‘The sooner you step out and begin , you will start to find your momentum’ — Ava DuVernay
In recent years, I have watched friends, colleagues, acquaintances and even myself begin to carve their own path. We stepped away from the idea following a straight ‘career ladder’ and started to build what Sheryl Sandberg calls the jungle gym career in her standout book ‘Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’.
The premise is simple: no longer are we chasing one track the ‘top’ — instead, we build outwards, we are spreading our wings and becoming more ‘t-shaped’ than we ever have been.
And while that experience of breaking new ground is exciting, it’s also not easy. Stepping out and doing something different is a wobbly road, full of ups and downs.
As an outlier attempts to go where no one like them has gone before, they begin to question themselves, and other people question them too. Explicitly or subtly, we hear the words:
‘What qualifies this person to do X?’
‘What have they done?’
‘Why should I listen to them?’
And sometimes, hearing that can be debilitating. I’ve observed that it makes people question whether they’re really the right person for the task.
And while qualifications and formal training are important, so is the big E — EXPERIENCE.
And if no one is going to give it to you, now — more than ever — is the perfect time to do it yourself.
As I said in this one minute clip, the ‘type of person to do something is the person that does it’. That’s the only thing you need to begin with.
It aligns with what the incredible film-distributor-turned-award-winning-director-and-screenwriter, Ava DuVernay means when she says ‘work without permission’:
If the talented panellists that I joined at Seun Awolowo’s ‘Live Your Best Life’, were waiting for someone to give them the licence to start a business that is transforming the home rental industry in Nigeria; launch an international clothing brand or become own their status as a truly talented poet and writer; we wouldn’t have been able to gather an ambitious and hungry community of over 50 people on the first Saturday of 2018.
When you start, it doesn’t mean you think you know it all.
Starting means that you’ve discovered something of value and you’re running with it to realise it’s full potential. — click to Tweet
Just as the sage advice from a seasoned expert with decades of experience is vital, so is getting a nudge from people who are going through it with you — people who are ‘in the trenches’. They are saying ‘hey, yes, I’m ambitious, I’ve got plans, I’ve tried some things but I’m still figuring it out too’. Without these people — where would innovation come from?
If the Afrotech Fest team had waited for someone else to bring an intersectional and truly diverse perspective to the London Tech scene, we might still be waiting. If they had waited for someone else to put on a sell-out event of 400+ people, the insight and deep connections that were made that weekend would be nothing but a figment of the imagination.
That weekend Afrotech Fest made history, and with the stellar reviews that I have seen, this is just the beginning (check the #afrotechfest hashtag on Twitter and feedback below).
Also, without them, I wouldn’t have had an incredible opportunity of hosting the conference.
So I’d like to ask you again: how long will you wait for someone to tell you it’s okay to pursue that idea? And what if they never give you that permission — what will you do?
By giving yourself the experience first, you give yourself the permission and gravitas to do even more. See every opportunity and project as a platform to do even bigger and better next time. Its a cycle, it’s an ecosystem, not a ladder.
What are you going to give yourself permission to pursue this year? Let me know in the comments below.