Spending five of the most vital years of my teens in Tonga taught me a lot. Fast forward 10 years and I find that many of the lessons I learnt over those crazy years has influenced the way I work, and how I choose to operate my business today.
If you don’t know who you are, you will lose your way
From the moment I took my first step onto my high school hallway, I knew I was different. My fair skin and lack of ability to speak the language made me stick out like a sore thumb.
Here I was, full of excitement and happiness – oh, how naive I was. My first six months were rough – I was bullied and struggled to fit in with my peers.
During one of the regular pushing and shoving routines for my lunch money, I mustered up enough courage to yell “What’s wrong with you?! Why do you pick on me so much?!” He understood enough to reply “You stoo-pid. You sooo stoo-pid.” It was in that moment I realised that I was being bullied for something I wasn’t. “What?! I’m not stupid!!” My five foot two frame appeared to tower over this now, seemingly helpless kid. Finally, I was left alone. I knew who I was and was proud to know that I was brilliant, kind, and beautiful. I never allowed anyone to bully me again (at least in the school yard anyway).
In business, it’s just as important to know exactly what you have to offer, who you serve, and how their lives change as a result. Write down the core and heart of your business and put it up for display where you can see it every day. A lack of a clear and meaningful identity will often result in a loss of interest and passion, especially when sales are down or when life gets in the way of pushing your business to it’s full potential.
Understand your competition
As much as I’d love to deny it, my cousins, two friends and I decided to form a dance group (F.O.B’s for LYF3!) and compete in the biggest hip-hop dance competition in Tonga. It brings me great comfort knowing that the footage of our performance was destroyed in an unfortunate series of events that left the video room of the television company burnt down to a crisp (and how that happened, I promise, I have absolutely no idea).
Anyway, the five of us would get together for three to four hours a day, choreographing, watching Janet Jackson music videos for inspiration and eventually walking down to town share the ‘latest goss’ over keke and a $3 kale (curry pack)… all of which contributed to our seemingly perfect performance.
Well, the night of the competition came along and to be honest I don’t remember if we were even placed. All I can remember is how good the winning groups were, and how we could’ve, should’ve won – had we known what we were up against. We would’ve watched Janet Jackson so much more!
When you’re running your own business, the saying “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer” could never ring more true. Do your research and take note of who’s winning in your chosen industry. Consider what they’re doing well, and what their potential weaknesses might be. Compare it to what you have to offer and why your services or products are unique and worth investing in. This will keep you and your business current, motivated and true to your ultimate vision and goal.
If you want to make friends, be a friend
Through out my first two years of high school, I struggled with making and keeping good friends. No matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I fit in. Eventually I started doing my own thing rather than trying to squeeze my way into certain circles of friends.
This seemed to be working okay for me, until one day my Mum pushed me to make friends with a girl in my church who she thought was “just lovely”. The problem with this “lovely” girl was that she was my worst enemy, and everyone knew it.
Long story short, we both stepped out of our comfort zone and decided to tolerate each other, and eventually became friends. Before the end of that school term, we were inseparable. I once asked her what she felt cemented our friendship, to which she said “you just kept showing up to hang out, and after a while I realised you were always there for me”. It made me realise that all I had to do to keep a friend, was to act like one and remain supportive, rather than wandering off when I lost interest.
The same works for business. If you’re wondering why you’re unable to draw in or keep customers coming back for more, it might be time to re-evaluate a few things. How strong are your customer service skills? Are you warm and friendly, or are you rushing and uninterested with small talk? Do you respond to enquiries quickly and do you react well to constructive feedback? Customer service is a two way street – if you want your customers coming back down that street, you’re going to have to make sure the first trip was inviting, enjoyable, and valuable.
Your biggest triumphs are often hidden behind your biggest hurdles
Moving to a new country, learning a new language and making brand new friends were some of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had to face. It took more than a year to do all of those things and even then I kicked and kicked against the stream just to stay afloat. Looking back I’m quite proud of how much I learnt and grew, the friendships I eventually made and the values I gained during the five years I lived in Tonga. Despite the many difficulties I faced, I still had a few constants in my life -the support and love of my family being one of them. All of my collective experiences taught and served me as lessons for the future. The day I left I was a totally different person to who I was when I arrived. No longer as naive and immature – I left a much wiser, happier and kinder person.I also left feeling like I was the most popular girl in school (whether I was right is a different story), with a family of friends who sang the Class of 2006 graduation song (that I co-wrote) to a crowd of proud parents… a far cry from how I felt on my first day of school.
Life in Tonga taught me to appreciate what I have while working harder for the luxuries I want for myself and for my family. It taught me to be humble in all things, thankful for all things, and understanding of all things.
Although I still had and have a lot more to learn from life, I can honestly say those years shaped me and prepared me for the future.
Sometimes in business, we face challenges that we never thought we would. The people who we thought would be the most supportive are sometimes the least, money isn’t always as readily available, wells of creativity can run dry and personal tragedy can bring our dreams to an abrupt halt.
During those dark periods, it’s important to remind yourself why you started your business in the first place. Did you give up everything to follow your dreams? To make people happy, or to make a difference in your community? Or was it to make a better life for yourself, or for your family? Whatever that reason was, it was enough to give you the courage to risk everything to fulfill your dream. Use this time as a perfect opportunity for growth. Surviving those terrible experiences will only make you a better person – it can birth creativity, humility, resilience, appreciation and more determination than ever to push your business to be the best that it can be.
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