Vulernability, Courage and Questioning the Nature of Power: What Women In Business Struggle With

I love early mornings and late nights. That’s when my best ideas come.

Lately, I’ve thinking about all sorts of things about who I am. I don’t think I ever stop thinking but I’ve been ruminating on the nature of women in business.

I’ve always been of the opinion that women and men aren’t the same. There is so much assimilation trying to happen whereby woman are competiting with men, doing things that have been traditionally for men instead of fully embracing the wonderful, powerful nature that entails being a woman. Feminine power has always been a form of power. It stands in stark contrast the masculine conception of power many women are used to and try to emulate.

For years, to be an entrepreneur and stay sane, I had to shut off my emotions. My passion for my work is still there and will always be – it’s the fuel that keeps my creative energy lit all the time. But, what I mean is that I had to surrender my vulnerability in the world of business.

Entrepreneurship is very male-driven. And it’s not the first time I’ve found myself in exclusively male-dominated environments. As a spoken word artist in my past life, I only remember seeing one other colored woman at my poetry slam. Now, there are hundreds now if you decide to attend a show but when I started, there were none.

Testosterone-driven energy is unremorseful. That’s the only way to put it. It takes what it wants. Women are naturally more caring, giving and sensitive, which are all powerful traits but to be able to stand in a board meeting or investor meeting, you have to assume a very testosterone-like presence: unforgiving, crude, stoic to a fault and sometimes unempathetic.

Men can be caring, and sensitive. I feel when they do that, they are drawing from the feminine within them. When a woman is agressive, she is drawing from the masculine within her.

If I didn’t do this when I started being an entrepreneur, I wouldn’t have survived. No way. My ability to get punched in the face multiple times, and still be able to get up, smile and walk away like something never happened is, unfortunately, central to being an entrepreneur and why I feel I’ve done well. You just go with the punches.

Alhamdulilah.

I reckon, sometimes, working with women has been a vastly different experience than working with men. There is an intuitive, calm energy. It’s must be all the estrogen. It’s wonderful to be around.

But this brings me back to my original thought, when a woman decides to survive, to be a warrior, to get to where she needs to get to, she has to assume a masculine form of power. This is where many woman are called “b**ches” for example, when they decide to be assertive about themselves and their business but when a man does it, he’s applauded for taking charge and asserting himself.

It’s a double -standard, but nothing strange in the very patriarchical society we live in.

Can females rule without masculine energy? I like to think it can happen. Feminine powers are easy to be drowned out at first, but I feel they are longer lasting and more durable than a masculine form of power, which seems to be very intense but not enduring.

The consequences of not allowing yourself to feel vulernable and to feel in business is that it seeps into other parts of your life. Suddenly, you find yourself without many meaningful relationships. You find yourself pushing people away who might have been good for you but you didn’t have the time to spend with them because you just needed to keep your head above water. You find yourself travelling, alone. Being, alone.

Wondering, what am I working for?

When I went to Exosphere(I blogged about my experiences here), I had a lot of people open up to me and be vulnerable. By the time I sat with the 10th person, I started realizing how witnessing others opening up was the greatest form of courage there was.

That vulernability was courage.

That, as the great Maya Angelou said, courage is the basis of all virtue.

Without courage, no other virtue can exist

I had denied myself so much. I had denied myself the ability to feel, to love and be loved all because I felt that I stepped into a battlefield whereby, I felt, if I had even let myself slip for one moment, I would loose the battle.

Not only that, I was fighting many battles: my community not understanding me, being a woman who didn’t surrender to a traditional career and follow her “dreams” and fending off the need to have people marry me off a nice man and have children living my life under someone else’s definition of happiness.

Why couldn’t I have it all? Why was one way of living more superior to another? Why was my life mapped out but the lives of young men I knew never talked about? Why was I being held to such account but men in my age range, from my culture not being put through the scrutiny and judgement I was?

The battle I was fighing was for myself.

It was for other woman, perhaps that wanted to do this “business thing”, who wanted to jump in from the sidelines but who were too scared.

I felt for so long that to have a seat at the table, I had to force myself to the table.

It maybe the eternal tension between two forms of power. It’s really up to us to decide what kind we want to use.

But as I grow into my entrepreneurial journey as a young woman, I’m realizing that until there are more woman in business, until there are more safe spaces in entrepreneurial world where we can allow ourselves to feel, to be open, to not look at business as war but as a way to strengthen one another, then things will always stay like this.

I believe to really survive in business, ironically, you have to care the most.

Right now, that expression of care has adopted a masculine form – an agressive, unforgiving one.

Hopefully, in the future we can express the best qualities of a successful entrepreneur as being kind, sensitive, one that is of service, not in competition.

One that can feel and be felt.

Here’s to hoping,

with love,

H

How Can I Start A New Business 101

I put together a short guide on starting a business. Everything you need to know to get started can be pretty much summed up in this post. It’s a combination of an awesome Quora answer I found on this subject plus a post I wrote for the Productive Muslim a while ago. It also includes a case study, in case you wanted to get someone to help you work through your business idea. This is a massive topic that requires you to find solutions that fit your own personal needs, so take this a simple guide. Nothing more.

From Quora by Mark Effinger 

Here’s the shorthand:

1) Find a problem.
2) Solve the problem.
3) Turn the solution into a service or product.
4) Sell your solution.
5) (Sit on a sun-drenched beach sipping cocktails… HAH!)

Volume II:

1) Take something you’re passionate about. eg Soccer.
2) Find the market gap (the underserved area or issue within your passion). eg. Soccer balls don’t give feedback. But in your New World, Soccer Balls have sensors that know the parameters of the field (for boundary issues). They know their speed, and who kicked or dribbled them, when and how fast, with how much English on the ball.
3) Prototype using existing hardware. Beg and borrow the talent to make it happen.
4) Presell it to individuals, teams and the market channel using Kickstarter, Indiegogo or similar crowdfunding service (so you’re both preselling AND funding, all in one fell swoop).
5) Get busy marketing.
6) And better get into production. Refine. Test and otherwise make happy customers. Iterate fast.

The best thing you can do for yourself is…
Find a Startup Weekend near you, and join a team. You’ll learn more, have more fun, and find Your Tribe – the people who will join you, or who you can join, to experience what a startup feels like.

Even after 13 startups across 25+ years, StartupWeekend taught me as much as anything I had ever learned prior. AND it released me from the old 18-24 month “idea to launch” startup cycle. Invaluable lessons there.

Oh, and one more thing:
Doing startups takes guts. They’re painful. They will absorb every moment of your day (it’s 11:49 as I craft this pithy response, and I have been up since 7:40 answering emails. Developing product. Working on a website. Handling some unique customer service issues. Making payroll for my employees. Putting specific ingredients aside to complete a new SleepNutrients product tomorrow. And contacting a half dozen professional sports trainers to meet me at the gym tomorrow at noon to sample some new products and try a new device I developed).

Your startup will own you.
But, as a pharmacist, you already know what long hours are like.
And you’re clearly smart enough to have acquired a degree in pharmacology. So now, all you need is an idea and commitment.

Here’s a sad story, and a lesson:
A few years ago I helped a guy launch a cool product called StairCycle. It was a really solid product idea. And he even had it manufactured like a pro.No problems there.

We got him on a Yahoo Small Business Contest – and he won! Richard Branson (yes, THAT Richard Branson, of Virgin fame) had us Fedex a StairCycle to his private Island. He loved it, and crowned it Best New Product of the Year. He even had the founder of StairCycle meet him in Times Square, announced on national TV, with a PR campaign, and $100,000 in advertising and web development provided by Yahoo.

 

It’s a home-run, right?

Wrong.

I called the owner a few weeks later to ensure everything was on schedule (production, the new website, ads, PR, deliveries, channel relationships with bike shops, Target, etc…).

Guess where he was?
Sitting on his new Barcalounger, watching his new 50″ TV. And he told me he’s tired, and didn’t feel like he could handle the pressure of the startup life. His day job as an X-Ray tech gave him enough money that he didn’t feel the burn a true entrepreneur feels for his vision, customers, products, employees, partners and investors.

The company died that day.
He could have owned a multi-million dollar company with just that one product. It was slick, easy to ride, fun, and a great workout.

But being an entrepreneur means more than a great idea and a killer product launch. It means you invest yourself, your soul, into your work. Maybe not forever. But definitely long enough to get momentum, stability and the resources to hire real players to fill-in your team. Even a CEO/President to run the dang thing when you’re about ready to die from too many 100 hour weeks.

But… it’s worth it.
Even when you fail.
Because you’ve become a greater contributor to the world through your actions, commitment, learning, and hopefully, giving.

Starting a company is probably only second to raising my kids. It’s opened a world to me, my employees and associates that I could not have imagined. And the successes so far outweigh the failures and stillborn businesses, I now consider them stepping stones, rather than the huge sinkholes they appeared to be at the time.

So go for it.
The roadmap is easy.
All you need to do is put in The Work.
(See Stephen Pressfield‘s classic The War of Art to understand what it takes to face down The Resistance you’ll find in every corner of being an entrepreneur).

Best of success to you,
ME

 ___________________________________________________________________________

 What Should Your Business Be About?

When beginning your entrepreneurial journey, it’s less important to be looking for a “big idea” like the next Google or the next Facebook but more important to look for a business idea that matches your skills, knowledge level and, most importantly, is solving a problem for your intended market.

Separate Facts from Fiction

You’ve probably dreamed about starting and growing a successful business. You’ve also probably thought that your idea had to be original or that you have to wait for the ‘right time’.

For every great idea out there that becomes a business, there are thousands of ideas that don’t end up successful.

Contrary to popular belief, what you would be surprised to learn is that most successful businesses1 we see today were a result of a simple idea executed successfully by a smart team. They never waited for the ‘right time’. They just went ahead and started. If you study successful businesses, either small enterprises or large Fortune 500 companies, you will learn that they rarely reinvented the wheel either. They simply made an existing idea better. They looked at the marketplace, identified a gap in the market and said: “How do I make this better?”

It’s not about the idea that you have, but rather the execution of that idea.1

Here is the simple formula that makes up a successful business idea: find a problem or a pain-point for someone and provide a solution.

Finding a pain point means that you must be solving a problem for someone that they are willing to pay for that is better than what already exists. What can you do that will make something easier for someone? What can you create that will make life more enjoyable for someone? What can you build that will help uplift someone or bring happiness to someone?

This is the starting point of finding a great idea.

Practical Steps to Finding a Good Business Idea

If you are starting from scratch, follow along below:

Step 1: Who are you?

