowing what times to say yes and no to. I often see it as when I’ve said no to something it was because it didn’t feel it was a great opportunity and wouldn’t want to waste precious time or energy on something that wasn’t great for me. I know another opportunity will come along (or I can create one for myself!) and now I’ll have the capacity to say yes and not feel guilty about it because I’m doing what’s right for me and my business.
8. Find your people and be comfortable with asking for help
As a one-woman business, there are times when you can feel alone and not knowing whether there’s a shoulder to lean on. Finding a community of people who get you, your struggles and can help you grow not just as a business but also as a person is so important. It can be your friends or family or looking outwards to an online community or networking group where you share similar values. Once you’ve found your people, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I think as women we often feel we either have to be fiercely independent or reliant on someone but somehow can’t be both. I used to be rubbish at asking people for help as I’d worry I’d bother them. This came from a lack of self-belief that I’m not equal to them, therefore I shouldn’t be asking these people for help as they wouldn’t want to help someone who is beneath them. And practising some self-love I realised that I do have a lot to offer and to give. Your people want you to succeed and to grow and to encourage you to be your best self, and vice versa, you want that for them, it’s all reciprocal. So when you ask them for help, they feel honoured to help you because you are asking them for their wisdom and advice, which makes them feel good. I’m starting to realise that people want to help you. When people ask me for help, I’m really quick to support them. Finding that group of people who have your back helps you with your self-belief because you are not all by yourself all of the time.
9. Express gratitude to those who’ve helped you
Although you see the phrase ‘self-made woman’ a lot of the times, no one can truly do things on their own and it’s the support and love from your people that help you grow a successful business. It goes a long way when a simple act of gratitude is expressed to people, whether to individuals or organisations that have helped you in your journey and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Especially in a community of freelancers and fellow small businesses, it may be a natural instinct to think everyone is our competition, but you soon realise much more can be gained when you support those around you. I’ve received so much business from fellow photographers and business owners and equally given back too. An entrepreneur’s lifestyle shouldn’t be taken for granted and expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to not only boost your happiness but shows your respect for your people and including them in your success.
10. Be kind to yourself. You are good enough. You’re a badass woman.
The notion of being good enough can be triggering for a number of women, I know it is for me often worrying about it or letting imposter syndrome creep in time to time. That’s okay to have these thoughts but as long as we learn to be kinder to ourselves and practice more daily self-love, eventually the negativity will dimmer down. Things like journaling, taking more time out in the day for ourselves (bubble baths and more reading is on my list this year) and celebrating the little wins, not just the big ones but the everyday little triumphs can help with the path on being good to ourselves. I’ve found its often linked with lack of self-confidence and there are days you feel you want to give up, then you receive the best feedback from a client and realise how much of a badass beautiful woman you are.
A big thank you to everyone who has supported me on my entrepreneurial journey these past few years, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support from you all.
This chapter is an excerpt from this fantastic not-for-profit female entrepreneur co-authored book, founded by badass woman, Annelies James. It’s a collection of personal and business stories from female entrepreneurs who were inspired by the Alison Rose Review. You can read the download your free copy of the book on Annelies’ website.
Nisha Haq specialises in providing wedding, commercial & lifestyle photography in the South UK. After graduating in BA (Hons) Photography in 2014, she set up her business a year later. Nisha has been awarded IPSE UK Young Freelancer of the Year 2017 and is one of the youngest to receive an Honorary Degree from Solent University. Nisha is passionate about encouraging enterprise, in particular young females in the creative industries and has gone on to deliver numerous talks on entrepreneurship at various universities and events. Nisha believes that with commitment and passion anyone can be their own boss!
Want to continue the conversation on female entrepreneurship? Connect with me on LinkedIn and let’s chat!