We’re all familiar with losing track of time during this pandemic, so this five year anniversary of Relate Social Capital really snuck up on me. According to my vision board, I should be celebrating this milestone in Paris buying Louboutins, but instead I'm in my apartment in Montreal, in lockdown with a fancy cake.
When we first took this jump into entrepreneurship, the five-year mark was my internal goal post. The first few years will be hard, really hard, I told myself – but things take time so give yourself a five year runway. But here’s the thing - I was wrong. All the years were really, really hard…in fact, this time last year I was so close to throwing in the towel and giving up. I kept asking myself why I’d put myself through this? Why didn’t I take an easier route? What in the hell was I thinking? But life has a funny way of helping you out (right Alanis?), because as I sit and write this today, I am exactly where I expected to be.
We hear it all the time – an overnight success. Everyone just assumes that when someone is successful, it just happened so easily for them. This makes it really difficult for anyone else trying to carve out their own path. You expect it will be easy, you think that all of a sudden you should be in the big leagues, and when you’re not – that low is very low. I came up through that Girl Boss and Hustle phase and it nearly killed me. I thought that building your own business meant being available 24/7 and if I wasn’t working all the time, then I wasn’t a real entrepreneur. I thought I needed a perfectly curated Instagram feed, to be enrolled in as many online courses as possible, attend every Women In something networking event, and trying to get anywhere I could first. All I was doing was treading water and barely keeping my head above it.
I never set out to be an entrepreneur and truthfully, I still feel uncomfortable calling myself that…entrepreneurs are tech startups chasing angel investors, or so I thought. We essentially tripped and fell into Relate. A mentor of ours reached out to my old business partner and I to see if there was any interest in a fundraising job with Rowing Canada. One look at the job description, and it was fairly obvious they were looking for a unicorn. We talked about the idea of working together and pitched what we thought was a solution that no one would buy in to: hire us both as consultants and we’ll be your fundraising team. Much to our shock, they bought into it, and well, the rest is history.
Relate Social Capital was built on the belief that success stems from relationships and social capital - if you want to go far, go together. I’ve always looked at my life and career like that, and that is also how I am here today, five years in. I couldn’t have done this without so many incredible people looking out for me along the way and giving me a little grace. The people who took a chance on us. Who believed in us. Who opened doors for us. Friends and family who supported us, who forgave us for not always showing up the best we could. I’ve learnt so much about myself through all of this and have been pushed to the edge so many times that ‘being comfortable with being uncomfortable’ is now more so the rule than the exception. I’ve met incredible people, traveled across North America and the UK. I’ve made friends in every corner of the world based on similar passions. I’ve been in rooms and conversations I never in my wildest dreams would have thought possible. This has truly been the most incredible experience, so if it all went away tomorrow, I will be grateful because I tried.
Relate started with fundraising for a national sport federation. Even then, we weren’t quite sure what we were doing. At the time, I had been at McGill Athletics for about 3 years and had recognized that my career in philanthropy was turned on its head the second I started working in sports. As we began to peel back the layers and have more clarity on what would become to be known as Sport Philanthropy – we initially thought that either people had tried this and failed OR that simply no one had ever thought to raise money strictly for sport – we saw endless potential, but because no one was talking about it, we doubted ourselves every day. Now, five years in and after a year like 2020, I’ve never been more excited to see where sport philanthropy will take us. Sport Philanthropy simply means using sport for good, and in a year that has seen more athlete activism than ever, leagues and teams stepping up to the plate and investing in social justice, and how badly our children and communities have been affected by the loss of grassroot sport, make no mistake that using sport as a vehicle for change is just getting started!
five things i’ve learnt in five years
Since I’ve been reminiscing on our last five years, I thought why not share some of my biggest lessons learned:
1. you have to be your own biggest cheerleader + advocate:
I had to learn this lesson again and again, and I’m afraid will keep learning it. No one is going to look out for you, or advocate more for you than you. It’s so simple, yet so hard. I think this is especially counterintuitive for women – it doesn’t come natural to us to self-promote, make hard decisions, ask for what we want and deserve, and ultimately walk away from the things that do not serve us. I have let people convince me, or sway me away from thinking I’m the expert countless times, when I am in fact the expert which is exactly why you hired me! I underpriced and overworked myself. I let people claim my ideas and work as their own. I let people disrespect and take advantage of me, and worse let my Imposter Syndrome make myself small and quiet. You have to trust your gut and walk away from clients that don’t align with your values, or worse, fire those that are downright disrespectful – no amount of money is worth it, trust me.
