Category Archives: My Journey

My best teacher was TV

I’ve been absent for a while. I decided that I shouldn’t be blogging just for the sake of it and in the world of information overload, it would be better to be absent rather that contrive something to write about each week.

I’ve been busy working on my business, taking it in a slightly different direction, working things out, trying things out, making changes –it’s a constant learning process. In the last few days, I’ve read some interesting articles on education, what is the point and purpose of it and do the current models work in the 21st century. I’ve read significant chunks of Seth Godin’s education manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, which is well worth a read if you operate in the education space, have children or are vested in making the world a better place. It got me thinking about my formal education and whether it had prepared me for life today. Seth Godin also gets you to acknowledge a teacher that mattered and whilst I do have those, there was no one name that stuck out. I looked back at how I learnt, whether the content of the curriculum was a good fit, the benefits of my education and the shortcomings a formal education, which focuses on grades, has on being entrepreneurial and creating business success.

I reached the conclusion that my best ‘teacher’ was TV — it inspired, motivated, entertained, expanded my knowledge, never made demands and let me come to it. I grew up in Hackney in the 1980s with an older sister and my mum and dad, later came my two younger brothers and my paternal grandmother. I went to the local school, preceded by my sister who was two years ahead of me, I read books from school and joined the local library and read avidly. I was a good student, I did my homework without being asked, was engaged with learning and sucked up knowledge from wherever I could. One of the major sources for me was the TV –lots of it and from an early age. When I was growing up there were 3 channels and then 4 and they weren’t on 24/7. Sunday TV was generally boring –politics and religion and dedicated kids TV was for a few hours a day with favourites like Philip Schofield and Gordon the Gopher. If there were Asian people on TV, we watched it –from Madhur Jaffrey cookery programmes, The Jewel in the Crown to the epic Mahabharata.

As I got a little older I had my routine of watching TV straight after school for a bit, then it was off to the mosque 5-7pm and then a bit more TV mixed with dinner and homework. There was only one TV in the house in the living room and so we generally watched together. With only 4 channels there wasn’t much choice but I still managed to watch many programmes regularly including: Eastenders, Brookside, Hartbeat, Rainbow, Thundercats, Smurfs, Beverly Hills 90210, Blockbusters, Desmond’s, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Crossroads, Howard’s Way, Bergerac, Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, Top of The Pops, Gladiators, Catchphrase, The Price is Right, The Clothes Show, Holiday, Strike it Lucky, Grange Hill, Neighbours, Home & Away, Twin Peaks, ER, Sex and the City, Ally McBeal, Dallas, Dynasty, Hart to Hart, Wish Me Luck, X-Files, LA Law, Tomorrow’s World, The Bill, Biker Grove, Degrassi Junior High, Playschool, Sesame Street, You and Me, Dawson’s Creek, the Crystal Maze, Blind Date, Terrahawks, the Krypton Factor, Dempsey and Makepeace… and many more that would take up a whole page. I didn’t even understand it all when I watched it, for example, I was only 10 or 11 when Twin Peaks was aired, but TV opened up a whole new world that wasn’t accessible to me. They weren’t ‘educational’ programmes per se, but for me they were educational. I was exposed to things that I never would have been exposed to –the good, the bad, the ugly. It made me question things, appreciate another point of view, have something to talk about in school the next day or look up something further, get interested in history, get clearer about my own opinions, gain a new opinion.

Last night, once again, it was whilst watching TV that I gained clarity over something that I was mulling over. It was by chance I ended up watching The Richard Dimbleby Lecture on BBC1 where Nobel Laureate, Sir Paul Nurse, was speaking about the importance of science in the world today –how it could help problems we are facing such as food shortages, climate change, healthcare and the economy (a transcript of the full lecture is available here). Although I felt some of the arguments he made a bit reductionist, it was an inspired and thought-provoking lecture and a brief pang of regret passed through me about not pursuing science beyond A Level Biology.

Learning and education don’t need to happen in a prescribed way –my education is formed of many things including the traditional model of school and university, but also shaped by those TV programmes I watched many years ago. When I was younger, I had limited resources and couldn’t be fussy about where knowledge came from and it would have been less rounded if I had relied on school and the people I knew at the time. I am certainly not saying TV is a panacea but at the same time we mustn’t form elitist views about what constitutes education. It is only with open-mindedness that we will design an education fit for the 21st century.

