Starting your own company requires confidence, but radical vulnerability can help you develop an authentic brand.
“I think I’m really bad at working for other people,” I said to my mother a few weeks ago. She laughed and looked at me incredulously. “How are you just figuring that out?” she responded.
I thought back to my long and varied work history and the moments of the greatest suffering—the cringeworthy corporate branding and design decisions at a startup, the personality conflicts with a particularly self-righteous (and clueless) boss, the time I had been lectured that my wardrobe was too fashion-forward for the office. I have always been hard-working but obstinate, and much to the chagrin of my employers, I’ve never excelled at hiding my disdain or irritation.
At the same time, I’ve always placed myself in the double bind of getting sh*t done behind the scenes. I prided myself on being hard-working and not craving the spotlight, the eternal grunt who got the job done. But when I look back at my grunt experiences that fit the narrative I’d been telling myself my whole life, I often felt under-acknowledged and unappreciated. The painful truth is that I was afraid to put myself out there, to really take full responsibility for the success or failure of something that I didn’t create and I didn’t have the audacity to create something myself.
Enter cancer. Cancer was a game changer in many ways and one of the biggest changes was the impact it had on my professional path. I read a book called “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. Brown is a research sociologist who found that the people who expressed the greatest life satisfaction shared a common trait—their ability to be vulnerable around issues of personal shame. Brown’s book was a catalyst to share my story of cancer and loss, and the series of artworks and writings that came out of this process led me down a long and windy path of book publication for my first book, “Wakeful Night.”
With the introspection that accompanied my diagnosis and the difficult and painful process of sharing my story through a newfound creative practice, I realized that I had spent so much of my work life avoiding vulnerability. Writing a book and being honest about loss was the beginning of my path as an entrepreneur—it was the first time that I really turned deep within to examine the professional choices I had made. Something amazing happens when you lay it all out on the table: you stop caring so much about what other people think.
When I built Cosmic View, the cannabis company I started with my mom last year, I intuitively knew that we had to embody the brand. In fact, it was all I knew. This is us. This is our story. This is why we care about what we are doing. It was an exercise in radical vulnerability, compassion and empathy. It was uncomfortable announcing to strangers that I had recently survived cancer or trying to convince buyers why my cancer researcher mother was particularly qualified to make our medicinal formulations (you’d be really surprised how difficult it is to impress cannabis buyers). Our success over our first year of legalization wasn’t about having the best marketing material (we have zero marketing budget) or industry relationships (nope, didn’t have those either). I believe it was because we chose authenticity over the sheen of a glamorous, curated narrative.
Cancer gave me a choice, and I think Brown captures it perfectly. “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” For the first time in my life, I crawled inside of my own story and I hustled for that truth. And in my case, living my truth meant stepping into the spotlight. I’m still the grunt—but I am the grunt for my own cause and creation, and therein lies the magic of being an entrepreneur.