At the tender age of 7, my swimming coach attempted to drown me.
Growing up in Nigeria, a full-sized swimming pool was very hard to find. So it was a pleasant surprise when I discovered that my neighbors from across the street had an actual pool. Unfortunately, my excitement was quickly dampened by a lingering reality, “I couldn’t swim.” While the other kids jumped and splashed around the pool, I remained rooted in the shallow end engulfed in a resplendent glow. A glow that emanated from the numerous orange colored swimming aids that prevented me from drowning in the shallow end! For years I sat at the edge of the pool wondering what it would feel like to swim unassisted in the deep end…until one summer I met Coach Mike.
Coach was a rocks answer to floating. He was what I needed to overcome my fear of the deep end. Coach’s promise was that he would have me swimming laps around the pool by the end of summer. The next several weeks would prove to be grueling as I was subjected to a strict regimen of numbing exercises; from the wall-paddling to the free-style “float assisted” glide. Soon I became an expert, conditioned to swim effortlessly in the shallow end without any assistance.
After weeks of intense training, it came time for us to test our skills in the deep end. Now this was the true test of swimmers. It was what separated the rocks from the feathers. All we had to do was dive into the deep end with floaters and swim across the face of the pool to the opposite end. One by one, each kid splashed, wriggled and paddled their way to the target destination. Every kid, except me. Overcome by fear, I stayed planted to the edge of the pool. The coach employed different strategies to get me to jump. He tried encouraging me, but that didn’t work. He even tried screaming at me, but the more he yelled, the more terrified I became. By this time the entire pool area had come to a quiet standstill, everyone had stopped swimming. The resulting silence was suddenly disrupted by a loud scream and subsequent splash. That was the sound of me being flung several feet across the pool, landing awkwardly in the now still water…I struggled frantically to stay afloat, kicking and paddling with the conviction of a man doomed to a bitter fate. In all the chaos I could hear the muffled sounds of bodies splashing around as they dived to rescue me. But in my state of confusion and panic, I kept paddling frantically and then suddenly I stopped struggling and just swam…I could swim!
Several years later, I found myself in a similar predicament. As I stared down the deep end of life, yearning to jump in. But this time, I was stuck in the shallow end of corporate America, working a 9 to 5 routine job. I had a passion trapped inside of me, a strong desire to impact my community through public speaking and writing. Instead I was stuck on the edge of life crippled by my inability to come up with a business plan. I had heard the business-plan-advice everywhere, from financial advisors to legal practitioners…
“You need a business plan to start a business”
“A business plan is a must if your business is to stay afloat”
So for years, I tried working on a business plan, but this turned out to be quite an impossible task. The average business plan consisted of at least thirty pages and I struggled vehemently to get past the first two pages. The plan required too much information. You needed a mission statement, a budget, a five year vision, a business name and much more.
My inability to get past the first two pages of my business plan inadvertently stalled my business dream. And would have killed it completely, if it weren’t for a simple phone conversation…I needed price-quotes for a website to complete the budget section of my never-ending business plan. So I called upon the only web developer I knew, my older brother. To create a website I was informed I would need at least $1000! I was shocked but intrigued at the prospects of having a website created.
“But I don’t have a business name and my plan is not complete” I blurted out to my brother. The response over the phone was an almost one minute long bout of uncontrollable laughter.
“Business plan?” my brother stuttered incredulously.
“You don’t need a business plan to build a website and surely you don’t need a business plan to start your business.”
But everyone said you needed a business plan. Even the lawyer at the entrepreneurship forum echoed the needs of a business plan. But then I remembered she started her law business only because she got laid off! But what about Kamil? He had written up to 3 business plans, all of which were brilliant. However, he still did not have a business. He had three concrete proposals, but no business. At that moment, I realized that contrary to common knowledge, my business plan was actually an obstacle that had prevented me from starting my dreams.
The next morning, I took a leap of faith and mailed out a $250 check as a down payment to begin work on a website. I didn’t have a business name; neither did I have mission statement. But with $250 invested in a website, my mind suddenly became productive. And within a week I had come up with two different business names, a mission statement and a one page biography. An act that led to the creation of Ofili Speaks Inc and a business. A business that has seen me travel all over America and potentially author a book. Accomplishments that were never captured on the pages of a business plans.
As I write today I reflect deeply on the instance I made the decision to start. That moment allowed me to begin a journey. A journey marked by tears, laughter, disappointments and occasional triumphs. But most importantly, a moment that enabled me to struggle but swim against the harsh currents of business entrepreneurship. After I was forced into the pool, I realized that I had always possessed the potential to swim. But yet I was stuck at the edge, paralyzed by fear and weakened by excuses.
Today’s business dreams are trapped, in the same way, on the edges of great minds like yours. Your dreams are waiting to leap unto a website, a brochure, a store…but sadly they lie dormant, waiting for the perfect set of circumstances to bring them to life. Unfortunately, those circumstances often come in the form of layoff’s or financial difficulties. Your dream is too precious to be imprisoned by a metaphorical business plan. Start your dream, discover your potential and draft your business plan as you swim along.
Source by Okechukwu Ofili