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The Communication Connection

Communication allows people to connect and throughout time we have all wanted some degree of connectivity with our fellow humans. Times change and people connect in different ways. 2011 was the year I embraced twitter -a little late I know- but maybe I was supposed to be a little late to the party. It just makes connecting with people so much easier and I’m sure if I had joined earlier it would have been easier still as the place wasn’t so crowded.

The thing that worked for me as I started my life in the twittersphere was just to do my own thing. I didn’t read guides on how to get more followers and how to use it for marketing, what to tweet about, or whether it should be about my personal life or my work life. I did ask a few people about what they did in the offline world but I did pretty much what I would in life-  I just hung out, started listening to some conversations and then slowly join in. There was no big strategy, I followed people’s whose values resonated with mine, people I was interested in and started sharing the knowledge I had. Given what was happening in my life this year, I inevitably wrote lots about start-up businesses, issues affecting young people, communication and also tennis! What was required was to understand how the technology worked but that didn’t faze me, I guess the most difficult thing was limiting everything to 140 characters!

Tweets are just mini-conversations and they work best when they are real, relevant and connect with their audience. Once you’re comfortable about the technology, then it is no different from any other conversation- work out what your message is and transmit. Sometimes these conversations are with specific people but usually they are to the twittersphere in general, people get interested and then they engage with you (by following you, retweeting you or replying to you). It’s amazing who you can get to know and what can happen. I have connected with people I didn’t know previously and have subsequently met them- some are becoming friends, others clients- all from 140 characters!

I wanted to acknowledge the following people for what they added to my twitter journey this year and they fully embody what I love about twitter. They are #mytoptweeps2011, so in no particular order:

  1. @matt_hodkinson – Matt’s tweets are informative, funny and make the world of social media hugely accessible. He engages with you and has fully used twitter to his advantage and now makes regular appearances on the BBC- something that came about from one tweet.
  2. @jonathanfields – I followed Jonathan because he was tweeting about being an entrepreneur and being creative. I was instantly hooked and this year I really took on the wisdom he so generously shared through his tweets and blogs.
  3. @Kent_Healy – Kent had a phenomenal year (read his review of 2011 here), but he only appeared on my radar half way through 2011. He is an entrepreneur writing about approaching things in a ‘uncommon way’ and when he was passing through London in late October I got to meet him and his lovely wife.
  4. @DjokerNole – You don’t need to be a tennis fan to appreciate Novak Djokovic’s tweets. His tweets work because they are directed to his fans and are so humble, appreciative and also funny. Although he doesn’t follow many people he still manages to engage in conversation- many a business and celebrity could learn a thing a two from this man.
  5. @DavidMcQueen – David is a friend in the offline world but having his daily tweets in my life meant that it strengthened the original connection. We were already connected on Facebook but twitter allowed for those quick exchanges, the ability to draw others into the conversation- and he knows a lot of people!
  6. @FreeRangeHumans – Marianne was an early tweep that I followed and started engaging in conversation with. I loved what she stood for (escaping the 9-5 and leading a location independent lifestyle) and she struck the right balance between tweeting about her business and personal life.
  7. @LollyDaskall – If there was one word to describe Lolly it would be ‘generous’. Lolly really got me thinking about how I talked to individuals on twitter and also introduced me to personalised ‘Follow Fridays’. I really started to take more care over my tweets after getting some insight from Lolly.
  8. @SangeetaHaindl – I met Sangeeta at a Personal Branding Workshop I attended in April and started following her after that. What I love about Sangeeta is her ability curate interesting news information- the news she finds can sometimes be quirky or simply offer a new take on something that is going on. She’s also very speedy at getting the news out there.
  9. @Okwonga – Musa was an old university friend with whom I had Family Law tutorials. I love his tweets because they are ‘Musa Okwonga’. He has an ability to tweet about sport, his poetry and spoken word gigs in the same breath as politics and controversies in the world without it seeming disjointed and without pulling any punches.
  10. @Melody_Hossaini – Melody was on the UK version of ‘The Apprentice’ when she came to my attention. She was running a social enterprise and her work was similar to mine and I wanted to talk to her. I had seen her work website with an info e-mail address but thought that she was probably getting inundated as ‘The Apprentice’ was being aired at the time. I tweeted her business twitter and the next day I was speaking to her. She’s great because she talks to her followers all the time and I know that makes a huge difference to people who follow her.

