Wellness

Why Being Emotionally Vulnerable Can Actually Be A Good Business Move

Noura Sakkijha
6 min read
May 09, 2019
Why Being Emotionally Vulnerable Can Actually Be A Good Business Move

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Mental health is so often referred to as self-care, as though choosing to see a therapist, making time and space for your own thoughts, or resolving your anxiety is an option or an excess. As a company founder, it’s not—with many people depending on your ability to perform, mental health becomes a measurable component of your leadership. More importantly, as a CEO and new mom to twin girls, mental health is definitely not an excess.

We founded Mejuri in 2015. I was in my twenties, transitioning from being a process engineering consultant at a major financial institution to being the CEO of a fine jewelry brand. My husband Majed is also my co-founder, which meant throwing out the concept of “work-life balance” and diving head first into embracing work as a major part of our lives.

In the early stages of the company, we didn’t have many resources or enough people on the team so I had to take on many things myself. I used to put in 12 to 16 hours every day to make things happen, but the problem was that things were not progressing fast enough. To top it off, one of our investors used to call me and compare us with other companies that were performing better at the time—the long hours, slow traction, and tough conversations took a toll on me.

I used to wake up every day so anxious about what the day would look like. Will I be hustling for nothing? Will I hit a wall again? I was burned out. My husband was the only one who knew what I was going through. But I always found it very tough to share my vulnerability with others. I chose to keep it to myself, which made it even more difficult and isolating—especially for my husband. I started seeing a therapist who said that I was likely passing through an existential crisis. I had no idea what that was or how to deal with it, so things remained very hard for months. It was the toughest period of my life but I did not want to give up.

Fast forward a few months, we got accepted into a business acceleration program. Our creative director (and a dear friend) Justine and I decided to move to San Francisco in order to take the opportunity. I met other entrepreneurs who were going through similar challenges, so I gradually started to feel better. I decided to share my struggles with Justine and it was an eye-opener. She did not judge me and she was not discouraged; she was extremely supportive and it brought us closer. It was at that moment that I realized that sharing vulnerability was—and is—not a weakness. It was one of the most important steps I took to bounce back.

As Mejuri has grown, my mindset had to change. What people don’t tell you about a rapidly scaling business (from four employees to over 130 in just a few years, and four times the revenue every single year), is that not only does your hard skillset have to grow at warp speed, but your emotional skillset does too. Framing is key to this emotional management because as an entrepreneur, you have to view every challenge as exciting, or as a new opportunity, which isn’t always an easy thing to convince yourself of.

Allowing fear to determine decision-making is common, especially when you’re working at a fast pace. In my role at Mejuri, I’ve had to learn to make peace with the idea that I can’t (and definitely don’t) know everything. I started to hire and leverage resources around my blind spots. My primary focus, currently, is hiring people who are strong enough to help us dream big and achieve our goals. As a byproduct of emphasizing culture and hiring, I’ve made time to invest back into myself—because you can’t manage a team of people if you can’t manage yourself, and you can’t give meaningful feedback if you yourself can’t be reflective.

Personally, I’ve developed a framework to enable myself to make well-rooted decisions:

— I work with an executive coach, who helps act as a sounding board when my own biases may be clouding my judgment.

— I see a therapist regularly. Receiving objective feedback and being able to step back and look at your actions enables you to be a proactive leader. It also allows you to be kinder to yourself; to understand actions and reactions have roots, and to refresh your perspective based on this knowledge.

— I’ve put significant time and effort into building an external support network of friends, entrepreneurs, and advisors. Knowing I’m a phone call away from a friend or advisor is key to feeling less stressed when I’m under pressure, and feeling like I have an outlet.

This year, I led our Series B raise—pitching Mejuri to venture capital investors, to land us $23 million USD in funding. I was also six months pregnant with twin girls, which investors probably don’t see often when getting pitched. Pregnancy is a check on how you treat yourself in many ways. I previously thought having time to decompress was optional, but once I knew the health of people other than myself relied on it, suddenly I was able to prioritize it. I can’t lie, I still do struggle to take care of myself when things get busy.

I decided early in my pregnancy that I wouldn’t take an extended maternity leave—it’s 12 months in Canada, but since I’m so close to the business, I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable being separated for that long. Even now, during my 3 months of maternity leave, I am still deeply involved but have prioritized time with my kids first. Having two kids at once also makes it more challenging, to develop deep relationships with each of them and acclimate to their individualized needs and personalities. I’ve intentionally set up my life to accommodate my participation in both parts of it—we live very close to the office so I can come back and forth, and Majed and I both share the work of parenting. I’m new to this. I’m still figuring it out. I often feel like I’m not “doing the right thing.” Being involved in growing this company makes me happy—I love working, and I’m super proud of what we’re building. But being an involved parent also makes me happy, even though I don’t have the answers two months into motherhood.

I strongly believe that women, particularly founders or those in leadership positions, are often pushed to believe that self-care is superfluous. In the past I viewed time off as a lost opportunity to push the business forward, only recently did I realize that the time off makes me think of things with a fresh perspective and have a sharper outlook. I can’t advocate enough for how important it is to step back and invest in yourself.  You cannot give from a place of needing, and you can’t give from an empty cup, so refill your own from time to time. We often say treating yourself and celebrating occasions is Mejuri’s foundation—encouraging women to not wait to be gifted fine jewelry, but to celebrate themselves. This is treating yourself. Setting time and intention for your health is not treating yourself—it’s a basic necessity to grow.