Think about your work history. What have you done? What fields have you worked in? Do you have hobbies? What skills do you have? What activities do you enjoy doing? What do you like? What do you love to do?

On a blank piece of paper, write down five things about yourself.

Example:

  1. I love taking care of children.
  2. I love helping people market their business.
  3. I love making cupcakes.
  4. I love taking photographs of people on their wedding day.
  5. I love creating beautifully-designed posters for people.

Don’t think too much about what you are writing. Take your time, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and write down whatever comes to mind first.

This step is important because you will be acquainted with specific industries, markets, and communities you can solve problems for.

Step 2: Identify Problems in Your Everyday life

In contemporary business discussion, you will hear that the best way to find a business idea is to solve a problem for yourself.

What problems do you face on a day-to-day basis that you wish there was a solution for? List all the problems you face in your day-to-day life.

Ask yourself:

  • Are there things you wish were easier while working at your job or on your hobbies?
  • Have you been in a situation where something happened that you didn’t like?
  • Did you have to learn or do something the hard way and found an easier way to do it?
  • Is there a product or service you wish you had to make your life easier?
  • Is there a skill or piece of knowledge that you are passionate about that you can ‘niche-down’ for a particular audience?

Step 3: Combine Your Skills with Potential Problems

The third step is to see whether you can identify opportunities to develop a business idea based on markets, fields or communities you are familiar with that also match your skills and passions. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Were you a full-time working parent and found yourself needing affordable daycare for your children? Are there opportunities to start a daycare in your neighbourhood? Even better, think smaller: what about providing Islamic daycare for young Muslim families?
  • Love photography? Are there opportunities for you to photograph clients for a fee? Even better, think smaller: what about catering to shooting female-only (if you are a woman) or male-only (if you are a man) events? What about shooting weddings for Muslim couples?
  • Love graphic design? Are there opportunities in your network to provide beautifully designed posters for events? How about designing for a few events for free and see what response you get?

Additional Tips

  • Your best ideas may come from your network: Identify entrepreneurs and business people in your network who you can bounce ideas off of. They might lead you to a new direction.
  • Find inspiration: Sometime the best ideas come when you aren’t thinking about business, they come when you are inspired. The best way to be inspired is to do what you love: paint, take a walk, go surfing – do something you enjoy and you might come across great ideas for a new business
  • Context – remain aware of your environment: Keep up with the local news, read more industry magazines. Are there opportunities, trends or potential booming demographics that you can provide a possible product or service for? Are there markets that are underserved and needing solutions?

The Key is Creating Value

Finding a business idea is not as complicated as one might think. All around us, there are needs that are waiting to be fulfilled! The most important thing is to realize that it doesn’t need to be original or unique; you must simply try to improve upon existing solutions to the problem that you are trying to solve.

Value creation is the core of any successful business. When you solve a pain-point or a problem for someone, you are creating value.

Whenever you come across an opportunity, ask yourself these questions:

  • How can I improve on this?
  • Is there a market that is underserved and how can I better meet their needs?
  • Can I run a better, more efficient business than that person over there?

In no time, you will have a flood of ideas coming your way and ample opportunities to create value and serve your market; and with the right amount of planning and effort, you will have a thriving business, In sha Allah.

Download this case-study to work through a real-life business idea.

 

Travelogues from Chile: Journey to Exosphere and How We Can Cultivate a Culture of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Muslim World Part 2

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I love minimalism.

 

As a visitor, I came to Exosphere to be totally honest, open, human and true. It wasn’t my first time coaching or mentoring entrepreneurs but it was my first time at a bootcamp that functioned the way it did.

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Courtesy of Exosphere

 

My philosophy when asked to speak about entrepreneurship is simple: No sensationalization, just truth. My talk: “What I Wish I Knew When I Started” was about deconstructing the sensationalism about living the entrepreneurial life. I think I’ve gone through almost all the peaks and valleys as an entrepreneur and wanted to talk about that.

The group was honest, open, receptive, and curious (mostly about this random colored scarf I wore on my head).

Let me tell you how proud I am of this group. Some of the most brilliant people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. The one question I asked myself was: if I were them would I have exhibited so much bravery and courage to leave my comfort zone become an entrepreneur and find a way to live life on my own terms?

My answer would be a no.

And for that reason I know that anyone that can push past their fears to do what they know they need to do will find success. Everyone in that room, no doubt in my mind, they will become exactly who they are looking to become.

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Courtesy of Exosphere

 

Also, I was, quite frankly taken aback by the amount of people genuinely curious about my faith.

The kind of intellectual culture whose tapestry is truly interwoven with curiosity, culture, tolerance and acceptance in contrast to the dogmatism and judgements I’ve faced was truly refreshing.

People came from all over the world and ages ranged from 19-51 – all ready with courage, bravery and strength to explore a new possibility of what life could offer them and they started with this 8-week incubation.

I’ve really never been around so many brilliant, charming and beautiful people.

Lais, this gorgeous, fabulous participant wrote this.

Lais, this gorgeous, fabulous participant wrote this.

Part of the reason why I was surprised was how quickly I connected with everyone and how much love I felt from people I had only known for about 2 weeks.

***

Conversations that Shift Something In You

My first person I met was a robust, active and charming Italian extrovert, Antonio – with so much energy and life that eminent from him. We spent nights sitting and talking about life, his entrepreneurial ventures, being one of the first multimillion dollar telecom companies set up in Southern Italy, who then got screwed out by banks who robbed his intellectual property. When you look at Antonio, he is the face of resiliency. Where I am from, we call people like him an  OG (Original Gangster – not a negative word – it’s like the word Maestro). I recieved so much – his advice, his humour – nothing can say ‘welcome to Chile’ like an Italian can.

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Morning rooftop views

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Morning rooftop views

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Early morning rooftop views- 8 weeks of this, love. This what you get.

 

I talked about everything one faces when you are try reconcile your own passions and philosophies that the world is trying to impose on you, overcoming the guilt and stigma of deciding to overturn social norms and follow a path of your own, to the prevalance of women being sexually violated in the business world and not being able to talk about it, to deep conversations about prayer, spirituality and God, to the benefits and draw backs of space explorations.

I had so many  profound conversations with people I can’t cover it all but I’ll share a few with you.

Skinner Layne, the Founder of Exosphere, a deeply introspective, kind, beautiful soul who visionary mind I prefer not to reduce to only one conversation.

Exosphere is founded by him and Antonio, and ran by Luke Blackburn, Niccolo Vivani, Ezequiel Djeredjian, Moritz Berling, Hernan Soulages, Gerson Fontalvo, and Hoss Layne, who are brilliant people I would liken to the first few followers of the ‘lone-nut’ that Derek Sivers refers to in his well-known TedTalk, How to Start a Movement.

Skinner  was talking to me about how, until recently people never knew about the color of the ocean apart from it being this dark, wine-colored body of water. He told me around the moment when people starting writing about the varies hues of blue in the ocean is around the time sea exploration began. The point is that, when it comes to space exploration that is currently on the upswing, we see the sky as being black. But when we discover space, who knows what other colors we would find that currently aren’t in our realm of reality.

Most probably one of the most profound conversations I had was about God and prayer. Exosphere was the first time I felt comfortable and accepted for being Muslim.

I choose to practice a traditional, orthodox Abrahamic faith, which for the most part, is labeled as being unmodern or backwards by West. And for this reason to connecting religion to dogmatism, I’ve avoided talking about religion with others until they ask.

I remember talking to Luke about this. He’s someone with a reserved, yet had a quiet power and a heart of gold. First time in years I had opened up to anyone about this. Much of my burnout came from my relationship to work and ambition and never talked to someone about it. I openly expressed about what I felt were the downsides of ambition – being that, if you take it too far, it takes you down a road of ingratitude for what you do have. This led us down a conversation about spirituality and the nature of our own ambitions as entrepreneurs and what I got, quite frankly, was the most profound and moving internal shifts I’ve had in a long time. I was asked some honest questions about my prayers, my rituals, my connection to God that I’ve never been asked. It was the authenticity of connecting with someone whose heart was so deeply connected to a higher being but feet firmly on the ground in reality. I had two days after that where I couldn’t really talk to anyone because I was revaluating my personal history, dogmatic beliefs I was holding etc. I came away feeling strong, more connected with The Beloved.

These are the types of conversations you get at Exosphere. Where intuition isn’t excluded from intellectual discussion. Where science and religion aren’t mutually exclusive. Where you are encouraged to open yourself, your whole self to examine the deepest parts of your life.

What you don’t get is small talk. These are brilliant minds focused on hacking the big questions of life. A philosophical effort that binds people who have a new vision for what the world can look like: new institutions, new systems, new ideas but also what a new ‘them’ could look like.

Jack Kerouc, one of the writers and a member of the beat generation, wrote in his book, “On the Road”, a beautiful description of how I would describe Exosphere.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” 

***

Building The Institutions of the Future Means Building People

I remember standing on the terrace of their headquarters by myself one day softly reciting Allan Gingsberg’s famous poem “America.”

America, I’ve given you all and now I am nothing.

This truly encompasses how I feel most people feel, especially for many of the participants I met. If you’re one of the few thousand people who read my blog, you probably feel the same way. You had given your all to a system that gave you very little to work with. A compulsory indoctrination process that most of us go through and come out wondering, “What was that all for?” You feel an emptiness, a longing for something more – that is divine instinct that all humans have. And that feeling of nothingness drove many people to find Exosphere and find solace with its philosophy and values.

People from all over the world came here to take a temporary break from the ‘system’. Many I met left their jobs, some between, some right out of school. Some never return. There was a deep understanding that the world, as we knew it was gone and the only way forward was through every person creating their own job.

I relented to this fact when I was 20. I could never understand how someone else had my dream job. I figured, if I wanted to live my dreams I was the only person who can build it.

The process of understanding that and actually doing that is where things get really messy. I had no mentors or community to work me through that and it was just me, myself  who had to battle through the darkness and hope to come out with what I was looking for.

William Butler Yeats famously said that it takes more courage to explore the deep corners of your own soul than to fight on the battle field.

Consumerism and materialism, the long-standing religion of industrialized countries, comes up against the reality of its utterly inability to be a unsustainable philosophy to guide people through their lives. As a result people are collapsing morally and internally. To reduce the chaos in our world to politics or religious differences is too simplistic.

There is chaos in our world because people are empty. No direction. No real leaders. And the only way out is to do that painfully hard work of figuring out who you are and what you can offer to the world.

