Girls

As a rough, tomboyish girl child, it wasn’t surprising that I didn’t have many girl friends in primary school. It didn’t help that I didn’t exactly go to kindergarten (lack of socialisation!) and I started school a year early (less mature). 

I was too rough, too dirty, too wrong to play with other girls. And this carried over into my teen years. 

Although I bonded with the girls in my netball team and while on the field, I was an equal, off the court, I slipped back into my androgynous, nerdy shell. I was never openly bullied, but I was far from popular. 

Growing up, I was that girl. 

The only girl on the basketball court, the futsal court, the only girl playing FPS games at the cybercafe. 

That girl who out loud, said things like “I get along better with guys” or “I don’t have time for girl drama”. Secretly, I wondered why it was so hard to fit in. 

But it’s been more than a decade since I finished high school and somehow, I’ve found my place among women who have been true blue friends, who have accepted me just the way I am. And I am grateful. 

It’s true that I’ve had horrible lady bosses. It’s true that there are women that I dislike. And it’s true that there are some women’s groups where I’m still an outsider. 

But isn’t this the case for men as well? Surely not all men like each other. Surely there are groups for men that aren’t all-inclusive. 

Why do we expect different from women?

Distillation

Writing is distillation.

It’s the act of taking something watered down and purifying it into something more potent. Something that has the ability to make you tipsy, to lower your inhibitions, to bring out the animal in you.

It’s a process that takes time. But it’s a process that I love.

All writing begins as an idea, steeped in the mind then left to germinate. It is discussed in length and digested, fermenting slowly until it bubbles over, ready to be turned into something real.

This first part is where the art is — choosing the individual elements that will go into the mix, turning it over and over, perhaps deciding what initial critiques to accept and which to discard, making sure the idea stays alive, stays bubbling.

The second part — distillation — is more technical. It’s about taking the core of the idea, pushing it to its boiling point and extracting it from the rest of what doesn’t matter.

Then doing it again, and again until what you have left is the heart of that initial idea, at its ideal strength, with all its nuance and flavours.

You release it into the world, and hope that it will make someone happy, perhaps make someone cry. That if nothing else, perhaps it will start a conversation.

Fear

Whenever I am about to start something new, there’s always fear. A good kind of fear that I’ve learned to accept.

Fear is usually seen as a negative emotion but the truth is, having this kind of fear can be a good thing.

One, it means that you’re reaching, stretching beyond what you think are your limits. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone and into the realm of the unfamiliar is scary.

Two, this fear inspires preparation. It’s a good reminder that there are many things that could go wrong. So you anticipate and you prepare for the worst case scenario and all the scenarios in between.

Three, fear keeps you agile. Not everything can be anticipated. So this fear keeps you on your toes, ready to fight or flee, ready to pivot.

Fear is a recognition that something could go wrong. It keeps you aware of your surroundings, aware of your self within those surroundings.

I’ve grown accustomed to this fear. This ba-dum-dum of my heart as we prepare to ship what we’ve made.

I’ve gone through this enough to know that even if I fail, I have the power to turn things around.

Experience this kind of fear enough and slowly, eventually, it evolves into excitement.

Labels

Today, Write Stuff shot a series of videos with key people from companies in the fintech industry. One of them was someone I have looked up to ever since we met about five years ago. 

“So you’re a serial entrepreneur,” he said after I told him what I’d been up to. My first reaction was to blush and deny it. “Entrepreneur” is a title I’ve never managed to relate to. 

But as we continued our conversation, I wondered, could it be that I was?

In a world of fancy titles and where everyone is a noun/noun/noun (and yes, I occasionally put those things in my bio as well), I’ve mostly thought of myself as a writer. 

And I’m starting to question why I have this lack of confidence when it comes to labels.

I’ve made drinks at a bar. Does that make me a bartender? 

I’ve exited one business, am running a profitable second and have another about to launch. Does that make me an entrepreneur? 

I use code in some of my work. Does that make me a coder? 

I dabble in a whole lot of things. Mostly to find a way to integrate it with the rest of what I do. At what level of mastery is it appropriate to add a particular label to your profile? 

