Owning business opposite of glamour people imagine

24 February 2020 - 07:30
By Thabiso Mahlape
It is unfair to burden children with the question of what they want to be when they grow up, the writer argues.
Image: 123RF It is unfair to burden children with the question of what they want to be when they grow up, the writer argues.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" If I had a penny for each time I was asked that question as a child, I might be a little richer now.

As an adult I am proud to say I haven't asked a single child this ridiculous question. Because as an adult I know not to engage children in meaningless banter about things they haven't a clue of.

As a child growing up in the 1990s in Seshego, I knew that grown-ups finish school, get a job and continue about their lives. I too would follow that trajectory, I imagined.

I went to university for a little too long - if you sit down with my dad he will tell you seven years. He says he remembers the years because it was his pockets that burned.

But at 16, turning 17, I really should not have been allowed and indeed be expected to make sound choices about the rest of my life.

Even in those difficult years, in my head the goal remained the same. Finish school, get a job, buy a car and maybe a house and live happily for the rest of my life.

Except that wasn't to be.

My publishing career completely derailed my life and today I sit here writing to you as an 'accidental' business owner. Nothing in my life, except the work experience, has prepared me for a life of being a black business owner and/or entrepreneur in post-apartheid SA.

And this is why my column did not appear in the paper last week. I was tired, stressed and feeling completely overwhelmed.

Owning a business and/or trying to change an environment within which you work is the very opposite of the glamour that people imagine.

People see articles: "Mahlape is first black publisher to."

They are proud of you, they say. They shower you with congratulations but very few ever stop to say, "How are you doing?"

I do not attempt to speak for all black entrepreneurs but I know that most of us are struggling. Not because our ideas are not valid, but because on top of very tough trading conditions, we have to fight the internal doubt that comes with being in a place you never imaged for your life. Especially when you are trying to include blackness in a place that has historically rejected it. If you are in a secure job thinking about quitting to pursue a business dream, I'd ask you to think about it very, very carefully.

And whatever you do, make sure that you can afford the lifestyle you are used to for at least a year with no income. The uncertainty of income alone is enough to kill you (usually the libido is first to suffer).

Prepare well in advance. Surround yourself with people who have your best interest at heart, professionally and personally. You will need support and decent drinking company - you will be drinking!

Set boundaries with the people in your life, even family. When you are trying to establish and run a business, there is no knock-off time. If anything, this will help to cull the friendships and relationships that aren't important to you.

If you can afford it, see a psychologist. Lastly, while starting a business seems like something everyone is doing, it is OK to be employed and have a job. Do what is comfortable for you.