In the 21st century, your survival depends on it.

And that’s what Exosphere is trying to do. Building institutions of the future means building people who can withstand the future. And to build people, you need to help them reassess what they know and build new foundations.

When young graduates can’t find jobs, dealing with the emotional, financial and mental burden of choices that many of us did not make for ourselves, when people no longer wish to keep working, when aspiring entrepreneurs need a strong community around them – most of these people get left behind to fend for themselves. Where do they go? What do they go to? Where can they nourish themselves while avoiding being alone?

Exosphere is where you come. It’s that that safe place to be when navigating the unknown, with others. It creates order out of the chaos many of us have been left to deal with.

It’s intense, exhausting and difficult to do the ‘real’ grunt work that traditional institutions have failed to do. But as with any group of changemakers, you will find a self-imposed suffering placed upon themselves. It is as if they must shoulder the burden of the world as their own personal problems but with understanding that there is a redemption in the work for carrying that burden.

The redemption is in knowing that when you work on things that will live beyond you, you are forced to forgive the world daily.

You will hate no one.

You just forgive and get on with the work needing to be done.

You accept the problem, forgive and only look forward.

***

Overcoming Skepticism

If it’s inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary

Understanding social dynamics and the legacy of oppression that people of color carry due to the effects of colonialism, imperialism and institutionalized racism is crucial to be able to push the world forward.

And you cannot talk about pushing the world forward without talking about the marginalized, poor and oppressed.

As a woman of color of African descent and whose spiritual practices have made me, and many others, social outcasts, the moment I walked into Exosphere I had the same reaction many people from my own community would: also everyone working there was white and male.

And why is this something I notice?

For most of my life (and most people of color), there is a subtle subliminal messaging we all receive. It is part in due to the remnants of institutionalized discrimination and the effects 500+ years of colonialism has had on people.  The images I saw as a young girl didn’t represent people like me – what was beautiful, what was successful, what was happy was a white face. Then I go into the workforce and  there is systematic discrimination because of my skin tone, because I cover, because of my name. You are being told you have to work hard. You have to try harder because the system isn’t there for you. These are statistically noted and documented. When you get into the entrepreneurial world, it’s much worse.

Black tech entrepreneurs make up less than 1% of VC-backedsStartups and receive 35% less funding than non-minority led ventures.

And the problems we want to solve are reflective of our own experiences – which very few other entrepreneurs have.

For a very long time I thought systems of oppression like privledge and institutionalized racism was all bogus- that I was victimizing myself. That I should just work hard and be better. But I had my eyes opened by a friend who told me:

How could I ever win when the system wasn’t built in my image?’

Most of my encounters, I don’t expect white men to fully understand the extent of their privilege. There are very few things that irk me more than privledge people in the startup world talking about ‘changing the world’.

Regardless of technolgical advances, the vast majority of people are real people suffering with some real problem. People just trying to eat. Trying to stay alive. Trying to not get killed through famine, diseases and war. 6.5 billion people on this planet, of which 90 percent  can’t afford the basics of life. And 3 billion of them don’t have regular access to food, shelter or clean water.

It’s clear why the startup world can get irritating at times.

I came ready to offer a new perspective.

And everyone was super receptive and acknowledging of it. This was one of the defining feature of Exosphere I noticed immediately – nobody was willing to shy away from having difficult conversations. No one was willing to hide behind political correctness. No one was offering excuses or defensive in the barrage of criticism you will natural get from a strong-minded(and sometimes stubborn) African woman talking to young white man trying to solve the problems of the world.

And you know what? I was impressed.

This was different.

They were different.

It was completely refreshing.

One of the key points that Exosphere tries to impart is the need for alternative education, of which there is a heavy criticism of the modern education system, and rightfully so.

Many people did not complete university and while their criticism of university system was completely valid, it doesn’t negate the fact that it is essential as a source of social mobility for those born with no privilege.

Again, people checked their privledge.

Another example is that I asked about their Exobase tours in Tel Aviv and they were willing to ensure Palestinians were involved and that the systematic racism and discrimination of Palestinians wasn’t something to be ignored.

I was pleasantly surprised. There was no one say: ‘We should stay away from politics. Or we should just focused on the good vs the bad.’

As a colored person, thank you. You all deserved props for that.

Plus, Chile has the largest population of Palestinians outside of Palestine and on a larger context South America has the largest Africa diaspora population outside of Africa(Brazil, specifically). So, it’s refreshing to be around level-minded, brilliantly insane people that haven’t had their humility and common sense stripped from them.

The Future Looks Like Exosphere

If you are still reading this(and honestly, if you are, props- you da the real MVP), I’m excited to announce that I will be working with Exosphere to help hack / expand their operations to the Muslim world – to the East, where I feel if there is any community that needs these space places to grow, explore and challenge, it is parts of Africa, the Middle East and SouthEast Asia.

Exosphere is a learning a problem solving community but much more than that – they are people putting their money where there mouth is and attempting to solve real problems through entrepreneurship and innovation.

You don’t go to Exosphere just to learn how to create a business but to learn how to create yourself and life you wish to live – practically.

You are challenged through readings, through conversations and through sessions to tear down your internal programming and conditioning in order to be able to unleash your potential. No one is holding your hand or telling you that’s going to be okay. And this is what is needed. A safe space to explore the wonders of what you have to offer and know that, everyone is there willing to support you on your journey.

Someone wrote on the white board at the offices: “Exosphere is a journey, not a guided tour.” What I would add to that is, when you come here, we act as your shepherd. We know what you will inevitably face ahead and are there to guide you through the rough terrain and tell you what to look out for, but we can’t force you to walk with us.

When you come to Exosphere, you are around doers.

They are people who do. People who think. People who create. People who take risks. People who have the courage to act. People who are driven towards the unknown. They have an unexplainable need to make thing better. There is an assumed responsibility for the state of the world. To push boundaries. To live on the edge of life in searching of something new. 

The beauty I saw was unmatched by any entrepreneurial community I’ve ever been a apart. People ate together. Invited each other to one’s home. They lived together, walked to work together, tore down the wall between work and personal life, shared deep conversations about life, meaning and change. They lived out their fears openly, honestly, with little fear of judgement, grappling openly with the mysteries and challenges of modern life but with such acceptance of these difficulties.

It’s as if people are saying:

‘You know this thing called life? We’re in it together. To move it, to change it, to shift it , to challenge it. At the end, we remain family.’

It’s a Godfather-esque love without the murder and family politics.

They force you to break down your programming, your conditioning in a real way and get you on a path of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

Whatever changes were made there, as Skinner said at the end of the bootcamp, were made by you, not us. Whatever growth you faced at the end of the experience, was made by you, not us.

                                        Exosphere Can Help The Muslim World

Exosphere is leading the future. I believe this model must be replicated, with an acute sensitivity to the challenges and unique needs of the people in the East.

The single question we need to ask, as Muslims, to imagine a new world for ourselves is:

Can push the boundaries on what is possible to help unleash the potential of 1.6 billion Muslims?

I certaintly believe it’s possible.

We do exactly what Tariq Ibn Ziyad told his soldiers to do when crossing the Iberian Peninsula.

Make a decision.

Burn the boats.

Take a shot.

And believe, against all odds, even when your back is up against the wall and everything seems to be against you, that it’s in the darkest part of the night that the greatest stars shine.

Let’s do this

Travelogues from Chile: Journey to Exosphere and How We Can Cultivate a Culture of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Muslim World Part 1

To my beautiful readers: I know I have a thousands of people who come to read my writings monthly ,who I love so dearly. Forgive me for taking 1 month off but after my burnout, I needed some time to decompress. I’m getting right back into writing and I have an exciting two-part travel series, a few new books / products, a new venture, and an upcoming youtube channel I will be sharing with you this week. Until then, enjoy!

                ***                           

Sometimes you have such profound experiences that when asked to speak about them, you can’t. You find yourself at a loss as to what to say. And then when you do, it becomes a flood of naked truth that has been within you for a long time that found the perfect time to get out.

That is what this is.

The following is a two-part series of personal essays on my journey to Chile, discussion on the intellectual collapse of the Muslim world and how to hack education in that part of the world, my newest journey with Exosphere and how their education model may be exactly what the Muslim world needs right now.

***

                                                       

I tell this story often.

3 months before I left my hometown, Ottawa, for the very first time at 21, I found myself reading the Alchemist. It’s a small, classic book by Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian writer whose work found its way into my life. There are many things in my life that happen where all memory of how it happened is erased.

The Alchemist is one of them. I have no memory as to how it came into my life.

The book tells the tale of a young man, Santiago, who decided to leave his home to follow his dreams. During this time in my life, I desperately wanted to go live in city of Istanbul, but I ended up in Egypt – exactly where Santiago ended up at the end of the book.

Alexandria, Egypt

Alexandria, Egypt, my second home.

An odd thing tends to happen to me when I travel: the places I never expect much from always impact me the most.

Egypt fits the bill. There are very few things like seeing staff from a consulate watching soccer at 2pm in the afternoon during a work day while your standing there waiting for your visa papers to make you think: “Okay, so this is going to be interesting.”

Fast forward 3 years later, I ended up in a place aptly named, Santiago, with a group of people who compromise of an organization called Exosphere; a group of people that I’ve been searching for my whole life.

Nomadic Roots

Growing up, I had no idea where I was from. I had no connection to my heritage. I branded myself a nomad and a cosmopolitan early on in my life with no intention of ever being tied down to a place not really understanding why. My parents, though they’d never admit it nor encourage it, were just like me – wanderers. My father has travelled from Jordan to Egypt to Turkey to Budapest and has the most unbelieveable collection of travel stories you’ll ever hear. My mother has been everywhere from Somalia to India to Dubai.  I was born in Canada about 1 month after my parents left Italy, where they met.

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Entrepreneurship and perpetual travel is written into me.

Over the years, travel become a philosophy- one that brought me closer to myself, the world and ultimately to God. I was always the girl who wondered to places that many people I know would never venture.

In January I was asked to come down as a visiting entrepreneur to Exosphere for their entrepreneurial program, Hydra II.

And to be honest, what I got was unexpected – it was a life changing experience.

***

When you peruse the Exosphere website, it is hard to categorize them – for good reason. They are people whose spirit must match your own before you can even try to explain what they do.

That explanation I did not need.

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Exosphere’s tagline “Disturb the Universe” – Exosphe.re

 

I immediately understood their slogan: ‘Disturb the Universe’. In fact, all my life I feel like I’ve been disturbed or was doing some type of disturbing. I couldn’t follow rules. I couldn’t stop asking questions. I couldn’t stop being true to myself. I couldn’t bend to the system.