Pixar

To Pixar and Beyond by Lawrence Levy

I started reading To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History yesterday and although it contained a wealth of technical business knowledge, the way Lawrence Levy wrote it made the book an unputdownable. 

The book tells the story of how Levy joined Pixar as CFO, then details how, as the creatives were putting the finishing touches onto Toy Story, the executives were working towards an IPO. That IPO paved the way for Pixar to renegotiate its contract with Disney, which later acquired Pixar. 

Although it’s been 24 years since Toy Story was released, I am still captivated by it and when Toy Story 3 came out in 2010, I still went to the cinema to watch it. 

I had to google the release dates because in my mind, these stories are timeless. These stories were part of my childhood… and they’re still the movies I go to when I’m down, when I need inspiration, when I want to feel that magic again. 

Levy’s book captures the magic of Pixar — the storytelling and creative parts, as well as the business and finance aspects. If you want to practice wild magic, you have to find a way to make it sustainable. 

This book is about storytelling, yes. But it’s also a solid business book that talks about negotiation techniques and assessing product viability and things to consider when drafting legal documents. It’s an amazing primer for anyone who has big dreams for their business. 

After finishing it at 4-ish this morning, I went to add it to my Goodreads and realised that it’s been on my Want to Read list since 2016. 

At first, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t read it sooner. But I’m a different person now than I was in 2016. Would I have derived as much value then as I have now? Probably not. 

As I am currently pursuing my creative goals, while ensuring sustainability, this book was a much needed resource at this particular period of my life. 

Balance seems to be the central theme in my life right now and this book was yet another reminder. 

At the end of the book, Levy wrote about The Middle Way and how it is “a dance between order and freedom, bureaucracy and spirit, efficiency and artistry”. 

“Every film that Pixar made struggled with this tension and ended up better for it.”

Optimist

“Optimism is our instinct to inhale while suffocating,” wrote Guillermo del Toro in Time’s 2019 Optimists. Inhale or die, he writes.

I am an optimist. 

While I’m realistic enough to understand that failure exists and there are things that aren’t worth the effort, I’m also optimistic enough to know that some things are. And those are the things we have to work towards, to fight for. 

Many people talk about Steve Jobs’ triumphant return to Apple after he was fired. But we forget that there was more than 10 years in between. That Pixar’s wildly successful Toy Story was released in 1995, 10 years after Jobs’ departure from Apple. 

We forget that all these successful people that we bring up in conversations — Branson, Winfrey, Buffett — took years to build whatever type of empire they have today.

We share success stories, after the fact. We talk about those who have reached the peak, forgetting all the winding paths and steep climbs it took to get there. 

It may seem like everything is over when we feel like we’re drowning. I’ve been there. 

But sometimes all it takes is having the strength to tilt our heads back, open our mouths and breathe. When the choice is between inhaling or dying, I choose to inhale. 

Inhale, recover, then muster up the strength to swim back to shore. 

In the midst of failure and loss and all the supposedly ugly things that life throws at us, there, at the bottom of Pandora’s Box, is hope

We just need to give it time. And we need to find it in ourselves to prevail. 

Space

One thing I’ve come to value a lot in all of my partnerships these days, is space. 

In the last few months since my newfound freedom, I’ve explored potential partnerships with several people and I’ll be honest and say that I have a favourite. 

We’re working on something that’s far more complex than setting up an ecommerce store or a media website. It involves government regulations and consideration of user privacy. 

With marketing and advertising policies that are even stricter than what I’m used to, it’s not an easy industry to navigate within. To top it all off, it’s a side hustle for now — we both have our respective businesses — and we are getting this off the ground with minimal capital. 

It’s been a long process. But we are still grinding. 

What I appreciate most is that I’m given space, and yet am held accountable.

There are no incessant late-night messages with an expected instant reply to deal with. In fact, instant replies are never asked for. There are no last-minute meetings or requests for right-now deliverables. 

These were things that were previously expected from me and I now realise that lack of space is a sign of disrespect. It says, “Your time is less valuable than mine.”

This partner and I still have deliverables and deadlines but these are planned out in advance. We neither over-promise nor over-expect. We communicate when we can, when we need to.

I’m grateful for the space that I’m being given. And I’m doing my best to give the same in return.