This biographic chapter was developed for Linda Speldewinde-one of Sri Lanka’s best known female entrepreneurs. When Linda was invited to contribute a biographic chapter to the entrepreneur’s handbook ‘How to Start Up a Company and Not Ruin Your Life’ by ©2018 Robert Sager & Neville Gaunt, she approached us to write this piece. The writer’s role here was to maintain the essence of her ideas and articulate them in an engaging manner that maintains the spirit of the client by using the writer’s storytelling skills. It was also the writer’s role to maintain a storyline that begins with a conflict or challenge, culminating to a pivot point followed by a resolution and finally, a conclusion; this was a critical parameter set by the book publishers. The following are excerpts from the full text.
It was 2015, and I was at where everybody thought to be the height of my career. I had launched several successful businesses—a progressive design school that was becoming a global voice for creative innovation from South Asia, a brand that connected artisans and contemporary design talent, and a fashion e-commerce portal that became an international selling platform for craft, design and emerging brands alike. My latest brainchild, and biggest undertaking yet—the Colombo Innovation Tower—was being discussed with key stakeholders. It was an exciting time. I was working with an inspiring team that went from rural craft communities, business CEOs, entrepreneurs and designers to academics. At macro level—I was on my way to working with the government and the business world to influence creative industries’ policy making in Sri Lanka. I was constantly surrounded with creativity, inspiring people, radical young minds, innovation and a never ending source of positivity that came from all this. In society’s eyes, I have set everything up, aced them, and was basking in the glory it all. I myself begun to wonder if I’ve reached my peak, and whether this was it. I was happy, healthy, comfortable and looking forward to tomorrow.
And just then, as unpredictably as only the current of life could do, my journey was sent spinning in an uncontrollable direction. My support, my guide, my life mentor, my matriarch, my Granny, died. She was 80, I was 42, and it shook me up to my very core. It made me question the meaning of everything. I wondered why we did anything at all, if at the end, it only came to death. I thought my businesses made a better life for people—but, what did it matter if they all just died? I thought the brands I built empowered the human potential—but I wondered what that meant, if it was only for a few short mortal years of time spent on earth. I kept asking ‘is this it, really?’ and I had no answers. Just when everyone thought I had made it to the top, I was lost.
Ask and you shall receive
What I found there was an amazing teacher who helped me identify what I was looking for. He helped me reach a deep reflective mode, which led me to take a good look at myself. I saw me for who I was—the flaws, the fears, the strengths, the superpowers, the weaknesses, the good, the bad, the ugly…the whole thing. I was able to take a deep look into my life, and how it led me to where I was today. I was able to reflect on what made me that way; and who shaped me. For the first time in life, I understood how having no strong male role models, I was raised by two strong women. With my mother, it was Granny who took on the role of a powerful matriarch in my life. My teacher set me on a path of discovery that got me to explore how this influenced me, and the void I’ve felt since Granny’s passing. It was just a hunch that I had, which he encouraged—like a faint little light in the dark. I started following it. Again, being an entrepreneur, it felt familiar to do this. It was easy for me to put my life on hold and follow a hunch, for the marginal possibility that it could lead me somewhere incredible.
All this realignment was over one year’s work. Now that it is in place, I feel I’m really answering my calling. Our work is now geared fully towards creating positive and meaningful impact through design driven innovation, and structured in a way that our processes, products and knowledge places a major focus on strengthening women. Right now, I’m travelling the world, taking this work beyond Sri Lanka and South Asia, and forming new networks with like-minded women, men and organisations to broaden our chain of strength and encouragement.
One of the biggest lessons I learnt from this experience is that you should never grow complacent nor discouraged by society’s measures of success—you should have your own measure, and until your gut tells you that you’ve got there, you haven’t got anywhere. Keep searching, keep moving.
The next lesson is that an entrepreneur should take challenges as opportunities for growth. I could have just gone for some therapy, buried the voice that was telling me something is missing, and kept going on. But, the fact that I chose to take on that challenge and let it torment me, drag me to depths and push me to dig deeper is what really got me to find what I was looking for. Go for that challenge, go for it wholeheartedly and let it break you, because it will also make you.
And finally, if you’re an entrepreneur starting something new, remember that turbulence is part of the game; and confusion is part of the game. Whether you like it or not, these are rites of passage for every entrepreneur. Don’t be afraid of the scale of your struggle, your confusion, or the turbulence. Now I’ve done this enough times to know in absolute certainty that the more you struggle, the more you’re faced with confusion and turbulence, when you come out on the other side, what you have will be phenomenal. Go for that, go for the gold—and nothing less.