What does ‘breaking barriers’ really mean for founders?

People love talking about “breaking barriers” nowadays. I’ve joined many panels and workshops that discussed “breaking barriers” around some sort of issue. But what does that really mean? Who’s putting up these barriers and what does breaking those barriers look like?

I’m guessing, if people had a choice, they’re not really interested in hearing about the gritty details of going through “breaking these barriers”. No one wants a sob story of what you’ve done to get here. People are more interested in hearing a glossed-over, likely glamorized, and overly watered down version of the story.

Every single conversation I had when I launched a business was breaking barriers. Why? Because what we were doing goes against the norm of the industry, as well as the landscape. Creating and launching a physical innovation centre that says, hey: we’re actually going to be inclusive, and welcome everyone as they are, with whatever business idea / stage they’re at, was and still is to some extent breaking many barriers in this sector.

By the sheer thought of existing and sharing your work, ideas, and business, you’re likely changing the formation of some sort of landscape that’s not working at the moment. When others feel the vibrations of your work, and the impact it will have, they will have lots of feelings. Some will want to support, others and sadly the majority, will feel a sense of inferiority as a result of awe, and even envy that you are the one doing this work. Yes, it could get personal very quickly.

As a result, people will work to either make your life harder, or just not be willing to help.

There’s almost a fire that builds up inside of you when you’re reminded of all the hardships that you’ve faced, and the hurdles you’ve overcome to get to where you want to be. A fire in you that keeps driving you forward, making you more alert than ever, and 100% focused on your goal.

What fuels this fire is often the drive to prove all of those who’ve doubted you that they were wrong to doubt you. But when I think about it, I don’t remember half of these people on a daily basis. They’re not part of my reality.

The drive comes from truly believing in the work, continuing to break the status quo, making change, and transforming things yourself, your work, and things around you for the better. If you’re doing something so powerful that you find people trying to stop or discourage you from doing, you know you’re onto something. And you must keep going.

My partner and I were discussing some of the early folks we’ve reached out to for partnerships, and support early in the launch of Parkdale Centre. The common thread in most of those folks’ interaction, in fact, I would say in 95% of them, is the feeling they give you when you meet with them.

One of my favourite Dr. Maya Angelou quotes is always a great reminder for me:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

Those folks, the ones who did not believe, in their presence, I was always made to feel small, insignificant, what I did was not going to work, and it’s not enough to compete with what’s out there.

Like Angelou, I’ll never forget how they made me feel, and as she also maintains:

“when someone shows you who they are, believe them”.

Maya Angelou

Don’t try to doubt your gut feelings, gaslight yourself and push those thoughts away. They’re truly showing you who they are if you try to maintain a relationship with them and what that’ll be like if you bring them on for the rest of your journey.

A few things I will always remember and hope founders, especially women founders like myself, to take away:

  • Those who want to help, will help without conditionals. If their support is more about proving yourself and your work to them, this relationship is based on conditionals, and lack of equitable dynamic. They’re not truly seeing you as an equal, they’re seeing you as someone that still has to work hard to gain their “support” and backing. Real supporters and advocates will work to eliminate these barriers, and see how “they” could support and advocate within your and their capacity.
  • Advocates and supporters will not tear your ideas down. They’ll provide constructive feedback and build on what you’re already building, but in now way shape or form will they say things like: “this will not work” “Other people have done this already” “and have you thought about building an entirely different business?” The last one is a hyperbole, but they will often make suggestions that will steer in you in a completely different direction than the one you aim to go.
  • Real supporters will not ghost you or play hard to get. I don’t know if this is a thing, but folks who will play hard to get (from a business perspective), not returning emails, cancelling or rescheduling constantly (I would say more than 3 times is my limit), and always dodging truly helping you, do not want to help and will not be involved in the way you hope them to be. Invest your time and energy on building relationships with people who will make the time, or at least show the effort that they care. Busy schedules with highly busy folks is totally normal, but sometimes, our gut can tell us when someone might be trying to ghost us. And that’s when we need to listen to your gut feelings and stop trying.

Despite all of the above, and whatever comes your way, one of the most important things that founders and entrepreneurs have to remember is to not let your confidence and self-esteem be swayed by the obstacles and barriers others put in your way intentionally or unintentionally.

It’s vital for our self-worth to remember that ultimately, we have to make the best decisions that make sense for ourselves and the people in our lives. Those who are on the outside, will not understand the context of your situation, your life, and how long you’ve thought of your plan, done your research, and the road you took to get here. And they don’t have to. Those who believe in us, often don’t need much convincing.

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