Exosphere reminded me of the beat generation, an eclectic group of radical non-conformists and authors in the ‘60s who challenged everything there was to challenge about modern American society and whose ideas subsequently heavily influenced American culture. I remember falling in love with the Beats when I was 16 in my English class – they manifested within them everything my ‘good girl’ reputation couldn’t but so deeply wanted – rebellion, non-conformity, civil disobedience, political dissonance and a deep concern for marginalized people while travelling, writing and creating with a group of like-minded folks. But they were more than a group of writers, they were a movement.

Gradually, I ended up in my late teens befriending people like them. My best friends were anarchists, poets, idealists, dreamers, hippies and musicians. People who you would end up having roadside cyphers with at 11pm ruminating over deep existential questions of life.  They were people with a longing for a utopia –  a better world. And it was with them that I started to have an inkling that the world I inherited didn’t need to be the reality I lived.

I wanted to, as Albert Camus famously said: “… to become so absolutely free that [my] very existence was an act of rebellion.” Which, in contemporary terms means being unapologetically human, as humans were created to be – creators, explorers, adventures, entrepreneurs, stretching ourselves to the absolute limits of life and being FREE.

Although my friends had good intentions, they were rarely willing to take the risks to make those ideas manifest. One of the main reasons I left activism was for this reason, especially after being an organizer at Occupy Wallstreet. The emphasis on the cause was noble but, as the saying goes, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. What may seem to be your biggest asset can be your biggest liability. Passion is great but not enough.

What I found with entrepreneurship was that your merits came down to – not how good your intentions are – but what results you created.

With Exosphere, you find just that: visionaries with a ruthless pragmatism on solving world issues, the inner fortitude to persist and have a long term vision to disturb the universe and a community of people willing to grow and be vulnerable together. But unlike the Beat Generation, they didn’t make their home in Tangiers, but in Renaca, Vina Del Mar, Chile. It’s a beautiful suburb where you can meditate at the Pacific Ocean and go hiking up the sand dunes in the evening or surf.

It was beautiful, calm, meditative, steady  and cold! I had this green Parka that I wore 24/7 to keep me from freezing my life away but that’s what I get for not being prepared for winter in South America.

Pacific Ocean, Renaca, Vaparaiso, Chile

Pacific Ocean, Renaca, Vaparaiso, Chile.

Sunset in Renaca.

Sunset in Renaca.

There is a hopes to transform it into a central hub for brilliant entrepreneurs, innovators and visionaries to connect and build together.

And in many ways, it already is.

A Florence, Italy of the Renaissance, of sorts. An upstart.

Exosphere runs entrepreneurial boot camps, as a central part of their programing, but there is something more that brings people down there.

They aren’t capitalizing on an entrepreneurial trend. This is the future.

Most entrepreneurship development programs focuses on the technicalities of starting a business but what makes Exosphere different is that they have a soul.

Their programs serve as an intense incubation period of you – the person, the human, the entrepreneur. They ask questions like: how can we help you personally find yourself, your passions, make money from that and then connect you with a community of people who care about you and your growth.

It’s far less about creating startups, but creating the next generation of leaders, and challenging the internal tapestry of what constitutes the modern human being. This takes Exosphere outside of the realm of just being an incubator or entrepreneurial program but a movement of people focused on developing leaders and cultivating a new culture of conscious living.

Their average boot camp runs for 8 weeks of full day of sessions, not just of philosophical or spiritual ruminations but combines practical skills from customer development, marketing, to coding, to personal development with experienced visitors to pass on their expertise to their participants.

Honestly, where else can you find that?

***

Nomadic Routes from Somalia to Cordova 

On my way to Santiago at the Toronto Pearson airport, I had a security officer stop me. He was Somali. Now if you are part of any ethnic community, you’ll know that there is subtle comradery and a sense of family with your people, no matter where you go –whether you know them or not.

He asked me where I was going.

I said Chile.

His jaw dropped.

He said: ‘Wiliigey gabar oo Somali aah oo Santiago oo socota maa arkin.’ Which means in Somali, I’ve never seen a Somali, let alone a young Somali woman, ever go to South America.

And at the same moment, his security friend, this big happy Chilean man asked me:

‘Yo Habla es Español?’

And me with my basic Spanish said:

‘Si. Un pocito.’

(One sidenote: Oh My God, do Chileans smell good. Like everyone and everything was sprayed with this heavenly mist of god-knows-what.)

When I replied in Spanish, this man just exploded with joy and welcomed me but not the Somali one.

As I said bye and walked away, I heard a faint voice call to me in a very fatherly way with a stern undertone and say:

“Dulkaas mahan dulkaagi. Iska Ilaali,” which means, ‘Those are not your lands. Be careful.’

And to any Westerner, this type of social dynamic is odd.

But it comes from a deeply primal and traditional need to preserve a shared cultural history in a world of globalization where things change more quickly than ever. For any immigrant, there is a need for self-preservation that intensifies the further you are away from your homeland.

That familiarity is safe.

It’s also interesting to note his chosen profession.

Security.

But for someone like me, whose entire life meant finding safety in risks, it makes me wonder.

But his response also hits on other things: the question of where home is for someone who is from a diaspora community, resisting labels or a land when I was born without both etc

That’s really the limitations of travel I’m trying to cope with. There is only so far you can physically go because, in all honestly, there is only so far you can place yourself in places that you don’t belong.

And it makes me think, maybe he’s right.

This is a living consciousness that people of color live with from diaspora communities.

You are forever unbelonging, as a someone once said.

Home can be anywhere I make it. But often times, not everywhere I make home wants me.

And I get that.

Nowadays I search for places that just want my soul.

And there is no one telling me: ‘Be careful’

I remember when I was living in my apartment in Alexandria, I had a huge realization.

That to search for acceptance, to be at peace with my identity as a wanderer, to chase my dreams as an entrepreneur – I could not escape myself, my ancestry.

And that’s why I completely understand that security officer to an extent

There are deep truths what he said.

That everything I was searching was within me all along.

But it took me years to find it.

It is said a people who don’t know where they are from are more easily led into many directions that ultimately don’t serve them. Understanding your heritage gives you roots.

It was only recently I found out that my great grandfather was named Abdul-Rehman Ismail Al-Jabarti from the tribe of Darod (or Dawud in Arabic, David in Latin). My ancestry goes back to a placed called Jabarta(no longer exists) in Yemen and goes further back to the Arabian Peninsula. My ancestors were merchants, traders and travelers–much like I am. People who, it seemed, engaged much of their time in deep thinking, traversing the lands in searching of meaning.

Edwin Lord Weeks, Arrival of a Caravan Outside the City of Morocco

Beautiful painting by Edwin Lord Weeks, Arrival of a Caravan Outside the City of Morocco. This is what I would imagine to be a scene out of the life of my ancestors.

 

My ancestors, long before I knew of my African heritage, were the Spaniards and Arabs of Andalusia. I would spend long hours reading Washington Irving’s ‘Tales of the Alhambra’ imagining myself to be in the fantastical world that could only mimic a world I wishes to live in – a world with finesse, culture, knowledge and spirituality. Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, In the Sultan’s Palace, is probably the closest physical manifestation of what my imagination conceived. These men gave me my historical roots – made me realize I was a descendent of something much greater than myself. They were the spark that made me realized that we could shape the world as we wish to see it. Averroes, Ibn Rush, Al Ghazali, Ibn Khaldun – I consider them my ancestors, my great grandfathers — they were the only constant in my identity growing up.

“The Prayer” – Jean-Leon Gerome, 1280

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Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, In the Sultan’s Palace

 

alhambra granada spain

Granada, Spain. One day I will make a spiritual pilgrimage here inshaa allah.

Inside the Alhambra, Court of Lions, Granada, Spain

And in some way, the life I created for myself is trying to mimic their world.

 ***

 Nostalgia of a Bygone Era

There is a deep nostalgia in the Muslim world to relive those days. It’s a collective mourning – subtle, melancholy but its presence is always lingering. The Islamic Golden era, which was at its height around 13 century A.D. represents something beautiful but viscerally painful about the modern conditions in the Muslim world. That period of history was less about material conquest, but the conquest of the soul. How deep, and urgent the sense of acquiring knowledge in Islamic tradition is perhaps the single greatest reason  why Muslim civilization was one of the proudest achievements of humankind. Seeking knowledge and education was at the core of its success. And it’s lack thereof is why the Muslim world is so painfully behind.

What happened in Cordova, Granada, Cairo or Baghdad in the 13th century was a model for what happens when the collective consciousness of a culture centers around self-purification and study and it produced amazing results.

Without it, for example, we would most certainly not have the works of Aristotle, whose texts were lost for over 1000 years, if it had not been for Muslim scholars translating his works from Greek to Arabic.

For people trying to work on creating harmony in the world must understand that there is no clash of civilization between East and West. Samuel Huntington got it completely wrong.

What many people fail to realized is that Islamic and Western civilization come from very similar roots. Many Arab-speaking Muslims not only preserved the scientific and philosophical knowledge in Hellentistic traditions but also incorporated it into their own theories.

The House of Wisdom is a great example where this intercultural, interreligious and international exchange of ideas took place.

 ***

jabal-tariq

Mount of Tariq(Also known as Gibraltar, stands as British Territory today off the coast of Iberian Peninsula).

When Tariq Ibn Ziad stood on the shores of the Iberian Peninsula on his way to conquer Spain and told his soldiers to burn the ships – either they would go conquer Spain or die – is an brutally honest reminder of what is literally happening with the Muslim world – stuck in a paralyzing fear of whether we should burn the boats, take the risks and dare to dream or stay standing there, ready to retreat when things get hard. That nostalgia of an era past comes up again, as a recurring nightmare.

Because we know we can be better.

Because we were better.

There is hope.

***

The Intellectual Collapse of the Muslim World

Neil De Grasse Tyson in his talk: “The Intellectual Collapse of the Muslim World” discusses how a culture with a tradition of knowledge acquisition, namely the Muslim civilization, whose legacy contributed to the intellectual advancement of modern western civilization, collapsed. Granted, he places this intellectual collapse on the fundamental incapability of religion and science, which is not only wrong but historically inaccurate. But he made an interesting point:

“I lose sleep at night with how many secrets of the universe lay undiscovered because 1.3 billion Muslims, who in an ancestral time, would have participated in this enterprise, which are now not. It’s in the cultural heritage – all we are asking is to resurrect it.”

