October 02, 2019

 

Something that has become increasingly important to me as a solo-founder is establishing a sense of belonging during my work hours.  It can get pretty lonely when you are faced with the challenges of starting a business and you are the ultimate decision-maker.  Granted, I have excellent mentors, advisers, coaches, and team members but you often are pushed to make a final call that could be transformational or detrimental to your business and that can be nerve-wracking.  That's what it means to be the CEO and founder of a growing company.  I’ve found that re-thinking ‘belonging’ has been instrumental.  While my business is too young to have a corporate board, it’s never too early to set up a bunch of ‘board-like’ relationships with various groups of people.

For instance, about 6 years ago, I started a Lean In group with 9 awesome women each from different industries.  We talked about everything from personal to professional trials and tribulations and it was a powerful form of peer mentorship.  Several members of the group were not familiar with one another but we resolved to share openly in order to propel each other. This was my first foray into leveraging the power of committed groups. 

Photo:  Me and some of my Lean In sisters.

I recently moved to California (well it’s almost been 2 years but it still feels new) and didn’t have any friends when I got here.  Yes, I have a husband and three kids (ages 9, 7, and 5) but there is nothing like being in a community of women.  Fortunately for me, my alma mater was starting an alumnae circles program quite similar to the one I had started.  Didn't take me long to sign up and it’s been such an awesome opportunity for me to make new friends.  Sometimes you want to moan about how hard it is to be a female founder or to fundraise or whatever and shared experiences make for empathetic ones.  It’s been great for me to plug into a group of women who are focused on “leveling up” for themselves and supporting each other along the way.  Missy (in the photo below) is a fellow solo-entrepreneur in the group and it’s been really powerful having someone to talk to about the challenges and quick hacks of early stage startup life.

 

Another community that I’m grateful to be a part of is the wonderful Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center as a Milestone Maker.  Please check them out as it’s been a great experience for me so far.  The community here is both female and male and we are all entrepreneurs in varying degrees of startup life.  What unifies us is our desire to create sustainable value in the world (no matter how big or small) through business. Being able to openly share your wins and “Ls” is a key ingredient to feeling a sense of belonging when you don’t have the budget for a 30 person team and a swanky WeWork office!  That's the cohort of amazing business leaders that I am proud to be a part of in the photo below.

 

These are some of my belonging hacks that help me survive the rigors of leading my company and living a full life beyond work.  They have worked for me.  Please let me know how you deal with belonging issues in the workplace in the comments below.

Sincerely,

Aisha

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