To many people who have chosen a different path, entrepreneurship may seem the epitomy of freedom and independence. However, nothing could be further from the truth. As an entrepreneur, you permanently depend on other people – their benevolence, sometimes their malevolence; their good, and sometimes their bad business sense – and, very often, on sheer luck.
I believe that, as an entrepreneur, one of the most important skills you need to train is how to deal with these dependencies. And this is – to me – where emancipation comes in.
What do I mean when I use the word “emancipation”? First and foremost, I am not referring to it in the feminist sense. I am referring to emancipation as a sense of equality and independence.
To me, emancipation is an attitude: a way of making yourself independent by putting things in perspective: calmly, rationally, but not without empathy. An educated independence will follow: and independence from other people, from certain external circumstances, from certain beliefs that have shaped one’s life in the past. This can be to do with gender, but it can just as easily be relating to other fields and relationships.
Other people and their opinions
Striving for independence from other people’s views could easily be seen as either ignorance or arrogance. However, feedback is only valuable if it is reflected upon: a random judgment that is not qualified by both the party giving the feedback and the person receiving the comment has to remain questionable. However, we are often touched – both pleasantly or unpleasantly – by spontaneous comments from other people. It is up to us to evaluate their statements, to understand their motivations, and to figure out ourselves how much value we attribute to them. It is up to us to ensure that we do not blindly accept other people’s views – and thus emancipate ourselves from their opinions.
Frames of reference
Each of us has their own grid of reference points as a result of the context in which we live our lives. This grid constantly changes: as time goes by, we add more and more reference points, making the grid richer and more complex with each new experience. At the same time, we can adjust our position within this grid as it becomes more and more refined over time.
In many cases, we do not have much influence on the experiences that add themselves to our grid; in other cases, we consciously choose to push boundaries or deepen a certain aspect of our experiences. It is up to us to decide how radically we want to move within this framework, and a high degree of emancipation will allow us to make educated choices, freeing us from the need of clinging to a certain place in our grid, and enabling us to choose our place in the world, relatively independent from external influences.
A couple of personal examples
I have a wonderful mentor, Pio, who has been giving me a lot of guidance throughout the last five years. When I decided to embark on my personal entrepreneurial journey, Pio helped me understand and tackle the issues I was encountering. He provided me with emotional support and challenging feedback, encouraging me to explore and push my boundaries. Lately, we are not speaking as often as we used to – simply because we are both extremely busy people. At the same time, I am realising that I have become extremely confident within my current frame of reference, and thus do not require as much guidance as I used to. In turn, I have volunteered to become a mentor myself (within the Berlin Geekettes mentorship programme), confident that my experiences will be valuable to other people.
My second example relates to fundraising. One commonly applied yard stick for successful entrepreneurs is their ability to raise millions at staggering valuations. If you are unwilling to join the fun and spend a lot of time pitching to VCs, you are very quickly judged to be a struggling amateur – no matter if your business actually needs those millions in the first place or not. In such cases, it might be helpful to remind yourself of all involved parties’ drivers and motivations: a VC’s frame of reference relies on successful exists driven by large investments. They are their raison d’etre and their way of making money. However if you have different priorities, there is no reason to be concerned by a judgment based on a reference system that doesn’t match your own.
Of course I am aware of the fact that I am over-simplifying some issues here, but this is, after all, not a scientific paper. It’s a personal reflection on the definition of emancipation: a conscious and reflected view of external influences, and the resulting freedom of choice.