It’s a profound statement.

He is asking, what if the next great discoveries, next great leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs from the Eastern parts of the world, were to be given the tools, resources and inspiration they needed to unleash their potential and become the leaders they are more than capable of becoming, what would happen?

Now, I asked, like Tyson does, how do we resurrect it?

***

Elements Holding Back the Muslim World from adopting an Entrepreneurial Philosophy

Before I give my reasons for major issues holding back the Muslim world intellectually, socially and economically, I think it’s important to note two things here:

1) This doesn’t even scratch the surface. In this case, I would have to write a thesis to truly give a comprehensive analysis to give justice to the topic.

2) The 1.6 billion community that makes up the Muslim world is in no way homogeneous. This has to be the most diverse community –politically, socially, ethnically and culturally. When trying to provide specific answers, we would need to look further to the deeply embedded cultural practices of a region before we can make any concrete conclusions.

Dr. Umar Abdullah Farooq of the Nawawi Foundation puts it beautifully in his essay: ‘Islam and the Cultural Imperative” :

“Like a crystal clear river, Islam and sacred law are pure but colorless, until they reflect the Chinese, African, & other bedrock over which they flow.”

 

Issue 1: Question of Islamic Scholarship

One major argument that come up often in Islamic public discourse is the need for the creation of more Islamic scholars as a solution to curbing social issues, ones that can navigate both western and eastern cultural landscapes.

For those who aren’t aware, Islamic scholars are central bedrock of Islamic communities. They are, in many ways, the elites and revered with utmost reverence.

The huge reverence for them is routed in Islamic tradition that says scholars are the inheritors of Prophets (again, huge emphasis on high status being placed on knowledge seekers and those who are learned). In the modern context, we’ve seen brilliant work to counteract the lack of scholarships such as Zaytuna College, which is the first Islamic liberal arts college established in the United States.

It’s absolutely right to say that there is a need for authentic Islamic scholarship, one that can be held to the same rigour as modern scholarship. The problem isn’t that we need more scholars, we need to utilize Islamic scholarship in a way that is culturally and contextually relevant.

Islamic scholarship is essential but providing individual people the tools needed to unleash their own potential in a way that is accessible and cognizant of their own reality is the next best solution to deal with on the ground realities. We need to build a crop of entrepreneurs to solve social issues while utilizing authentic Islamic scholarship to bridge the religious knowledge gap  and use Islamic scholarship to promote the essential role entrepreneurial and economic empowerment plays in solving social problems. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive as they have been thus far.

I want to add another challenge: Islamic scholar historically was never an institution that was connected to government. Scholars were, mostly, independent entities that functioned on their own. Today, scholars are very much embedded within political power structures, so it’s harder to get them to advocate on certain issues but it’s essential we keep trying.

One of the most positive counterreactions to this trend has been the rise of ‘third spaces’ in Muslim communities ie Ta’leef Collective in California, for example. They are alternative safe spaces that foster religious harmony that are not ‘mosques’ per say.

What will be needed to promote entrepreneurship is utilizing both spaces – not just one – to start capacity-building entrepreneurial infrastructure as these third spaces are currently filling a void, mostly with millienial Muslims who are looking for places to be understood and heard.

Essentially, the Muslim world is paralyzed due to the question of leadership. My humble suggestion is that Muslims need to stop looking to leaders outside of themselves and stop becoming overly dependant on scholarship that isn’t culturally or contextually relevant to give them solutions to problems they are dealing with in their day-to-day life.

 

Issue 2: Industrialization and Colonialism is Still Seen as an Ideal

The other issue is that the Muslim community, in many ways, hasn’t been able to properly respond to industrialization, not just as an economic engine but as a social and cultural philosophy that brings consumerism and materialism as a religion with it. Consumerism and materialism force people to stay working for indefinite period of time. It’s a world view that never had a place in the Muslim world because it remains in stark contrast to how work, success and meaning is definited under an Islamic context(and it can be further extended to much of the Eastern world).

The reason, I feel entrepreneurship is stigmatized in many ethnic Muslim communities even though those people are known to be naturally very entrepreneurial is because the roles of industrialism in shaping people’s minds and ideas. There is a funny saying that says career options for an immigrant tend to be a) doctor b) lawyer c) engineer d) disowned.

There is truth to this. These careers didn’t become a symbol of high status until after colonialization and few people understand why.

“The tradition of madrasas and other classical forms of Islamic education continues until today, although in a much more diminshed form. The defining factor for this was the encroachment of European powers on Muslim lands throughout the 1800s. In the Ottoman Empire, for example, French secularist advisors to the sultans advocated a complete reform of the educational system to remove religion from the curriculum and only teach secular sciences. Public schools thus began to teach a European curriculum based on European books in place of the traditional fields of knowledge that had been taught for hundreds of years. ….” (Source)

What’s more is that students who thrived in this credentialism-based new system were encouraged to go pursue higher education in the sciences whereas those who didn’t do so well were encouraged to go into ‘softer’ subjects like the arts, humanities or religion. And this practice continues today in most of the world.

In addition to that, as European colonial nations proceeded to colonialized Muslim lands and people began to adopt an internalized racism that comes when European structures, ideals and philosophies are taught to be ideal rather than alternative worldviews. This creates an inferiority complex where previously held ideals, such as entrepreneurship are no longer valued as they once were.

This is the Stockholm Syndrome at its best – when a victim expresses sympathy with the person causing them harm, even making excuses for them.

Now you have a generations upon generations who believe that jobs and being a worker is more important and safer than being an entrepreneur.

The solution comes down to shifting mindsets and mentalities by executing a series of social campaigns to help people understand that entrepreneurship is the best lifestyle and philosophy to adopt.

And it’s happening, just not on a wide-scale.

Issue 03: Ignorance and the Challenges of the Modern Education System

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, a renowned American- Muslim scholar in one of his talks “The Crisis of Knowledge” made a really interesting comment.

He talks about two types of ignorance: simple and compounded. Simple ignor-
ance is a naivety and the person is aware of their own ignorance. It can be remedied. But compounded ignorance is when someone is ignorant of their ignorance. He 394975bb7d76c1883a0881d10d080bd2then proceeds to mention the Wizard of Oz, a classic American fiction book.

In the story, there is a Scarecrow looking for a brain. He sings:
“With the thoughts you’ll be thinkin’
You could be another Lincoln
If you only had a brain.”

He never ends up finding his brain but at the end the Wizard gives him a piece of paper and says:

“Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have! But they have one thing you haven’t got – a diploma. “

And then he proceeds to give him a diploma. In other words, when someone doesn’t have a brain, we confer upon him a diploma.

This is what happens in the education system and the dangers of pushing modern education as a source of pride and accomplishment. People go into the education with simple ignorance and then leave with a compounded ignorance. The more our communities put upon people the need to go to university, the more change becomes harder.

 Hacking (Alternative) Education the Muslim World

I believe entrepreneurship is one of the most practical and pragmatic solutions to solving problems within the Muslim world.  The solution to its application lies in alternative education methods by which we build entrepreneurial capacity in the Muslim world.

Not only will this solve socio-economic issues but it’s a massive business opportunity with plenty of data to back it up. Muslim markets alone are worth $2 trillion. Muslim in America, one of the wealthiest and educated Muslim demographics, worldwide spend about $150 billion of that. There is a whole market waiting to be utilized, disrupted and developed.

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Benefits of increasing the number of entrepreneurs speaks for itself.

There is a whole generation of leaders and innovators waiting to be empowered with the tools, resources and community who will not only solve problems but bring back much needed wealth into our communities.

But if we don’t create and empower entrepreneurs from our communities, we can’t benefit from that. All that money ends up going to support multinational corporations who’ve understand the financial viability of the Muslim market.

Sometimes the worst aspects of power isn’t misusing it but forgetting how much of it you have but don’t use.

And while the infrastructure isn’t there to support a global entrepreneurial ecosystem now, the best way to foster entrepreneurial growth in the Muslim world is try to mimic how traditional education in Islam worked:

  • Start nourishing individual entrepreneurs. It starts by taking their dreams and helping them manifest what they wish to contribute to the world. We need to focus on nourishing minds and spirits.
  • Bringing people together. There is a power in community; in bringing people together, consistently into safe spaces to build harmony and love between them all.
  • Showing people there is another way to live your life. Allowing critical thinking to thrive means creating safe spaces where people can question themselves and others without judgement.
  • Letting people taste entrepreneurship, even if it’s for a few weeks. It’s hard to convince someone to do something but showing them via apprenticeships or real-time application of basic business principles in a nurturing space is a much better way to convince people to jump into entrepreneurship.
  • Capacity-building with influential elders: In the Eastern world, there is a high reverence and respect for parents, grandparents and elders. They’re opinions hold weight that can shift conversations and mainstream discourse, unlike in the West, where societal cultural is essentially a mirror of youth culture.

These are super simple ideas that will create a ripple effect in changes. Right now, what we are seeing are Muslim countries dealing with great poverty, refugee populations, both talent acquisition and retention issues.

There is no reason to sit back and allow social problems to remain unchecked and the easiest way is to run a series of experiments to see what are the most effective ways to utilize unleashed talent.

Until recently, I had no model of entrepreneurial education as to how we could bring about the above points while taking into considering the sensitive and every-changing cultural and social dynamics in a society.

Can we create a model that can change and shift with the regions it goes to?

I strongly believe I’ve found that entrepreneurial education model in Exosphere.

Read Part Two Here

Puritan Work Ethic and Entrepreneurial Burnout

This week I learned more than ever about my need to be KIND to myself. If I don’t take care of myself, and practice self love, I can’t do my best work. It’s so easy to stop taking care of yourself, eating healthy and exercising. Your mind and body are interwined but in the daily work, it’s hard to remember to eat at times!

Okay, so what happened? I totally burnt out.

Mental exhaustion from startup life.

The problem with burning out as an entrepreneur is you don’t even know it’s happening. I kept trying to tell myself that I just need to work more or that I was becoming lazy. Turns out, that you can tell yourself whatever you like but when your brain shuts down, it shuts down. At that point, you have to just give in.

I realized, after much research, that burning out is a symptom of being on the wrong track. When you procrastinate and can’t focus. It generally means you need to revisit your idea and start over from your initial assumption. It may be that you put too much on your plate, you were working on a project from multiple angles or maybe you were trying to do TOO much at once.

I decided to change things.

