I've realized that as an entrepreneur the most successful trait to possess is striving to conquer fear. Let me explain.
I was born without my left ear. The condition is called microtia, and the absence of an eardrum is known as aural atresia. Growing up in middle America, raised by immigrant Indian parents in Minnesota and Iowa, it wasn't easy. Feeling different didn't help my self esteem. For a long time, I had a hard time accepting myself. Sometimes I kept my hair long on one side, to cover my shame. Because I could only hear out of my right ear, I didn't participate in class, and my grades suffered. My teachers believed there was something wrong with me. They thought I was handicapped. At one point I was even put into a special education class.
The truth was, my real problem wasn't my ear. My problem was how it affected my life, how it made me feel about myself, the labels that came with it. What I didn't know as a boy that I learned as a man is that stigma was as much my fault as anyone else's. Because I allowed it, and others, to have power over me. Power over the way I thought about myself. It wasn't until I faced that fear that I broke down that barrier and learned who I really was. When I embraced myself--all of me--I finally felt whole. That allowed me to walk the path I feel I was destined to, becoming the entrepreneur I am today. But it wasn't easy making that leap, and for years I struggled with my confidence.
From the age of 18 to 29, I underwent 18 difficult surgeries. Surgeons used cartilage from my rib, and skin grafts from my thigh to build me a new ear. In two of those procedures, my doctors drilled an ear canal into my skull, giving me a donor ear drum, which allowed me to hear for the first time out of both ears. The simple joy I felt from being able to experience what most people take for granted every moment of their lives, it's indescribable. Overwhelming. I'm still amazed at my luck. And it's that experience that has guided my life and work. It's given me a sense of purpose and a wholeness I wouldn't trade for anything.
Acceptance is a hard word for people in the tech community. We want to change everything. The very culture of innovation is to improve on what doesn't work at maximum efficiency. But the hard truth to swallow is that sometimes, we're powerless to sway the things we want to change the most. Ourselves. Only when we realize that and embrace our flaws, can we truly succeed.