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3 Tips For Surviving a Startup (and Cancer)

Paige Davis is one of the co-founders of BlueAvocado, the company that makes those reusable shopping and lunch bags you’re probably crazy about. Her newest venture is Soul Sparks, a destination for anyone interested in meditation and mindfulness. Paige knew she’d learned a lot through her business ventures, but then she found that the lessons from launching a startup resonated at a most unexpected time: when she was diagnosed with cancer. In today’s Design Your Life column, this Austinite, meditation teacher and Huffington Post blogger talks about how life lessons and business lessons can be closely intertwined and passes along some wisdom you can use in any challenge you face.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for most of my life. I was that kid in the neighborhood with a lemonade stand and my trademark Rice Krispies treats as that extra something special to lure customers in. Very early on, I fell in love with the concept of having an idea and bringing it to fruition.

My career started at the height of the dot-com boom in the Bay Area, where I worked for several startups. Because of my passion for health and wellness, I then moved to Texas and opened a Pilates studio. After five years of running a successful studio with two amazing business partners, I realized I was more of an entrepreneur than a teacher, and so I exited the studio to sow my entrepreneurial roots … again.

No amount of preparation can prepare you for the unpredictable challenges that will constantly present themselves, so it is important to have values and vision that ground you.

I returned to the Bay Area to consult in the social impact space. San Francisco had just banned plastic bags. My sister, a good friend and I saw this as a trend that was taking hold nationwide. As a result, BlueAvocado was born and became one of the first social impact brands in Austin, Texas. We created BlueAvocado with the goal of making it easy and fun to maker greener choices.

With each of these ventures I’ve gained valuable lessons on both what to do and what not to do. I’ve learned to embrace my strengths, and surrendered to my weaknesses. I learned that the things I am the most passionate about will always come calling to me, even when I think I’ve forgotten them. I learned I’m a problem solver and a good listener, but not so good with spreadsheets. I learned I could use a bit more confidence in expressing my voice. And I learned the importance of taking pause.

On Valentine’s Day 2013, all of these lessons and insights came crashing together in a tumultuous wave of reality when I learned I had breast cancer. While there are many things I could share about that journey — including the powerful role that meditation and mindfulness played — I realize that I tapped into my entrepreneurial toolkit to bring focus, discernment and clarity during a time when so much was unknown.

My cancer diagnosis was an opportunity to put into the practice the many lessons I had learned through my various ventures. In many ways, this was the ultimate startup environment requiring a vision, team and trusting oneself. Here’s how I did it:

1) Create a vision and a plan

The road of an entrepreneur is a bumpy one. No amount of preparation can prepare you for the unpredictable challenges that will constantly present themselves, so it is important to have values and vision that ground you. With BlueAvocado our first business plan was over 50 pages. While some things have stuck, many others have shifted as we embraced the nimbleness required as a striving startup. But the guiding vision of that plan still holds true.

The same was true when I was diagnosed. I created some guiding principles that were important to me as I ventured on this journey. One of those principles was that this would be a love journey. I preferred to stay away from terms like “fight” and “battle” or referring to treatments as “poison.” Was it naive? Perhaps. And let me be clear, there were times of extreme hardship that made the “love journey” seem ridiculous. But ultimately it set the tone for a very meaningful and transformational journey that bestowed gifts that I will be forever grateful for.

So hold that feeling of what you see as the end goal, and then prepare yourself to be flexible and trust in something bigger than you can imagine.

2) Build a powerful team

When we started BlueAvocado, we recruited an amazing team of advisers to fill gaps in our knowledge and experience. But there had to be synergy with whomever we aligned with, mutual respect and belief in our vision. The same existed for my diagnosis. There were many medical professionals whom I simply did not feel comfortable with. Either their approach was too harsh, or I didn’t feel comfortable asking questions. I ultimately connected with a medical team I trusted and believed in that was collaborative, supportive and nurturing — all things that aligned with my treatment vision.

So recognize your strengths and be clear on where you could use expertise. Surround yourself by the support that makes sense for you and your startup’s vision.

3) Be your own advocate and trust your inner voice.

When starting a company, you are the expert. So as much as you need to seek counsel from others, YOU ultimately are driving the bus and need to feel empowered by the decisions you are making.  This requires due diligence so you feel informed when ultimately making the final decision.

With my cancer, I had to get over being scared to ask questions or feeling like I was hurting someone’s feeling by seeking a second opinion. I was making life-altering decisions about my health and body, and it was important for me to feel empowered by the information vs. feeling like I was being told what to do. It was the perfect breeding ground for building my confidence and finding my voice.

While the road of a startup can be an unpredictable one, just like life, the opportunities for personal and professional growth will be the greatest gift on the journey if we can be open to receiving them.

Keep up with Paige’s ventures: Blue Avocado is on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. And you can find Soul Sparks on those same networks.

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