They might love you. But don’t listen to them.
Once you give fear a voice, it can cripple your dreams. What happens when that voice comes from someone who loves you?
I’m a (proud) product of parents from India who, in classic superhuman immigrant fashion, turned $250 in cash and two plane tickets into a fairly successful life in the U.S. Given the struggles they went through during that process, I was raised with all types of lessons and signposts for how one should lead their life. Entrepreneurship was discouraged, creativity was misunderstood and their recommendations never strayed far from the path well-travelled. Study hard, choose a safe career, and then work harder than you studied. This left me with years of difficult conversations, as I went on to become a hip-hop artist, independent record label owner, and eventually launched my own marketing agency.
Throughout my life, my father has been an indefatigable presence, steadfast in his beliefs about hard work, persistence and traditional career paths. Our relationship was tumultuous throughout my teenage years, but smoothed out as I entered my late twenties. Our newfound closeness might be due to the fact that he donated his kidney to save my life a few years ago, but that’s a whole other story (and one that you can watch via my TED Talk). He was a consummate role model who lived every word he spoke, but to me, he lacked a certain level of imagination. Maybe that dearth was due to everything he had gone through just to get to that point, and how he couldn’t afford to be a dreamer, but it was there. Conversely, I craved the need to be artistic and inventive, and would put everything on the line in order for that to be my life’s work. We would clash about the same topics: the importance of passion, the power of art and culture, the dead end nature of traditional career paths, and the like. Luckily, I inherited his stubbornness and willpower and therefore always did what I felt in my gut, regardless of the consequences. This meant quitting a cushy consulting job after college, living off food truck burritos for years while building a business, and similar activities. My father never disparaged me for these choices, and to his credit, feigned a baseline level of supportiveness, but I could tell that it bothered him.
Throughout my early-20s, despite the success of my creative endeavors, I would regularly second guess myself. Even when I hit a homerun, like getting invited to tour and live in Tokyo for two months at the age of 22, I would preoccupy myself with thoughts of what I could’ve done better. I was too conditioned to give voice to the concerns of others. And it wasn’t just my father who weighed on me — it was friends, ex girlfriends, relatives, and whoever else wanted to join the party. I never understood why these people were so intent on telling me my ideas were wrong. Didn’t they have their own dreams they wanted to execute? Though this never stopped me from diligently pressing forward, it might’ve held me back from taking some of the larger risks that I needed to at the time.
It wasn’t until I established myself as a somewhat “successful” (depending on who you ask) entrepreneur, that I diagnosed what was going through everyone’s mind when they talked to me. By this time, I had built a life for myself, entirely sustained by my creative endeavors and had enough evidence to prove that I wasn’t living a fantasy.
The moment of clarity came during a routine discussion with my father. I was explaining to him how I planned on starting a real estate investment business, and instead of being met with encouragement or constructive feedback, I ran into the wall of his usual skepticism. “You don’t know anything about real estate,” he began, “you should slow down and think this over.” While I marinated over his reaction, it finally hit me: it wasn’t that my father thought investing was a bad idea, but rather, since he didn’t know much about real estate, he automatically assumed that I didn’t know anything either.* He was projecting his fears of the unknown onto me. Since he didn’t have the luxury of being an entrepreneur, and was wary of the unforgiving risk vs. reward calculus that usually accompanies it, he channeled his negative emotions my way. My ideas weren’t weak or underdeveloped, but since they were foreign to those around me, they automatically generated a pessimistic, knee-jerk reaction.
(Here’s me, when I really realized what this meant for me. Shoutout to Wee-Bey.)
This realization was equal parts liberating and fulfilling. It corroborated things that I knew about myself, but more importantly, gave me the additional sliver of confidence that I had been lacking for much of my early years. And I would need it, because real estate is not a game for the apprehensive. When I’m met with skepticism now, I am able to better discern if it’s coming from someone else’s fear-based views, or whether it’s actual, constructive feedback. Having someone project their fears onto you might be unfair and counterproductive, but it’s human nature.
But to characterize all fear as bad would be unfair. A certain element of fear is necessary in every endeavor, because it keeps you alert and away from complacency. It forces you to anticipate problems before they happen which is often the missing ingredient between success and failure. I characterize this as a “healthy” fear, and it feels radically different from the negativity that other people try to project on you. I intentionally inject a generous dosage of healthy fear into my daily operation — often simulating that I am down to my last dollar to create a work ethic that reflects that sense of urgency. The ability to separate the “good” fear from the bad can be the difference between a winning and losing strategy.
If you possess a truly special idea or vision, chances are most people won’t understand it. Their fear of the unknown will lead them into pressuring you to give up, try a different route or choose something “safer”. It’s in these moments that you should stay the course, recalibrate your strategy and push forward. Never let someone project their uncertainties onto you in an effort to recruit you towards their safe, predictable world. Separate fear from the actual risks and don’t let it dampen your original enthusiasm about the idea. Not only will this adversely affect your ability to execute, it will also drain your valuable time and energy, two items which are paramount when looking to launch something new. As Nasir Jones put it on “Hate Me Now”, “[People] fear what they don’t understand, hate what they can’t conquer, I guess it’s just the theory of man.” I should have listened a little bit closer.
*Since our conversation, I’ve gone onto to build a seven figure real estate portfolio. My biggest investor? Yup, you guessed it. Love you, Baba.
Questions about entrepreneurship, investing, tech, music, sneakers or whatever? Get in touch with me on Twitter/Instagram at @anihustles.