This past year, I embarked on two entrepreneurial endeavors: I started a consulting business and published a magazine that celebrates Asian American identity. While venturing off on my own may have seemed like a leap of faith, I was confident in my choices. For the first time, I feel like I’m actually living an authentic life, and it’s making me dazzlingly happy.
I reflected on my biggest lessons learned on this journey and wanted to share them in hopes that you, too, can use them to go after something that makes you dazzlingly happy. Even if you’re not actively pursuing a side-hustle, these tips have helped me be more self-assured, make better choices, and overcome adversity.
1. Success is personal.
Define what it means to you.
Growing up as a child of immigrant parents, I had a very narrow definition of success: go to an Ivy League college, climb the corporate ladder at a well-known company, be a high-powered executive who makes lots of money. Now that I’m older and have a better grasp on what truly makes me happy, I realize that my definition of success was not my parents’ definition of success. I would rather pursue meaningful work that positively impacts people’s lives, have work-life balance, and yes, I’d still like to make a comfortable salary.
I challenge you to think about what success means to you, not only in terms of what kind of work you want to do and what impact you want to make, but also what that looks like on a day-to-day basis. Do you want the flexibility of working from anywhere? Look for a team comprised of digital nomads. Do you want to be your own boss? Consider freelance work. Are you down to hustle for a startup? Get involved in your local tech scene.
2. Time is your most valuable resource.
Be brutally honest in what matters most, and don’t be afraid to say “no”.
We have a finite set of years on this Earth, and once you spend your time, you can never get it back. That’s why you need to be selective about how you spend your precious hours. Once you define your version of success, think about three initiatives you need to take to get there. Then, the next time you’re invited to a professional project or a personal engagement, think about whether it contributes to those three initiatives. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to say “no”.
Saying “no” is a crucial skill that I’m still working on developing. It can be tough and awkward to set boundaries (especially if you’re a people-pleaser, like me), but carving out time for self-care will allow you to give yourself more fully to the fewer, better things you decide to invest your energy in. It’s the pursuit of quality over quantity.
3. Find your people.
Surround yourself with believers — people who believe in you, your drive to find meaningful work, and the mission of your hustle.
When I was working at my first job out of college, I found myself complaining a lot—even though I had it pretty good. Free food, free iPhones, 401k matching, healthcare coverage, generous stock options…the pinnacle of benefit heaven. Looking back, I realize that one of the reasons why I was being such a wet noodle was because I was interacting with other wet noodles on a daily basis. We would wallow in our sorrows together, and create big, sad, bowls of wet noodle soup.
The lesson here is to surround yourself with people who will lift you up. Choose friends who will hold you accountable, inspire you, and support you and your work. Not only will you learn and grow from each other, but you’ll also have a solid emotional support system that is vital in any entrepreneurial journey (and in life in general, for that matter). Remember that you are the sum of the people you surround yourself with.
4. “Failure” is inevitable.
Disband the idea of failure altogether.
You are going to fail more than once in your life. But if you learn from that experience, is it really a failure? When something doesn’t go as planned, I think of it as life’s way of course-correcting my path. This has allowed me to get over “failures” quickly, and move on to being productive with my next step.
If you redefine failure as a learning experience, as the universe’s way of telling you that you need to be doing something else, the up’s and down’s of life will be much easier to handle.
5. Do it now.
Because if not now, then when?
Being my own boss has been one of my lifetime goals, and I mistakenly thought I could only consult after I had gone to graduate school and built up a network of clients. When I left my last 9–5 unexpectedly, I decided to just go for it. I rationalized it to myself by thinking, “Let me finally try consulting. If it doesn’t take off in a few months, I can find another job. No big deal.” Putting less pressure on myself and having a backup plan allowed me to be confident in taking the leap.
Put a reasonable but motivating deadline on your goals. Having a sense of urgency is key to actually getting things done. Is there something you want to pursue, but you’re unsure of where to start? Figure out one thing you can do today to move you forward. It can be a conversation with someone in the field, reading a helpful resource, or reaching out to people to validate your idea. “Taking the leap” can look more like small baby steps.
If there’s one thing you take away from this post, let it be this: There’s no “right” way to live your life. Make choices that will move you closer to your own personal goals, and try not to let cultural norms or societal pressures dictate what you do. Above all, figure out what makes you genuinely happy—and be relentless about cutting out what doesn’t serve you.