James Altucher, one of my most favourite bloggers, talks about the daily practice or his popular blog post: how to become the luckiest person in the world. Anytime you find yourself stuck or on the wrong path, it’s most likely because you are neglecting the following: your spiritual health, your physical health, your emotional health or your mental health. His argument is that one you get those 4 in order, your life will begin to change and get better.

Yesterday, I started a 66 day challenge based on the Daily Practice. 

I’ve been trying to be kind to myself:

1. Allow myself to sleep well
2. Stretch and do exercise every day! I noticed I sleep less but my sleep is much better.
3. Create a vision board and read a list of my incantations every morning
4. Read and watch what I want than being so task-focused.
5. Give myself permission to PLAY and LEARN

It made a HUGE difference in my productivity levels. You can’t run a marathon forever and it gets difficult being an entrepreneur trying to accomplish so much that you realize – I HAVE to give myself a rest.That may seem normal to other people – you know, resting and stuff. But as an entrepreneuer, your mind running all the time and as a founder, you are constantly thinking about strategy, projects, deadlines and other people.

Robin Sharma often recommends that for every 6 weeks of work, you take 1 week off or every 7 days, take 1 day off. Tim Ferris suggests for every 3 months work, you take a 1 month mini-vacation.

But why is this so hard?

After a bit of investigation, I realized that I have  A LOT of guilt around leisure. I learned that this is primarily a industrial-age puritical christian idea.

I have absolutely no idea what my own traditional and spiritual beliefs say about work, leisure and time but somehow I adopted these very old-age ideas into my subconsciousness.

It’s called the puritan work ethic.

So there were these people, Puritians, who made up the majority of industralists in the early 1900’s. Their beliefs about work was that you must suffer and it was regarded as a way to redeem our original sins(a Christian idea). These ideas trickled down into our concept of what work is today, at least in the modern Industrial world.

They believed that if you worked really hard you would recieve spiritual rewards and it was virtue. So much so that, the idea of charity came from Puritans. It was a way to give out money for feeling so guilty for working so much.

For my Muslim readers, charity for them isn’t the same as how charity is defined in an Islamic context. Islamic concept of charity isn’t simply giving out money, but it’s a structual component of Islamic society that is obligatory for everyone who has means; it allows those that are in need to be supported, not simply as a way to obsolve guilt.

What are the root causes of guilt around work?

Beliefs.
These are some of mine, and I’m sure you can relate to it:

1. I need to work hard to make money 2. Working hard is morally good 3. Hardwork is something that is inherently valuable to society 4. Sleep is for suckers 5. Laziness means doing nothing

Let’s break these down:
1. Statistically, hardwork is not linked to wealth
2. Linking hardwork to morally is one thing. Linking being a moral person to working is a big stretch.
3. Most of us take from the society around us. Our society is a society of workers, so of course we will view it as something good when it’s constantly reinforced arond us.
4. This is so categorically wrong, it’s unbelieveable. You need sleep to be healthy and to function optimally. It’s fine if you don’t sleep for a while because of work you need to complete, but to to do this constantly? Over a period of time is misleading and unhealthy.
5. Laziness is actually doing busy work with no real productive results.

Now, when I refer to ‘hardwork’, I’m not talking about the concept of working itself. Everyone needs to work to get where they want to go. However, I am referring to the idea of work tied to the conception of redemption, so much so that it’s socially engineered to make you feel a certain way if you don’t do it.

Western society doesn’t encourage leisure and relaxation the way, say living in the East does. And leisure doesn’t neccessarily mean doing nothing, it means reflection or time away from focused work.Maybe because reflection and time to sit and meditate isn’t valued as much in the West(there is a whole load of studies now showing the benefits of meditation, however people who follow a spiritual path don’t need scientific studies to show the benefits of it) that any time of work is considered to be ‘wasteful.’

As an entrepreneur, it’s fundamentally an introspective process. You constantly have to unlearn and relearn.

Right now, I’m unlearning how I percieve work and on a bigger level, how I percieve time.

And that being a workaholic is actually a bad thing, not healthy and very much the antithesis of living a life where one grow one’s self.

I hoping that this generation really does change the definition of ‘work’ to something more holistic, more in tune with how we learn about ourselves, less driven into the abyss of this endless hole of ‘working’ and being ‘busy’, that surely, in the long term, can’t be good for people’s health

Latest Project Launch: “In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty” by Mark Gonzales

Think Disrupt, though a company, is my canvas, something blank to be my stress reliever in the world, an outlet that I could express myself in a way I couldn’t anywhere else. The small magazine evolved into a new media company for social change, a business close to my heart and one whose sole purpose it is to serve the creative maladjustment of the non-conforming minority.

I have the pleasure of announcing a collaboration between Mark Gonzales and Think DisruptMelissa Athina and I  -to release acclaimed poet Mark Gonzales’ first book.Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 2.13.12 PM (1)

It’s been a one year collaboration in the making and Think Disrupt’s first major project of 2015.

What’s the book about:

In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty”, is a meticulously crafted series of ideas in tweet sized digestible prose. It serves as a personal guide to social change makers in the 21st century navigating complex social systems by highlighting advanced approaches to healing and global wellness.

It’s a personal guide for social good, healing wounds, navigating your identity, your narrative and changing the world – all written in prose format.

This is a book that was a labour of love, and would love if you share, buy and spread the love to all those who you know.

Available here on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1zFMoIJ

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Imam Ghazali on Time Management

Like many entrepreneurs, creatives and doers, I struggle with time management. There is always so much to do and my biggest hurdle has been creating a system around what I do and delegating it to the proper resources, so that I can fully maximize my time.

I recently installed Rescue Time and starting tracking my time on an hour-by-hour basis. This shocked me back into reality. The software shows you exactly how you spend each hour you are online. And for us digital nomads, it’s quite daunting to come to terms with the way you use your time in such an ‘in-your-face’ way.

On a deeper level, many of us spent almost 15 years in the education system where motivation is essentially coming from an external source such as teachers, friends or deadlines. You aren’t taught how to shape your life and control your time, someone else does it for you. So when you graduate and venture on your own for a bit after having gone through the system, you end up lost.

I definately did.

I haven’t full recovered from my ‘conditioning, so to speak, which is why I need these tools to keep me in check.

All of a sudden, after graduating, I had “all this time” and no idea how to use it, mold it or shape it to have work it for me. And if you are reading this, you’ve probably been in the same boat.

People email me and call me asking questions like: “How do I get more motivated?”

They are asking this because they’re not use to having trained that internal motivator within them, it’s easy to lose momentum and need constant reinforcement.

What I’ve learned is that the moment you start taking life and time more seriously is when you figure out exactly what your life’s work is.

When you discover your purpose, time starts working for you instead of against you.

It’s easier to do things, make progress and not slack off.

People procrastinate mostly because they hate what they are doing and would rather do something else.

When what you do engages you, the question of time management stops being a question of management and rather a question of balance.

apple-coffee-computer-45 (1)But on a more philsophical level, the question of time is an interesting one.

What is time? Why does it exist?

The question of how we measure time can be answered by asking the question: how do you measure your life?

In the world we live in, we normally organize our time according to the question of capital.

Your world will start to change when you measure your time against something other than money such as your legacy, your own self-mastery, helping others etc

I came to this paradigm shift within my own spiritual practice. Islam provides an alternative answer regarding the question of life. It looks at putting knowledge acquisition and continual personal development at the core.

One of the scholars I looked to was Imam Ghazali. He is one of Islams most foremost scholars and philsophers. His writings on the topic of time management are worth looking at. His core message is accountability.

One should be sure that every moment should be accounted for.

His suggestion? Create a routine. That’s how you get baraka “blessing” or productivity.

For contemporary productivity or personal development research, these finding are in line with the main thoughts of the day. Many peak performance gurus will talk about creating a morning routine, the importance of meditation, starting your day early, and accounting for your time at the end of each day as key components of having a successful life. These ideas were espoused in Islamic thought centuries ago but it has taken Muslims quite some time to start realizing this and contributing to the field of personal development.

Here are some time management tips from Imam Ghazali:

  1. Time should not be without structure.
  2. Order your day and night.
  3. Organize routine of worship(5 daily prayers) and assign activity to each period.
  4. Start your day at dawn and as soon as you wake and remember God(or meditate)
  5. Until sunrise, you should occupy your time with 4 types of rememberence
    a.Supplication
    b. Recitation
    c. Glorification
    d Reflection – Plan you day with the long-term
  6. By day, use your time to do the following:
    a. Seeking useful knowledge. Best use of time and highest form of worship. useful knowledge helps increase God-consciousness.
    b. If you are unable to, rememberance and worship. Do good acts. Bring happines to other people and make it easier for righteous to do good work like visiting sick, helping others etc
    c. Spending your time and earning a living. Beware of world greed because it ruins faith and inner spiritual contentment.
  7. Before you go to bed, take an account for what you did during the day. Actions are according to the last of them. Don’t spend your time in entertainment but reviewing what you’ve learned during the day.

Note on the last point: Before you go to bed, don’t use your phone. The blue screen of your phone or computer reduces the level of melatonin in your body, which is a chemical that helps you sleep. A modern tip for us night owls.

Lessons in Time Management as an entrepreneurs:
I’ve learned a few things:

1) It’s easy to accomplish a lot but still be too hard on yourself. Celebrate after every accomplishment.

2) Sometimes you don’t need to work hard to accomplish a lot.

3) Identify things that will make you slack off and then eliminate it immediately.

4) Energy comes from people, so don’t spend too much time alone.

5) It’s an ongoing process to tract my time day-by-day but the more you are aware of how you spend your time, the less lightly you are to be reckless with it.

6) Create an incantation list of what you want to accomplish. Repeat it every morning for 10 minutes. It will help rejuvenitate you. Instant energy hack.

7) Create a vision board. Open up a pinterest and start mapping out how you want your life to look like. It’ll give you energy and make you less likely to slack off. 85% of my vision board came true for last year.

8) Don’t open your email or social media first thing in the morning. Your productivity will drain if you do that. 

9) Even if you can’t measure your time, try to fill in crack of time(like cooking, commuting etc) with education audio books and lectures. This makes my day feel way better and more productive.

10) Balance how much you work and your learn. It’s a constant re-shuffling of priorities and hard to maintain. 