Thank you to all the people who I follow and have connected with this past year who have made twitter a place I like being.

What are your experiences of twitter and who are your top tweeps of the year? Comment below or on twitter via the hashtag #mytoptweeps2011. You can follow me on twitter @sufiyapatel

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Why I Don’t Multi-task Anymore

OK, maybe that statement is not completely true, but on the whole I try not to, which is a far cry from where I used to be – the queen of multi-tasking. Ask anyone that knew me, I had my finger in many pies, plates spinning, the whole caboodle. I used to eat lunch at my desk, have multiple coaching calls through my lunch break for a programme I did outside of work and then get on with my day job straight after. My desktop had lots of windows open and the end result meant that whilst I had started almost everything that needed to be done, I had completed very little. And, there was always something to do after work, even if ‘after work’ started at 9pm. It seemed never-ending and to top it off it was something I was very proud of being able to do.

Being a solopreneur makes things worse, there is always that constant nagging voice which tells you that you must make use of every available minute and the best way to do that is to multi-task. However just over a month ago I started a new 14-day eating plan and it made me look at life differently. One of the rules was to spend at least 15 minutes eating your food, so no wolfing it down like I usually do! I found I was having to pay mindful attention to something that I didn’t usually think about and just that very act brought mindfulness to other areas of my life. I felt more grounded and peaceful taking time over my meals. If I had lunch at my desk, I stopped work and all I did was eat my lunch. I didn’t even browse on the internet or check out any social networking sites. So you may think ‘why is she talking about diets and food?’ but bear with me.

What I started to realise was what a noisy world my head was in. There were very few things that had my focused attention and it had become my default modus operandi – all I could do was multi-task… and isn’t that what gives women an edge over men? So I decided to try something different with my approach to work and that was to take just one thing and do that, fully, completely for as long as I said I would, no distractions. I liked it. I realised that the most productive approach wasn’t to be doing multiple things at the same time, and often things got done quicker and to a better standard when I did one thing at a time. This might be stating the bloody obvious but it hadn’t been to me.

I can tell you that the difference has been amazing. I don’t feel so stressed out or buzzy (that feeling when you’re running on adrenaline the whole time) and I look better too (less stress does that to you!). I find I schedule things in much more realistically and it has kept me so much more focussed. It also has improved my relationships with people as I actually spend more time listening to them rather than the thoughts in my head! I do still read books and do some bits of work when commuting and there are times when I sit in front of the TV with my laptop or smart phone in hand but apart from filling dead time, I just find it better to do one thing a time.

I’m not saying multi-tasking is bad per se, but consider whether it is all that it is cracked up to be. What are your thoughts on this?

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Being Alone Together

The life of a solopreneur can be very lonely and it gets even worse when things aren’t going to plan. You get up in the morning, dreading dealing with the day ahead, who are you going to call, where is that next lead going to come from? You look through your contacts wondering ‘who can I call again?’ Deciding there’s no one, you trawl through the internet to find some meet-ups or networking events, but then decide you can’t face talking to a room full of strangers. There’s nowhere to go, all your friends are at work and the other freelancers and business owners you know are busy doing their own work.  You’re stuck, who do you turn to? Your friends and family are as supportive as they can be, but you don’t want to moan about your predicament. You were the one that went gung-ho, head-first into this venture, so you just have to carry on as best you can.

I remember feeling not too dissimilar at various points after I went solo. I just used to feel very alone and felt under huge amounts of pressure to make things happen from nothing. It was the fact that there was just me and the people who know me, know that I’m a social person; I missed the interaction with other people and staying at home was making things worse.

