Embracing Freedom

Over the past one month, I've been getting messages on LinkedIn from friends, colleagues and a lot of other people, wishing me on my work anniversary. I never realised the fact that a whole year had passed since I put my foot down on the state of affairs in my professional life and took a giant leap of faith towards being an entrepreneur. It was certainly not an easy decision. After working for more than 15 years as an employee, trying to live someone else's dream, it becomes challenging to fathom the idea of nurturing a path for one's own self.


A job can never help you become who you ultimately want to be in life.

I know this is a strong statement to make and many of you may not agree with me on this. Working as an employee does bring you in proximity with brilliant minds, great friends, even greater foes and suckers for authority, all of whom contribute towards building you as a very strong person. You get challenged, hammered, beaten, demotivated, looked down upon, far more than all the positives combined. And this is not a complaint. This is my way of saying that these are essential experiences that one should get through, to become a capable and a strong person. If you have a comfortable job, where all you get is praise and a salary, you ain't going nowhere in life. Jobs are also a test of patience, of perseverance and will power. If you can sail through such experiences at the workplace, you're a winner!


My experience, as an employee, was bittersweet. There were moments of triumph, there were moments of negativity. All in all, I learnt so much in the fifteen years that I spent as an employee. It truly made me who I am today. And I'll always feel indebted to all my students, fellow colleagues, and friends that I made throughout this long winding journey! I met some amazing and unsung heroes and amazingly celebrated zeroes during this time and this was an experience that I shall never forget.


But all journeys must come to an end, for only then, can you embark on a new chapter, a new road trip, a new you! And I did precisely that in summer of 2015, when I resigned from the long playing vinyl that I was scratching on for years, to become notes of my own symphony. I became an entrepreneur.


The Jump

The seeds of being an entrepreneur were sown in late 2014 though. Workplace satisfaction was at an all-time low. There was no motivation to succeed or do something new. Ideas were shot down and resources were as much in abundance as oxygen on the moon. There were moments when, being bumped off the rolls, looked like a possibility. What does a man do when he loses his comfort zone? He scrambles for air. I did too. I invaded my brain to think of possible and alternate career options. I seemingly knew what I was good at. I thought of hundreds of things, starting my own company and what not. I eventually bombarded all my ideas at my wife, my family members and a colleague at the workplace. My wife and my parents, in particular, have been and will be my greatest support system. And any wannabe entrepreneurs must take into account that, as Indians, we're blessed with an excellent family system, one that more and more youngsters are trying to get out of, emulating the west. That is a mistake. When you're learning to walk, your folks are there for you. When you are learning to walk down the entrepreneurship road, your family is always there for you.


Getting back to my tale, I got mixed responses from everyone. Ideas were good, but there was no action plan. Practically, there was all fluff and no stuff to build at the end.


One step forward

But, I'm a teacher, I love to teach. It is what I do, it is what I will continue to do in life. And tired of not being able to do anything new, I experimented with online training. I got in touch with Learnable (now known as SitePoint Premium) and discussed with them the possibility of creating an online course. Being a media and entertainment professional, the technicalities involved, were a piece of cake. All that was to be done was to create a course and launch it on their platform. The good folks at SitePoint commissioned a course on jQuery (a code library for web designers) and I got right at it.


My first few attempts proved bumpy as the course auditors kept pointing out mistakes at the initial sample lectures that I made. But soon, I got the gist of what they wanted, and within a month or so, my first online course, Introduction to jQuery was ready to be published. I was also asked to shoot a talking head video, welcoming students to the course and thanking them once they're done. The first few days after the launch of this course were quite interesting. I would wake up to find questions, posted by students joining the course. And would spend a good hour every morning, before breakfast, composing replies to ensure they were satisfied with the response. One of the things that happen when you become you own boss is that you want to be perfect at everything you do. This is good and this is bad. It is good because it pushes you towards excellence. It is bad because the slightest criticism throws you into the dreaded spiral of negativity. You think you've spent every bit of you in getting things right and then someone walks by, and points out a mistake and it shatters you.


