The Truth About Taking the Plunge

taking the plunge

A founder offers a brutally honest account of her panic attacks and urges other entrepreneurs not to psyche themselves out with sunny tales of self-confidence and startup life.

By Emi Tokita-Furukawa (Founder, TOKYO UP)

We all remember our first time.

For me, it was in a stale train car in a dark tunnel. Clanking metal. Fluorescent light. Logan Square. Chicago. My hands were drenched with sweat and my heart was racing.

As I sat helpless, I closed my eyes and hoped to high heavens that I wasn’t going crazy. I felt bone-chilling fear.

I was having my first panic attack.

On the surface, one would assume I was at a high point in my life: I had cast aside post-collegiate ambitions for corporate sainthood (though in reality I had only been a glorified pencil pusher) and followed my dream of going to fashion school. I was finally going to bring imagined ideas to life. I was going to channel my inner vision into unique, avant-garde designs.

But school was not the fantasy that I had hoped for, and the panic attack shook me to the core. I tried to force myself into believing things were fine, but at some point, it grew too difficult.

And that’s when TOKYO UP started.

At first, TOKYO UP was a blog where I documented Japanese fashion that inspired me. Eventually it became a small online boutique. Though it’s currently a work in progress, I have big dreams to bring design-forward women’s street wear from Japan to the States.

I wanted to share my story as a testament to the very real fears and doubts that make “taking the plunge” so scary. I’ve visited a fair number of local entrepreneurial events and heard a lot of successful individuals speak about their career change with an ease that I cannot relate to.

For some people, belief in self comes naturally. For me, I had to be pushed to the edge by panic attacks in order to find it. I gained enough clarity to see that the excuses I had constructed to protect myself from failure and rejection were blocking my dreams and ultimately insulating me from trying the things I really cared about. Had I not been prompted to question the way I was doing things because of my panic attacks, I might not have worked on developing the balls to change.

Many of us have come to believe that there’s a “right” time or way to make decisions – that they should not only “feel right” but make perfect sense logistically and rationally, and fit with a natural ease into our existing lives.

For many people like me that time will never come. We will never have all the answers and will (most likely) always feel uncomfortable. Our only mistake is in thinking it should feel otherwise and not taking the plunge because of it.

Do you think founders often sugar coat their experiences when talking to other entrepreneurs?

emi headshotAbout the guest blogger: Emi Tokita-Furukawa is the voice behind TOKYO UP, an online boutique dedicated to Tokyo street fashion for the ladies. She is passionate about avant-garde fashion, Tokyo, and street style coated in spice, not sugar.