2. be yourself - ask for forgiveness, not for permission
I learnt this one early on at McGill Athletics, but it became a way of life for me at Relate. I was considered a newbie to most in the sport world, which meant that I brought different ideas and reference points that weren’t always welcomed, so I had to troubleshoot and improvise. I tried for so long twist and bend to contort myself into someone that I simply wasn’t until I learnt to just be myself and trust that I knew what I was doing. At the end of the day, all you have is your integrity, so acting on what you know is right despite what anyone else tries to tell you is key. The world is much smaller than you think, so your reputation will always precede you - I have had people from ten years ago when I was an intern come back into my life now and I’m so grateful that I can say with full confidence I need not worry about their opinions of me, because I know I showed up then, like I show up now.
3. your mental and physical health must be a priority
This deserves its own book. As I mentioned, I got sucked into the prime of hustle culture, which sent me down a long, sad, anxious path, and I’m still here trying to find the right balance. It’s a weird feeling when your brain never turns off. It occurred to me recently that I actually have no recollection of what I used to do on my evenings and weekends before I started Relate, and that’s a really bad sign. This pandemic has allowed me to get back to my creative side, which sparked something inside of me and brought me so much joy. I used to draw and paint and design, and it was so freeing to be able to get back into that. I also started to take ‘no tech’ vacations, where I let myself be 100% inaccessible for a few days so that I could give my brain a break…you really do learn a lot about yourself when you sit in silence. In September of 2018, I developed anxiety, and that really flipped my world upside down. Everything changed – I lost my dog, my business partner, money and a relationship – and as a result, I would overthink everything. A client noticed that something was up and that sent me into a spiral. I’d be awake at night obsessing over something so meaningless yet it carried the weight of the world. I gained weight, developed health problems, lost all confidence in myself and ultimately questioned why I ever took the leap into entrepreneurship. It was bad, but then I got better. I had to learn to set boundaries for myself. I built a morning routine that brings me so much joy each and every single day. I’m still very much a work in progress when it comes to my mental and physical health, but it’s something I try to work at each and every day because without it, I’d have nothing.
4. say yes and figure it out later
I’m here to confirm that Imposter Syndrome is real. I remember having a conversation with a student-athlete in my office at McGill who was panicked about their career choices and what their next step was. I felt for him and that worry I knew all too well. I said to him ‘Hey look, my name is on the door and I’m about to quit a cushy university job to jump in to entrepreneurship and I STILL have no idea what I’m really doing, but if you trust your gut and say yes, it’ll work itself out’. I keep a copy of our second “proposal” that we did for a client just to keep me humble – it was so awful, we had no idea what we were doing, but we were trying. There’s not a chance we would have gotten where we are today had we not kept getting ourselves into new and intimidating situations – you have to fail to learn. I look back on our strategic plans and 5-year goals for Relate and I am proud to say that we didn’t accomplish some of them – for example, we wanted to pursue an international agency model and have lots of staff, with working on opening more offices. That is absolutely the opposite of where we want to be now, mostly because we were pursuing what we thought we should be, not what we wanted to be. It’s ok to change course, it’s ok to think you want something and go down that path only to realize it’s not for you, it’s all part of the learning process!
5. slow down and smell the roses
Today is a perfect example of how I am still learning how to do this. Hitting 5 years was a huge goal of mine, and I barely even realized it was approaching or gave myself much time to savour it. Because it’s Covid and we’re even on a curfew in Quebec, I treated myself to a decadent cake because why not? I think oftentimes its easy to get so caught up in keeping your head above water, that you miss the things that are right in front of you. There have been so many instances where I have to stop myself and say ‘Hey! You did this! Or hey! Look at where you are and what you’ve done and who you’ve met and where you’ve gone’. Being able to go with the flow is really important as an entrepreneur, but it’s just as important to ensure that you slow yourself down to recognize your accomplishments and celebrate your wins. You really have to ask yourself what you’re doing this all for if you’re not going to ensure that you savour all the good stuff.
So, here's to another five years of sport philanthropy, lessons learned and continued growth!