If one read’s my profile on Medium, Linkedin, Facebook — You read my title as Zentrepreneur: A word that I have been using for the past few years.
Some people scorn at it, some love it. To me though, it is not a title, instead it symbolizes the work I do, as well as the approach I take, but most importantly, it also explains why.
Titles and what they do for us
As a young teenager, I always felt a certain internal egoistic tug whenever I would read a bio that had ‘founder’ listed in the accomplishments. It felt like a title I could never hold, being an Indian woman. Despite that, I secretly brewed the desire to have that in my profile someday. To me, it meant I had made it. I was successful. I was accomplished. With that title under my belt — I was someone who had value.
By and by, I accumulated experience working in multiple industries and eventually also founded a few organizations. In my leadership, I realized how much baggage some of those titles held. Ego, expectations, walls, etc. and this baggage weighed on not only the bearer but also the people we lead.
While building my life’s work in an intentional collective of impact facilitators I really really badly did not want anything to do with that baggage. I had enough from my own life weighing me down anyway. So slowly and steadily that initial internal egoistic tug to be a ‘founder’ paled to the extent that it made room for a very important insight. That insight led me to call myself a ‘Zentrepreneur’.
Who is a founder, really?
That title is a way of saying that I have an idea that I am going to use my sweat, blood, and tears to manifest in the world. Do we really ‘found’ ideas, movements, change or are they not the chaotic and beautiful mashup of an interesting persons’ life and determined work. ‘Founder’ does not nearly do justice to that life-defining act of putting oneself out there and creating something from nothing.
And it does not stop there, once you become successful it’s so easy to become the object of hate, envy; and get burdened with leading without being loved or even respected. I wonder how many of us despise our bosses at the same time covet that position with all our being. How hard it must be to truly show up as a leader, heck as a person when everyone you are leading thinks they can do it better.
These wonderings and my incessant need to be intentional led to me really think what founding a company really meant to me?
What is a company? How does one build it? Is my company about building a corporate ladder for people to pine titles? Do I want my people to care about designations? What do I want people to care about?
Nay. My company is not even a company. It is a collective. I don’t want to have ladders, but rather build bridges to help each other thrive. I want people to care about each other and not compete with each other.
So in order to do this, I need to know, well me. I need to know my fears, my weaknesses, my perceptions and everything else that comes with being a person who as led a perfectly imperfect life like most of us. Oh yeah, and as any Silicon Valley workshop on entrepreneurship will tell you I also need to know the weaknesses and flaws of my ideas too. But we know that already.
So it’s about the journey and the process — this entrepreneurship thing
From the moment you decide to build a company (in my case a collective; a structure so inherently opposing the existing paradigm) to every single day after that, it is inherently a painful and equally rewarding personal journey of failing and learning, persisting, trying, not knowing, of exhilaration. It is a constant revisioning of the self, of the self’s thoughts and ideas and putting it out into the world again and again.
There are two challenges in that — Oneself and the World.
Oneself: We are all beautifully broken people seeking validation and belonging. Those needs take the shape of the many bids we make of ourselves, our family, spouses, bosses, colleagues, pets, shopping lists and even our business ventures. It’s really simple, how complicated we are and we simply don’t remember it most of the time.
As if the voice in our heads was not enough — The world, decides to act like a mirror and remind us, broken beings (especially so as women and minorities) that we are in fact broken, less than, flawed, wrong, ugly or undeserving, incapable.
It is hard being a person in today’s world where everyone with thumbs can have an opinion and share it. And then being a person that is also building something new is scary. And to be successful, however you define it for yourself, takes brutal honesty. It takes introspection to the deepest subconscious of why and how we do things as well as reflections of our external experiences. And this approach of holding the mirror ourselves over our own being and constantly learning and unlearning is so akin to the training what many ‘Zen’ monks undertake. If you think about it, it is a deeply spiritual endeavor, this entrepreneurship thing. We all know fail fast, fail forward, fail cheap, fail often. But to fail and really learn from it, I need to know why I failed, how much of it was because of me and because of external factors, my idea, it’s business model, partners etc.
Therefore to me, entrepreneurship is a spiritual practice. And since I cannot not create and manifest my ideas I cannot not find the ‘zen’ in it.
So world, I am a Zentrepreneur, intentionally building my life’s work at The Social Innovation Collective with love. I call myself that to reminds myself of the work I do and why. To also not get my sense of worth from anything but within me, to drop the baggage of titles, to bridge connection and reach my community as a person first, leader second. Because by just having an idea and starting to build it does not mean I have succeeded. The accomplishment is in the process, in the journey. Because my spiritual pursuit does not limit itself to the 10-minute meditations but seeps into everything I do, I hope.
GOING META: Try typing Zentrepreneur into Evernote, messenger or any other autocorrect enabled device. You may experience the symbolic wrath of a broken system, refusing to acknowledge or even recognize novelty. Now imagine that happening over 25 times as I wrote this article on Evernote. I love when lessons get meta like this. What a beautiful metaphor for life! Getting to ‘zen’ is always a persistent war act stemming from love as self-defense, sometimes it takes 25 attempts.
My definition of a Zentrepreneur is a person who is building their lives work while attempting to thrive and help others thrive as well. Tell me if you are one!
Read more about The Social Innovation Collective here.