This happened during the course creation days when the SitePoint team would revert back with a possible mistake in the lecture. But that really helped me fine tune my own eyes. It made me conscious of my own actions and taught me how to travel down this road. I can say, with confidence that criticism helped me be aware of myself.

"Critique is poison that helps get rid of complacency."

Where there was criticism, there were amazing reviews about my course. People loved it and they poured their hearts out. This is like a shot of adrenaline while you are travelling at 88 miles an hour. It transports you into another dimension, an alternate reality where you're the king and you became one, by your own doing! One lesson I learnt during all of this is never to take praise too seriously. When people take praise to heart, it produces ego, and ego is potent. It kills.


The Second One

Becoming a SitePoint author not only gave me immense confidence, but also a way forward in this direction. They soon discussed the possibility of a follow-up and a more advanced online course on the same subject. And so was born, my second online course, jQuery : Beyond the Basics. This time, I had tonnes of experience from building the last course on SitePoint and this helped me sail through the entire drill and like the previous one, this course was also appreciated by the community and both courses, continue to sell, even to this day.


My first attempt at an online course

So, while Introduction to jQuery was my first online course that saw the light of the day, it was not the very first one that I ever attempted to build. Back in late 2013, I began my experiments with a JavaScript programming environment called NodeJS. To the uninitiated, it can seem very daunting, and more so, if you've been using some other programming environment for building web applications. I learnt NodeJS and thought I should put together a course that should address all pain points that I felt while learning it myself. So, I started recording a lecture or two, just for fun, but never released it on the web. There was no motivation to build the course, nor was there any energy left at the end of the day, to sit and slog through the recording process. As a result, this course took more than a year to take some shape. When the Introduction to jQuery was launched, the NodeJS course was half-way done, and I had no immediate intentions to complete it. I saw some courses that were already available on the subject matter and I said to myself, "Why would anyone buy my course when there are ten more available on the subject?".


This is one of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make. You are different. You are not them. They are not you. What you do, differentiates you from them. And so, even if you see a market saturated with products that you want to build, you still have the opportunity to make a mark. When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, it was technically not the first smartphone. I've personally had a touch screen phone, as early as 2002-03 and it was horrendous. What Apple did with the iPhone is that they made a smart phone that was actually usable and not a gimmick to play with.


Once I tasted success with my SitePoint courses, I immediately went into this intense dilemma of taking the next step towards doing something new. So, I took up this incomplete course that I had, and spent another 4 months, completing it and ultimately launching it on Udemy.com. This was my biggest step yet, a 7+ hour course titled All About NodeJS | From the Ground up & more...


Within 2 weeks, this course proved its worth and I was on my way forward, with a clear goal on what I wanted to do in life. This was February 2015. I have never looked back. The All About NodeJS | From the Ground up & more...  was like a window to the world. More than anything, I learnt so much about student behaviour that I can confidently build courses that will succeed. You see, student behaviour differs from country to country.


In India, if you're teaching someone to write a fiction novel, you expect the student to be well versed with the alphabets of the English language. Globally, this is just the opposite. You are expected to teach the alphabets as well in many cases. And while this sounds funny at first, you do realise that learners come from all sorts of backgrounds and you, as a mentor, need to step up your act, to ensure your curricula helps them understand the subject from all possible angles. And it does not go unrewarded.


8000 and counting

Today, on the 3rd of July, 2016, my courses have been taken up by more than 8000 students combined. I still have these three courses and they've given me far more than anything else. And I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about satisfaction and fuel to step on the accelerator and go all out and conquer! At 35, going on 36 this month, I may be decades late in becoming an entrepreneur. I envy those amazing young minds who start as early in their teens and build world class companies. They're truly geniuses and I love the fact that our young minds are looking in the right direction and building organisations. When you're in your teens or early 20s, you get several opportunities to fall and get up.


At my age, it may not be the case. But I've just begun and I have places to travel and mountains to conquer. I don't know if I will succeed but I will continue to walk through. For I'm an entrepreneur and the master of my own future!

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© SACHIN BHATNAGAR

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