Fortuitously, there were two things that came into my life at about the same time earlier this year. The first was Central Bloomsbury, a co-working space just off Tottenham Court Road in Central London and the second was the Key Person of Influence Accelerator Programme, a 30-week business incubation programme. What both provided, as a by-product of their main service, was community. It’s hard to say your business isn’t going as well as you want it to without feeling like you’re undermining your credibility. However, everyone struggles and what we all need is a trusted network of people who have been through or are going through the same journey.

Central is not your average co-working space and I was immediately impressed by my first visit. The whole space is set up to allow people to collaborate both in a formal and informal way. One of their working spaces is much like a cafe where you can just strike up a conversation with another member and they also put on events to help you fill knowledge-gaps you may have, whether it is social media, marketing or getting investment. The staff is very attentive and the co-owners have an aim of supporting 1,000 grow in the next five years. Working at Central allows me to have the buzz of an office environment and in the members I have colleagues with whom I can share what is going on for me, bounce some ideas around and where in turn, I can support them if needed.

The KPI programme has also been a huge support, not just the content of the programme (which, BTW is amazing) but the generosity of the people involved. We have a Facebook group where past and current members come together. It’s a very active group and people share everything from requests for help, their successes, opportunities for other members. My programme is coming to an end but I know that I am part of this community for life. It has become a trusted network and often the first place I go to get some inspiration, offer support or get some help.

If you are on the lonely path of setting up your own business, I can’t recommend enough getting out there and joining a group of some kind- there are lots of options out there, not just the ones I have mentioned above, from Mastermind groups to online networks like Ecademy. You don’t have to go it alone and there are lots of people who want to help. Once your part of one of these groups, my top tips are to make yourself a valuable member of that community, support others and give generously- it will come back to you manifold.

It was at one of the KPI workdays that I came across the phrase ‘being alone together’. Penny Power who was running our Social Media day mentioned she had heard it somewhere (I forget where exactly) and wrote it down thinking it was a very apt description for many people I know. Certainly, it is where I am; alone but surrounded by amazing people who completely have my back.

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31.5 Getting naked in front of the world

Your heart is beating faster and faster
there is hesitation
a chance to turn back
and then the opportunity to act

Hitting the ‘publish’ button will be one such moment for me.

How many times after hesitating do we turn back, into familiar territory, often relieved but also perhaps a little disappointed that we did not act?

My close friends see me as courageous, often taking risks where they are unwilling to do so. However, I don’t see myself as courageous as I know there are many times that I retreat into my comfort zone. e.g. I have wanted to blog for sometime now but there has been a fear of exposing myself that has kept me from doing so. I won’t be able to control my image, there will be people out there who will make snap judgements about me, criticise my style, etc. You are only reading this as I made a promise that I would publish my first blog today.

For most of my life, I have always tried to portray a sense of perfection, having it all handled and uncertainty often causes my stress levels to rocket. In school I was the person who aced things, I always did well at work and have been successful at most things I have turned my hand to. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be independent and doing it all myself, but the past year has made to look at things differently. I’ve had to especially as I’ve left the security of a job to pursue a passion and hoping to make a successful business out of it.

I currently have a few situations where I have been hesitant. Writing this blog has meant I’ve made a few decisions too! I’ve basically been scared of exposing myself, of putting my neck on the line and getting it chopped off! The reasoning usually is that until I choose, my options are open, but by that same reasoning, all options are also out of reach. Maintaining the status quo may provide a certain degree of certainty but it’s also boring. It is only by stepping out into the unknown, exposing myself will I ever know how it will go. It is also being able to dance with the uncertainty and be able to bear it for long enough not to close things down. Taking one step and then the next and continuing down that path, fully committed. I will let you know how things are going in future posts.

After all, uncertainty is where the excitement and adventure is, it’s those times when you go off travelling somewhere very different, riding that new rollercoaster ride and not knowing where the dips and bends are. The butterflies in your stomach, the trepidation, the exhilaration; it’s the thing that causes your heart to pump blood around your body so that you feel fully alive, rather than merely existing. This will open up a whole new world; you may or may not get the outcome you wanted… but you will have lived.

So where are you hesitant and what if instead of turning back, you stepped forward into the unknown? What would you do?

As a side note, I am also very much looking forward to reading Jonathan Fields’ book ‘Uncertainty’. It’s launched in the US tomorrow and hoping my copy finds me very soon.

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