There’s a glamorization that comes with being an entrepreneur.
I’d liken it to the life of a professional athlete, minus the small perks like million-dollar-endorsement deals and ESPN shout-outs. For those cheering you on or admiring you from afar, there’s a belief that “You have it all.” And as much as you try to keep up appearances, to keep your fans believing, deep down you know that every day tips on the edge of loss: loss of time, cash, credit lines, customers, and even relationships.
I have woken up to loss every day for the last three months after a breakup with my former fiancé and former business partner. Lazarus, the food truck we started together, has sat in a parking lot for the last three months because we cannot come to an agreement on ownership. It’s as if I’ve torn my ACL and I have to sit out for a season.
But thank the universe for the gift of the season of summer—when it’s totally OK to take a break, a road trip, or a vacation. So, my little sister and I booked a five-day stay in Isla Mujeres, Mexico just off the coast of Cancun (think all-inclusive food and beverages, turquoise water, powdery white sand), and it was the best thing I could have done—not only for myself, but also for my business.
Here’s what I learned and gained by taking a little time out of the game.
I Actually Relaxed
Customers have been constantly sending emails, tweets, and Facebook messages asking about the truck’s location and whether we cater for baby showers and whimsical weddings. And each time I sit down to reply, I can’t stomach the idea of typing, “We’re temporarily closed for business.” I don’t know how long temporarily might be, and I’m never sure if “closed” is the right word to use.
Along with the semantics of the truck’s operation status, I’ve been stressed and obsessed over the loss of profits, the customers who are missing their fried chicken wings and red velvet waffles, and whether Lazarus is lonely in the parking lot. Add a new (amazing but demanding) job into the mix, and my body has been screaming for relief.
Though I knew I needed a vacation, I didn’t realize how stressed I was until an afternoon massage. Eighty percent of the hour-long session was spent kneading the knots of stress out of my shoulders and back. The woman kept pointing to my back and saying, “Tight. Relax more.”
After that, as I sipped my cucumber water (infused with tequila) on the beach, I actually did feel relaxed, and I was reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou: “Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future… a day in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.”
For a few minutes, I stopped thinking about the future of the food truck. I stopped thinking about whether I would be a single black female, addicted to retail forever (thanks for this line, Kanye West). And I stopped thinking about my plan for working off the unlimited resort French fries.
Am I terrified of losing the truck? Absolutely. But in that moment, I couldn’t continue to let it consume my day-to-day. I had been waking up every morning feeling like a failure and spending my days neglecting the CEO of my life: me. Relaxing allowed me to “separate the past from the future,” redirect my entrepreneurship journey, and imagine the possibilities instead of hunting for the solutions that aren’t clear yet.
I Got Inspired by Local Entrepreneurs
Isla Mujeres is on the coast of Cancun, so we took a 20-minute ferry across the Caribbean Sea to get there. The Island is tourist-friendly (our high school-level Spanish got us to the beach and to cerveza), but not “Americanized”—you won’t find a franchised “neighborhood” bar or super store centers.
Upon exiting the ferry, two men with red carts asked if they could carry our luggage to the hotel. I tried to pronounce our hotel with a Spanish dialect but he laughed and said, “Don’t worry señorita. Follow me.”
As we followed him, we found that the island didn’t have many cars—the majority of the population relied on scooters and golf carts. So, if you get off the ferry with groceries, luggage, or anything else that’s inconvenient to carry, these basic red carts would tote your merchandise for less than three dollars. The men saw a need and met it in a simple way.
Then, we headed to a seafood restaurant my sister found on Yelp that was known for serving the best fried snapper on the island. Seating was limited but directly on the beach; the cook washed dishes outside on a concrete slab in front of us; and the staff didn’t take debit or credit cards. Like the men with the red carts, they kept their business model simple, met a need, and had a top-notch product (according to the locals and Yelp).
Both of these experiences brought me back to the first year of my own business, when we had a larger menu and tried to attend every event in Tallahassee. We not only lost money, but we overextended ourselves and overpromised customers. We quickly realized—as I was reminded on Isla Mujeres—that keeping it simple and focusing on what you do best is what matters.
These businesses weren’t using Square or sending tweets about specials for the day or encouraging customers to Instagram their meals. Without business loans, they crafted modes of transportation for goods and created makeshift dishwashers where they could. They were focused on their offerings and on making a living for themselves and their families.
In the glamorization of entrepreneurship, I often get caught up with the appearance of making it happen instead of keeping it simple. And as I move forward, it’s another lesson I’ll attempt to stick to.
I Reconnected With My Reason for Starting a Business
Our last day in Cancun, we woke up at 5 AM to tour Tulum, Mayan ruins that once served as a major port to Cuba. It was surreal walking through the passageways and following the steps of Mayans that lived in the city of Zama 800 years ago. Though the buildings are now uninhabitable, they still stand near the Caribbean Sea as a testament to their legacy.
Seeing this ancient legacy reminded me of the reason I wanted to start a business in the first place. Creating a legacy, something that I can pass down to my children and grandchildren, is important to me. As an African-American woman, I connected with entrepreneurship because I understood that it was the cornerstone for fledgling black communities after American slavery. These newly emancipated men and women took their trades and opened businesses that later funded schools and colleges for people of color. This was only 100 years ago, and the result of their hard work is still pressing on.
So as an entrepreneur, I want people to remember the impact I have on the community, not my profit margins. To have a Michael Jordan-esque legacy is wonderful; but to have a legacy that’s filled with support I give to education, food justice initiatives, and entrepreneurship programs for urban and rural communities? That would be a legacy worth honoring 800 years from now.
It’s funny that I needed these ancient ruins to remind me of my goals, but I also can’t think of a better cue. I let out a deep sigh on the cliffs of Tulum, with a deep hope that everything I was worried about would work out.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for nearly three years, and I’ve learned lots of lessons along the way. But I think this one—that I need a break sometimes—is by far the most important. And I’d encourage all entrepreneurs to do the same. It doesn’t have to be on Isla Mujeres (though you should totally go there)—what matters is that you get away to relax and come back driven to continue building your legacy.