Dear Female Founder,
It’s okay to not fit in. Yes, seriously.
I know that all the signals society gives us tell us that is not the case, but it is true.
In school, we want to run with the cool girls and adhere to the path laid out for us: ace your GCSE’s, nail your A-Levels, get into the best university, land that coveted graduate scheme.
We want to be good in bed, but not known as easy. We shouldn’t be too loud, but shouldn’t be too quiet, either. We want to make your parents proud and have our teachers like us, but we don’t want to be seen as their pets. Who invented all these norms? Not us, did we?
In fact, I discovered something when I hit thirty. After I had laboured under the weight of regret for years for saying the wrong thing, second guessing my passion, and apologising for my style, I suddenly realised that difference is my (and your) greatest asset. I realised that all the coaching I had received around my personal brand, getting ahead, cutting through the noise all equated to difference.
By now, you are thinking “Oh shut up, I have heard this all before”. And it is true. I’m sure you will have, but how often have you paused and checked your behaviour?
We all say the lines, but we don’t believe them. Don’t lose twenty years like I did, knowing but not internalising. How many of you look back on younger photos and think “Damn, I looked good”? Yet, at the time you probably believed that you would have looked better if you had lost weight / had a different haircut / wore a better dress.
Female confidence is the single biggest inhibitor of progression. My mother told me as a teenager, that everyone in the room was pretending. It wasn’t till a few years ago that I recognised what she described as imposter syndrome. Any successful person I ask (male or female) admits to feeling this most of the time. See, we are all pretending.
We will not punch through that glass ceiling until we believe we can. Till we sleep with who we want to, as often as we like, pursue the activities that make us happy, love with abundance, trust our guts over data, pull the girl up behind you, love and appreciate the body we have been given and be unafraid to sit outside the norm.
Embrace your difference. It is your secret weapon.
I am sure you are thinking “Great, but what tangible things can I do to build confidence, and maybe even become an entrepreneur?”. Here are a few:
Eat your frog everyday. Take the worst thing on your to-do list and do it first. It is amazing how productive the rest of the day will be, if we don’t procrastinate on ugly tasks.
If you’re scared before a meeting, pitch or anything, go to the bathroom, look in the mirror and say these words: “I am the shit”. It does amazing things for confidence.
It’s all about customers, no one else. Don’t be arrogant and think you know what they want. Talk to them every day and hear it from them.
Starting a business is like painting or writing – you just have to start. Stop talking about your ideas and start doing something about them. Anything is good. Starting is the hardest thing, I know, but I’d be very proud of you if you’d start something today.
Alexandra Depledge, MBE, is the co-founder of Helping.com (formerly Hassle.com) and the CEO and co-founder of online architectural platform BuildPath. She is a board member on London Economic Action Partnership (LEAP) and was awarded an MBE in 2016 for services to the sharing economy.
This letter was first published in the book Dear Female Founder: 66 Letters of Advice from Women Entrepreneurs Who Have Made $1 Billion in Revenue (Blooming Founders Publishing, 2016).