Realize that no one knows anything anymore than you do for your own situation. I’ve had to stop looking to others to guide my journey as a digital nomad and figure how what was best for me.
All these are simply suggestions I hope you will use to better your life.
with love,
Hodan

The Real, Raw and Ugly on How I Got Started: My Entrepreneurial Story

I set up this blog because there are few people of color sharing their journey. I’m here to share my experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes I’ve made. I also want to inspire more people to take risks and do what they love. Most entrepreneurs I meet don’t look like me. Very few come from the same background and have gone through similar obstacles. I was encouraged by Kevin Dewalt, startup investor and advisor, to be open, raw and real. So I am. I wanted to thank my mentors Obaid Ahmad and Manu Sharma for being one of the most impactful mentors I’ve had since starting my journey.

I’m a black Muslim woman who fought tooth and nail to be who I am and to make the world adapt to me instead of adapting the world.

This is my story of how I become an entrepreneur, am blessed to be doing what I love everyday and hope to inspire you to do the same because it is possible.

I grew up in the projects. Drug dealers, gangs, violence, and crime- I saw it all.

My parents were immigrants from a civil war in Mogadhishu, Somalia, who came to Canada in the early 90’s. The public housing projects are where most immigrants settled while trying to figure out to survive in a new country. Like many young Somali woman, I was raised by a single mother. The all-too-pervasive but rarely spoken about topic in the Somali community is how many families broke down due to the transition from living Somalia to living in the “West”. Somali women were, and still are, the backbone of the community. They have single-handledly kept our communities alive in the diaspora and they are what prevented us from breaking down the way our country broke down. There is not enough thanks we can give to Somali mothers for what they did. None.

Like some who com from the hood, my mother provided for me so that I never ‘needed’ everything. I was so painfully oblivious to my social class until I went to university.

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Old Mogadhishu

The world of entrepreneurship was hidden from me until I was 22. I found it kinda by fate. I don’t believe in accidents. I was rummaging through books at my library when I found a book called: “Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs To Know” by David Bournstein.

It was like I went to heaven.

Why hadn’t anyone told me this was real? Like, I could do this as a real ‘thing’.

But you know why no one told me? Because nobody else around me knew either. This is a stark example of how privledge – access to knowledge and social capital – can help you, if you have it and harm you, if you don’t.

The traditional education system isn’t set up to produce entrepreneurs, but employees(nothing wrong with that) but, there shouldn’t be an assumption that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution is what is appropriate for most people. I wouldn’t assume that most people should be entrepreneurs, so why would anyone assume that everyone is made to work for a company? No one has a right to make that decision for anyone.

Coming from a Somali background, we are naturally entrepreneurial people. Being a digital nomadic entrepreneur means that I’ve only taken from the ways of my ancestors but this knowledge too was hidden from me most of my life. I was never encouraged to ask, know or seek. For Somalis(and most people) business means owning a small entreprise that provides income. Most people don’t think about starting a company to solve a ‘problem’ but that’s a powerful piece of knowledge kept hidden from most.

And it’s not only that we don’t know but we don’t know how. Building companies to solve problems falls into this category. Also, community mentors and figures are virtually non-existent.

There were no ‘black entrepreneurs’ where I came from. None.

One observation of Somali people a friend once noted is that, we do things when there is proof of success. What does that mean? If your friends daughter becomes a nurse and is successful, then that’s what you want for your daughters and encourage them into. There is no concept of “hey honey, follow your dreams or do what you love.”

From my parents perspective, that was horseshit and understandably so. How does doing what you love pay the bills? Very few people learn how to do what they are good at and find ways to produce income from that. Again, another practical piece of knowledge that people don’t learn. But it IS possible and that is what I want to emphasize.

Due to social cohesiveness, there is not much room for innovation in our communities, especially in our thinking, because there is no perceived need for it, at least from our parents generation.

Why innovate if you can keep doing the same thing over and over again and not rock the boat? Go to school and become a doctor. It’s worked for generations, why change anything? A bit of a tangent, but this is why much of the Muslim world is stuck in the middle of chaos: no one wants to move outside the familar.

So, by coming to this country, my parents sought stability where I was seeking something that allowed me to exercise my creative and intellectual pursuits, which was a privilege but something no one seemed to understand.

To think about solving a problem means that you are free from that problem. 

And this is where my story really begins.

Because I had a whole set of other problems waiting for me.

—-

I was a rebellious kid. I was curious about life. Like, insanely curious. Growing up, I remember reading encyclopedias and atlases on my spare time. I just wanted to know everything about everything.

Then high-school happened.  This is where my formation into a societal slave happened. I don’t think that my curiousity was taken away from me, it was put on halt.

I was a perfect student. Straight A’s, no absences, never got in trouble. But my curiosity, even as a child, always got me into trouble from time to time. It was something I could never ever shake. I had to try things. That perfectionism  of being the best “student” came only because I had no other reality. This is, what I was told, is all there was to do – you go to school and climb the ladder. I was told to be ‘serious’ and ‘normal’ now because all of a sudden I was forced to make a decision about what I wanted to do for life at 18 years old.

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I was suppose to become a doctor but I ended up having a breakdown in my last year and last semester in highschool. I just knew in my gut there was more to life that what I was being told.

In a bold move, I drop all my chemistry, biology, physics and calculus courses – and took a creative writing course instead. That essentially sealed my fate.

But the pushback I got from that was worse than anything I faced. It was like being thrown out into the wilderness because no one understood you or cared.

This one decision started a series of decisions to helped me become the entrepreneur I am today. Looking back, it’s the small decisions in moments of pressure that seems to have the biggest affect on your life. Sometimes you have to do what you feel compelled to do in the moment.

At 17, when I started university, I started to committ myself to personal development, regardless of where I wanted to be. I just knew who I wanted to be. There was an invisible hand guiding me that kept pushing.

I kept experimenting while doing this ‘university’ thing.

I could never hold down a job for more than 6 months and was never fond of rules — a special kind of stubbornness that can only be found in entrepreneurs. Most employers were never receptive to my ‘suggestions’ on how to do things better and more efficiently. And really, that’s all I was really trying to do – solve problems and improve things.

I was looked at as being abnormal. Like “Why aren’t you able to do this? Why can’t you just do what you’re told? Why can’t you stop questioning things?”

No one ever said, hey maybe you’re an entrepreneur, maybe you have a different DNA, maybe you are good at something else. No. Society’s default MO is: “If you suck at what we tell you to do, then you suck at life.” 

And that is precisely what most people struggle with. Instead of looking for societal acceptance, they should really just should stop giving a shit and look only to their own happiness because society was constructed to make you feel like shit about who you are.

But I was expected to just do as I was told and stand in line. Bad idea for someone like me. That’s like putting up a ‘do not enter’ sign. It just begs me to want to try to see what’s behind there.

In university, I spent a lot of time skipping classes to reading books on psychology, business, marketing, self-help, spirituality and work on my businesses.

The average student studies about 24 hours a week. I was putting in 40 hours a week studying – just nothing to do with my classes.

So why did I go to university? Simple answer: I had no choice. I didn’t have the privilege to choose. This was the only path -I was told – to social mobility. If you come from the hood, you don’t get to choose. It’s a key to open a door to social mobility that if you are not white, you don’t get a choice to say no to.

How else do you elevate yourself when your community doesn’t have resources to push you up?

The myth of the entrepreneur who skips college to start a business only happens to white entrepeneurs for a reason. The system is built to help people like them to succeed. IF they fall, they can go live with their parents, who are most likely university graduates themselves and have done significantly well in the social ladder or fall back on their own education. Most immigrant parents are relying on their kids to support them after they get old. If we  fall back, there is rarely a financial or social fall back that makes it easier for us and certaintly not one if we did not go to college.

If a white entrepreneur turns down 3 billion dollars(like the Snapchat founder), it’s because they can but it will make the news. If a black entrepreneur were to turn down 3 billion dollars, we’d be having another conversation entirely about the socio-economic realities of the community.

Simply put, it would never happen. This example clearly shows that the  amount of socio-economic realities at play given the same situation for two entrepreneurs would play out differently due to their backgrounds.

Another reason: something called “pattern-matching”. Investors tend to continue investing in what has worked in the past. Most VC are white entrepreneurs who fund other white entrepreneurs. If past predicts the future, who will they keep funding in the future?

Proof?

“The odds are stacked against entrepreneurs who happen not to be white males: women-led social enterprise startups are 40 percent less likely to be funded than their male-led counterparts, even though they generate 15 percent greater revenues, according to an Emory University study. And minority-led companies are 35 percent less likely to receive venture capital financing than non-minority-led companies, it continues.

“Investors tend to go with what they know and look in familiar circles for investment opportunities,” SVN executive director Deb Nelson told VentureBeat. “Women and people of color often get missed.”

So, in 2012, I wanted nothing but to leave university. It was period in my life that almost mimiked my last year of highschool. I was breaking again but so much so that at 21, I ended up packing my bags, saying ‘screw it’ and left to live overseas on my own as a nomad for a bit.

I set out to Egypt about 1 year after the revolution, and that completely changed the course of my life. I arrived in 2012 after I picked up The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho with full intentions of going to Istanbul. I ended up there, like Santiago, in a divine foreshadowing worthy of an ancient folklore. I spent a few months living between Alexandria and Cairo.
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I left to soul search, to figure out what I wanted and found myself in a very beautiful but difficult country that awoke my entrepreneurial spirit. There is something that happens when you travel. You get complete silence within your soul. It’s that silence that allows your heart to tell you what you truly feel. Until then, and like most grads, you are not thinking about what you want but what others want for you. Their voices drown out your voice.

I lived with the locals in both Alexandria and Cairo, so I was much more in touch with their lives. I spent a lot of time reflecting in a city that has had more famous, well-known people grace it’s shores than other city I’ve been to. A city that had essentially forgot it’s own greatness. I realized after seeing so much poverty and destruction that committing my life to entrepreneurship and economic development of lesser developed countries was to be my calling in life. Having never experienced seeing poverty to that degree, I wished nothing more than to help empower people, help them awake their inner calling and become self-sufficient so as to empower themselves and get them out of poverty.

For the first week I was there, I cried everyday. I lived in the “hood” in Alexandria in my first month but used to work in the richest area. Everyday on my commute to work, I saw both sides of Egypt – the rich and the poor. I saw men set up shop to sell food or newspapers at 7am in the blistering heat and would still be sitting there when I was done work.

I wasn’t afraid of going to the ‘rougher’ areas since I had come from the same type of ‘rougher’ areas myself. After a while, you get desensited to violence, gangs and crime. I met people all types of amazing people – the vast majority of whom were poor. I actually had a better and more fun time with the poor than rich. A lot of the rich I met were assholes who wanted to be Western and couldn’t understand why people like me(who were Western) would want to live and play where I did.

I met people who put in 12 hour days to only get paid $50/month. Few things can humble you like that.

