The Rules That It’s Okay to Break
I never really felt like I fitted in at school. I labelled myself a ‘misfit’, and sometimes even a ‘failure’, because I didn’t comfortably fit into certain boxes or categories, and because breaking the rules sometimes made more sense than following someone else’s path.
But as I’ve grown up I found that being a rule-breaker and a misfit have served me pretty well! I’ve never really been one to ‘go with the flow’. I always felt compelled to shake things up, to take the road less travelled, you know? And I believe a lot of entrepreneurs go through the same thing.
I would never advocate being reckless, but I think it’s time we acknowledge that there is the power and value in strategically swimming against the tide. Breaking the “rules” (who wrote those, anyway?) is sometimes the most productive thing you can do for manifesting your vision.
Here, I decided to share the rules I broke and why you should think about breaking them too.
“Never work with friends or family”
I threw this one straight out of the window and here’s why…
What do you want from those who work with you in accomplishing your goals: loyalty, honest communication andshared passions? You’ll be hard pressed to find someone better placed to provide these things than your nearest and dearest.
I’ve found that the candidness, dedication, and the shared passions I have with my closest crew of friends has made them ideal colleagues. They get me, they get what I’m trying to create, and when one of us succeeds – we all succeed. When it comes to my music, I need to be comfortable enough to expose myself creatively, to be vulnerable. The trust I have with my friends make them the ideal people to help with my musical career.
And I couldn’t think of anyone better placed to collaborate with on MPower (our mental health organisation) than my mom. We’re already on the same wavelength, cherish the time we spend together, and share the same vision for a compassionate and nondiscriminatory society. We were already a ‘team’, we just formalised it by working together!
“Follow the crowd, don’t fight the current trends”
When I had the idea for Svatantra, the public in India didn’t think very much of the microfinance industry. Microfinance means loaning small amounts of money at fair and affordable rates so rural women with little to spare can grow their businesses. But there were a lot of organisations around going by the name of ‘microfinance‘, who loaned money at extortionate rates. That tainted the industry’s reputation. But I believed in the potential benefits of microfinance – when it’s done RIGHT.
When it comes to any business, you’re playing the long game. Often, you have to plant the seed and then wait to see the fruits of your labour. Five years on, Svatantra is thriving and so are many of the women who benefited from our approach to microfinance. Our customers speak for themselves, and their success is shifting the way people view microfinance.
”Don’t dream too big”
I was obsessed with music ever since I was young. But even when I was at college, performing regularly and writing my own material, I was still scared to tell other people that this was what I wanted to do with my life. It’s so important to realise that life is short and in order to be happy we must do what we’re really passionate about. My dream is to be the first Indian artist to break into the commercial international music arena. Has it been done before? No. Does that mean it’s impossible? Certainly not!
When I decided to set up Svatantra, I was just 17 and people told me I was dreaming. I was “too young”. What did I know? Who did I think I was?!
Sometimes this is a defensive mechanism other people put in place to protect you – they want you to keep your goals small to cushion the blow should you fall short. That’s well intentioned, but only you know if you have the fortitude and inner resources to withstand failure or criticism. And whether you’re willing to take that risk anyway.
I set up my mental health initiative having looked at the at the suicide rate in India and all the stigma attached to mental health. The numbers were overwhelming, how was I going the turn the tide? But I didn’t feel like I had a choice but to try. What was I meant to do, stand and watch?
“Trust evidence over intuition”
Whether you’re contemplating leaving a relationship, starting a new business or venturing into a totally new career, trusting your intuition is so important.
Music was not a traditional path, it was not the natural progression expected of me. But it felt right, and it still feels right. I have overcome some hurdles, and I expect more on the journey, but I have no doubt that I am doing the right thing. People are beginning to respond really positively to my work, my last song went platinum in India and we had loads of radio plays and streams from around the world. It is an awesome feeling to see real numbers and downloads where I had previously only seen a vision of what could be.
When you begin writing a song it can be intimidating, just you and a blank page. But amazing producers across the world stepped forward to work with me, from Atlanta to Oslo, and now I have four songs coming out early next year!
“Work day and night. Your vision should completely consume you.”
This is SUCH an outdated attitude! Work-life balance is so important to build something sustainable. It can be easy to ignore your own personal needs when you’re trying to build a business or a career, but more and more people are recognising that mental health is as important physical health – if either of those are compromised your work output is going to suffer.
I volunteered on a student mental health helpline during my time at college in England and saw first hand the self-defeating results of putting yourself under so much pressure to perform – it made really talented people completely crumble.
While focus, dedication and gritty hard work are important, you can’t be in the best position to reach your goals if you’re operating at 50%. Long term, balance is so much better than burning out.
This guest post was authored by Ananya Birla
At the age of 22, Ananya Birla has already won many awards for her contributions to Indian business and society. Hailed as a United Nations Young Change Maker and one of Forbes Asia’s Women to Watch, Ananya was just 17 when she set up the social enterpriseSvatantra Microfinance, which provides micro loans to rural entrepreneurs, mainly women. Last year she launched a luxury lifestyle platform called Curocarte, which designs and sells unique handmade products from around the globe.
Her family, the Birlas, have had a significant role in Indian business since the 18th century and supported India’s independence movement. Ananya’s father Kumar Mangalam Birla is the chairman of Fortune 500 company Aditya BirlaGroup, India’s first truly global corporation, which has activities in industrial materials, mobile telephones, retail and financial services.