The Bliss of Failure – Awakening to Purpose
By Katleho Tsoku
Oprah Winfrey once said “The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are. What I know for sure however, is that the real privilege is getting to use who you are to elevate the higher good of everyone else.” For me, it took the closure of my restaurant, Bliss and a couple of years of introspection to fully grasp that I am here to use my passions and talents to serve.
In 2009, I decided my life needed a revamp professionally. I had this deep yearning to do more with my life, I just didn’t know what. On a random Saturday, I found myself buying my first copy of Destiny Magazine. The first page it opened to was a quote that read “The secret to life is to follow your BLISS.”
That quote was the first brick laid in my foundation for entrepreneurial pursuits. In that moment, it made sense that I needed to follow my BLISS. And my BLISS was answering my entrepreneurial calling.
I put in my resignation letter at work. Diving into the unknown was scary, but somehow passion surpassed fear.
I did all that was necessary - registering my business, scouting for locations, sourcing consultants etc. But I hit a brick wall when it came to finding funding. Banks were not an option; I was 24 years old with no collateral, so I was not a suitable candidate for a loan. I approached every agency that professed to help young entrepreneurs and received either an automated response saying “we are out of funds for the year” or a straight “No, we don’t fund restaurants.”
So I’d done all this work done and had no capital. I spoke to my mom who said she would help me with what she had in the hope that as the business grew, we would be able to attract more funding. Knowing this was my mom’s hard earned money, I was even more determined to make it work. Hard-earned money that my mother, who believed in my dream and me, was willing to risk. I did not take this lightly.
October 2010, at the age of 25, I opened Bliss, a tapas and cocktail bar. I was on cloud nine! Here’s this baby of mine that started off as an idea that was now tangible. I could eat the food at Bliss, drink the cocktails at Bliss and talk to the customers at Bliss.
There is nothing comparable to the joy of realising a dream. Starting something from nothing; that is the beauty of entrepreneurship.
Weeks and months went by and that ‘honeymoon stage’ soon ended. Now I was running out of capital. The business was picking up slowly, but I had to pay staff and rent and I had to buy stock whether we had 100 customers or one. I was now face-to-face with the reality of being an entrepreneur. The reality of realising a dream and having the soul of the world test you.
I needed bums on restaurant seats; it was the only way bills would be paid. Every time I would vent to a customer, friend or family, I was told “give it time”. While indeed time was what was needed, time went hand in hand with money and that was something I did not have.
People would tell me how lucky I was to be running such a beautiful restaurant and that they wished they were me. Little did they know, being me meant missing my rent and playing hide and seek from my landlord who would eventually find me and issue a stern warning. Being me meant looking at my bank account and feeling my heart beating out of my chest for fear I would not be able to pay my staff. Being me meant crying myself to sleep at night in fear I would lose my restaurant.
Someone said to me, “you are not a real entrepreneur until you have felt like you are being dragged down a tar road naked with your skin scraping off.” I have never heard a truer description, and I believe anyone who is fighting for their dreams, can relate.
As much as there were struggles, there would be major highlights when Bliss would surprise me and I would meet my obligations and the restaurant would be crazy busy. Moments like these assured me that it was a dream worth fighting for.
Despite all of this, there came a time where I had to make a decision I dreaded. There was literally no more money to put into Bliss. My mom told me if I still wanted to fight, she didn’t know how, but she would make a plan. I owe my mom my life! A strong support structure is vital on this entrepreneurial journey; my mom was that for me.
As I was contemplating what move to make next, a patron of mine came in. She did not know I was considering closing down Bliss, yet in my random conversation with this patron she said to me “Have you ever thought maybe Bliss restaurant was not THE dream, but rather a step in the direction your true purpose, your real BLISS…”
In that moment, I knew what I needed to do.
I looked at my staff of thirteen and realised that closing down Bliss was not just about me. Closing Bliss meant people would be out of jobs and their families affected. In an industry of high staff turnover, I was lucky to have had the same team from day one, right until the very last day. I promised myself I would do everything in my power to find them alternative employment. It was the least I could do for their loyalty. And thank goodness I managed to.
It is believed that fear of failure is the number one reason women shy away from entrepreneurship. Failure is a bitter pill to swallow. I was a complete mess following the closure of Bliss but the experience taught me many, many lessons. My most treasured lesson however, was the awakening to my purpose.
While still running Bliss, a friend of mine asked me what my purpose was and how Bliss fit into it. I was unable to answer him, but for some reason that question pulled at my core. I now know, until you are clear on your WHY, you are in big trouble. Certainly Bliss was built with love and good intentions, but I was not clear on how it served my true purpose. It certainly was however, a catalyst in awakening me to that purpose.
Celebrating women is why I exist. Seeing women thrive is my ultimate BLISS! My greatest joy is championing female entrepreneurs; that is the work that fulfills me.
Am I afraid of failure? YES! But I choose to give the fear of failure the middle finger and say yes to work I love. That is a service in itself, to my self and the sisterhood!