When I came back from Egypt, I just knew: I was a true entrepreneur through and through. The moment I realized that, there was no going back.

I had to do this. All in. 

I was as young as I would ever be in that moment. I had a conventional career  I could have taken but I turned it down. How would I live my life as authentically as possible if I didn’t at least take a shot at this?

From there, I was the only entrepreneur I knew.  Got rejected from every incubator, acccelerator, seed funding and innovation program I applied to.

I sold my boxing gloves, my old college textbooks and my smartphone for my intial round of seedfunding, also known as bootstrapping. I couldn’t afford office space, so I worked off my bed while working 12 hours shifts at my family businesses growing my own business at the same time.

I started about 4 businesses before I left. They all failed.

Actually, they didn’t. It was all experimentation. I didn’t even know I was starting a business. And I had no desire to stop.

When I came back to Ottawa, I started another 2 businesses that failed.

This is the point where I almost gave up. I decided to do what I alot of people do and get a job. Most people have this breaking point but I realized that with every major breaking point, to survive, you need to push through.

I came across 21 Golden Rules of Entrepreneurship by Jason Nazar as a last ditch attempt to convince myself that I could do this.

And for people like me, you either do it or you don’t. My decisions weren’t just for me, but would determine the course of the next generation of my family.

Why? When I graduated, it was 2012. 4 years after a recession that shook the world. You know what the statistics were for the average student?

71% College graduates in the class of 2012 who had student loan debt
$29,400 Average student debt per borrower
6% annual increase in student debt at graduation from 2008-2012
41% college graduates who say their job dont require a college degree

(Source: The Institute for Collegee Access & Success, Gallup)

This meant that world had effectively changed, there were new rules to be played by and if you didn’t adapt, you were done for in the future.

And I hope by me talking about this, people realize that this is a path you can take and you should take for the sake of your future.

Did my parents com half way across the world thinking that the global landscape would change things? That global competition and technology would change things? That jobs would be outsourced? That traditional careers would slowly become a thing of the past?

No. They didn’t.

And this society, my upbringing, the people around me were running in circles than taking the time to sit back and think: “Is this even working for me? Is all this even worth it? Why are we putting ourselves in debt? Why are we chasing something that is running from us? Is getting money all there is to life?

Is surviving all there is to life?

By the 7th business, my persistance and faith paid off. I took off once I committed myself entirely  to learn and build- it was a small magazine for social changemakers called Disrupt , that relaunched as a digital media company Think Disrupt, that grew to have a loyal following.

My 8th business, a boutique digital marketing firm went full time after 3 months once I started committing myself to the practice of business, having faith and trying to improve 1% everyday. Alhamduillah. We’ve worked from inter-governmental organizations like the United Nations to non-profits organizations to small business entrepreneurs around the world helping them with their digital strategy, marketing and business development.

Finally, things started to come together. Alhamdulilah.

In total, I’ve started a business in:
– real estate investment consulting
– personal development seminars
– magazine publishing
– online and offline marketing consulting
– buying and selling used books
– spoken word workshops

That’s an exhausting list to think about but a lot of experience to boot. The hustle never stopped.

All this inevitabilty led me to own a successful business at 24, today, that allow me the freedom and flexibility to work on projects I’m passionate about. Alhamdulilah.

What kept pushing me?

It’s a special kind of crazy, the type of persistence that would make anyone quit. I was a lone soldier and absolutely bent on making the world adapt to who I was before I would ever let it change me.

Every person has an intimate understanding of their own potential; the problem is most of us had that potential deliberately taken from us so that society can mold us into what it deems ‘acceptable’. The only way to get that deep understanding of who you are is to deliberately focus on self-development and gaining a deep introspective understanding of who you are.

Experiment.

Fail.

Fail some more.

I’m blessed to have struggled to do this and I hope to be a trailblazer for other young people trying to follow the path of running their own business and creating positive social impact.

No matter how much society tried to mold me, I was that round peg that just would not fit in the square hole.

And if you are still reading this, you most probably are too.

So far, it has been a 7-year journey of self-transformation and commitment to self-actualization and a radical commitment to life design.

I started this blog 2 years ago to catalogue my experiences, thoughts and insights in my journey as an entrepreneur. I know there are millions of young people of color like me who want to create significant impact. Many of us have been held back due to societal, cultural or religious customs telling us who we should be.

I hope this blog gives you permission to the strong, powerful, empowered entrepreneur and social changemaker you know you were meant to be.

Sometimes, we all just need a little encouragement.

From one entrepreneur to another(or even if you are aspiring), you can do this.

In my experience forming, working and building start-ups of my own and others, I’ve realized 9 times out of 10 success is really about faith and persistence. Just stick with your idea or dream long enough, pivot when necessary but don’t ever give up. Reiterate, relaunch however many times you have to. You’ll get there. It’s not a question of if, but when.

I’ve been forced to build my own doors because many doors were closed to me. My journey in forging my own path has really been about helping others realize enormous potential within themselves and how they can better change the world by taking control of their own lives and building the solutions to the problems they see around them everyday.

But most importantly, we don’t need to look to others to do anything for us, we already have everything we need to transform our lives within ourselves, carve our paths and change the world.

Have the courage to try and just go for it.

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneur and business media has created a legend around the entrepreneur. For many reasons, this has helped – increasing the amount of people who choose this career and lifestyle is a great thing for our economies and society. The downside is that the narrative it espouses tells a tale of a successful solo entrepreneur facing all odds and coming out victorious with no less than billion dollar evaluation at the end. It paints the prototypical entrepreneur, often white, as a mythical figure of sorts.

This narrative is dangerous. I bet a lot of people give up because the emphasis is always put on the event – “the end result” – rather than the process of getting there.

I was always told this path would be hard but honestly, if I were to look back 3 years ago and be told what I would have to go through, I have doubts about whether I would have done it. It’s not what you think it is. It’s highs, lows and everything in between. I really believe that entrepreneurs are a type of people -with very specific DNA.

Like Steve Jobs said, unless you love it, there is no reason to be doing. It’s sheer insanity. You have to have the passion to put yourself through it.

I came across a short answer on Quora that sums this up and I liked it enough that I wanted to share it on my blog:

“Because all decisions are yours and THERE IS NO ONE TO PASS THINGS OFF TO AT THE END OF THE DAY – the day doesn’t end.  You have some amount of flexibility in WHICH hours you work, sometimes, but zero flexibility in getting sh!t done.

If you are not a person who gets sh!t done, you will fail.  Any opportunities (re: “luck”) will be worthless – because they are only opportunities.  You still need to ACT on them, and figure out how to maximize them correctly.  You have manage relationships, build your product, figure out your finances, keep your cash, figure out your competition (it’s not always obvious), build, manage and grow your client base, and figure out where the hell it’s all going – while maintaining your own health (physical, psychological and emotional).  Simultaneously.  And optimistically.  While a world of people are telling you you’re basically nuts.

You think that’s not a crapload of hard work?  This is why the e-myth is a myth.  There’s a lot of whitewashing (I have no idea why) on the struggles of entrepreneurship.  It is a hard, crazy mess – you do it because you have love, true passion, and vision for something that must arise on the other side.  That “luck” is friggin’ sheer force of will – you don’t see all the nos that happened before that amazing yes.

Robert Croak, creator of Silly Bandz, said it took him 15 years to become an overnight success.  THAT’s what starting a business is.”

Reflections: What Would Henry David Thoreau say about Social Media?

I’ve been having an increased issue with social media -not that it isn’t useful but the fundamental problem it comes with regards to questions of living.

I sometimes ask myself, what is my life? What is life and am I consciously
living it?

Am I being deliberate by how I interact with the very elements that make me
a human or am I creating an illusion for myself and calling it a life?

Life these days seems to be a performance. To sell yourself, to producticize
yourself as a human, you need to perform. You need to do things that seems so
uncharacterically unnatural to be accepted.

I believe Jason Silva got it wrong about instagram. This generation experiences memories as anticipated memories, as Dr. Daniel Kahnman says.  It is in reality a curation of your life moments – fleeting. You don’t have the agency to decide how to architect how you experience things, as Silva espouses, without giving up something. In that process you lose the lived reality for that ‘anticipated’ future. We don’t become artists, or authors for our lives by being given this agency – we are deliberately living in an altered reality that panders to our ego, it panders to how we wish things were, not how things are. The blessing in memory is to re-live, to re-tell and reflect over your experiences as you experienced them authentically. Capturing everything and exposing everything is, in my opinion, an unfit way to live your life. It’s a supreme act of the ego, the base self. The act of documenting is largely an introspective process and I really believe it needs to be differentiated from what we call ‘documenting’ on social media, which is more aptly described as overexposure. I can see it as nothing but the
objectification of ourselves in utmost desperation to live what we deem ‘reality’ and impose our own agency to decide how we get to experience that reality for anything more that what it already was in that moment.

What troubles me deeply about social media is that it is like living your life
through a mirror – always aware and hyper-conscious about how you are percieved.

You forget the human being that is living it. You become numb to anything
but yourself. It’s the worst kind of inward looking – nothing introspective
about it. It’s hard to engage with deep questions of life these days and I feel
that most people are living with the perception of their own mastery rather than
living it.

Unconsciously, I’ve adopted a minimalist life and a lifestyle designer attitude to
how I shape my life to combat these feelings but I cant help but feel there are more questions to be asked and more answers to learn from.

I don’t want to live my life through a screen, as though it was a play I’ve
written about myself that I am performing for the world day in and day out. I
want to simply life – deeply and meaningfully without any need to prove it to
anyone and to have an impact, without seeking anything back.

It’s 330 am – a time where these questions come up and would have thought that Andy Warhol would have been the best person to ask these question to. But no, now Henry David Thoreau speaks to me so well. If there were any writer that I feel would navigate this lived reality so well, it would be him.

His answer: It’s a life of the unmarked self that, in this day and age, is most powerful. What can be more powerful than to not be known. To committ yourself to something more than oneself and not chase after anything fleeting. It’s recognizing that, in your committed to life and your mastery, is in some strange way the reason people remain immortal. Trying to capture everything, paradoxically, only keeps you that much farther in arms reach away from the immortality you seek.

With on foot in the matrix and one foot out, I will continue to navigate this world, where the greatest challenge seems to be understanding the reality of it all.

The following words could have been written by him in this act day and age. I find solace in them.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the
essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and
not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live
what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation,
unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow
of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not
life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and
reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the
whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if
it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of
it in my next excursion.”

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”