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Chamika Wickremasinghe shares her views and experiences on some entrepreneurial and life lessons you can learn from and why self-identity is important

6 Lessons I Learnt While Building My Own Company

"I was always fascinated by spaces around me. Whether it was my own bedroom or a hotel I stayed in, I would draw imagery sketches to make it more interesting. I would make it something that would reflect more of me, channeling my creative thoughts. I had a deep love for design since childhood and a desire to create beautiful, authentic spaces that spoke of people who defined the space and to bring out the character of a space. This probably was my first step in setting up what drives me today. It is important to find your passion in life and your own calling.

From my early childhood days my parents encouraged me to have a solid foundation in education. I entered Visakha Vidyalaya through a scholarship I secured in grade 5. My achievements are through determination, perseverance and hard work. I am a big and a passionate dreamer. In the recent past, I followed my heart and embarked on a design career and established my own company. I had some self-doubts at first. I was afraid of failure. But soon enough, I realized as long as I was doing what I loved and was doing it with all my heart I will always be a winner. It's not easy but there's definitely nothing to be afraid of to make those big decisions, to take risks. You must also embrace challenges and have a positive spirit. I have learnt that even in the most impossible scenarios there will always be a solution. To bring my dreams to life, I had to work proactively. To sustain, I have to put in continuous hardwork and innovate. Over the years, I have learned to adapt, change and reinvent based on what works best in creating what I am ultimately aiming for, while staying true to what I stand for.

While you can be completely determined, some challenges are in your control, some still aren't. I work in an industry where you see more men than women—as clients, as competitors—and as minority, you need to find your foothold. I have not been a victim of the 'glass ceiling' concept but I'm aware of several such instances. How you tackle such situations with the decisions you take defines what you get back in the end. I've seen several women—again, as clients, as competitors, as peers—who've gone beyond the 'victim' threshold. My experience tells me that this is largely due to the respect you earn by doing your best and standing for something that is unique to you. There is no reason why you need to 'match up' to your male peers. It's just a matter of finding what can give your individuality a voice to stand out. Work towards finding that voice.

Staying true to my self-identity is that voice for me. Being a mother, a wife and an entrepreneur whilst finding the quiet time to design can be quite a juggle. Sometimes it is very demanding but my husband, kids, family, close friends and work colleagues are important to me. Giving time to all is essential to me and has made my life richer and meaningful. For me, equally essential is that 'me-time'. That's when your thoughts are focused and you are able to evaluate the past to optimise the future. Finding the time to invest in myself has been an important part of my journey. It gives me the satisfaction of not losing sight of my true self between the several roles I play.

As I speak of self-identity and the voice that helps me shine is defined by two things—my work and how I carry and present myself. Why? It's simple—else, how would you expect to win a client’s confidence in you as a designer if your personal style is a mess? How do you convince others that you are capable of coming up with extraordinary designs if your personal style is less than ordinary? As frivolous as it may sound, your appearance is an expression of your self-identity and does say a lot about who you are. It isn't about right or wrong, what's trendy or not, but more about what it means to you. I believe it is important to wear what brings out the best in you, simply because it adds to you confidence. If I walk into a room to make a presentation, I take myself seriously so that clients would take me seriously too.

My personal style has a direct impact on my confidence and vice versa. I have to be comfortable in what I wear. I would define my personal style as being feminine and adaptable to the occasion. Just as I would not confine my design for spaces to how it has been conventionally looked at, it reflects in my personal style as well. Just as upscale, corporate spaces can be made to look corporate enough in pinks, jeans can be worn to presentations and yet be made to look what is conventionally defined as 'professional'. I'm also a huge advocate of textiles that are designed and made in Sri Lanka. I believe that staying true to your self-identity is a conscious choice you must make. With fashion, you can influence your appearance wisely—it is the voice to your inner confidence that speaks for your outer identity. It is the silent tool that expresses enough without speaking aloud."