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Stephanie Koo / Staff Illustrator

A wise woman named Beyoncé once said, “Give some respeck, put some respeck on my check, or pay in me in equity. Pay me in equity.”

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Forbes Under 30 Summit as a Forbes Under 30 Scholar in Detroit. I listened to speakers including Serena Williams (The Best Athlete, periodt), Olivia Munn (Olivia, if you are reading this, I love you and I hope you are doing well), Quavo, and my favorite Forbes 30 under 30 speaker: Ziad Ahmed, co-founder of JUV Consulting for Gen Z students and an undergraduate at Yale.

A common theme between the speakers I found myself naturally gravitating toward was that they came from nontraditional and underrepresented backgrounds. Many of them emphasized the importance of owning equity, especially for womxn, low-income households, communities of color, and other marginalized groups. (Luckily I fall into the first three categories #diversity #intersectionality.) Equity is not about becoming rich; it is about obtaining wealth. Any one-hit-wonder can get rich for a short time, but the difference is wealth is sustainable. Wealth gives you ownership over how you want to use your time and energy. I remember that at a panel focused on “Social Entrepreneurs,” John Henry⁠—venture partner of Harlem Capital (a venture firm focused on diverse entrepreneurs)⁠—mentioned how we as people of color contribute so much to our society but own so little of the work we produce. Henry’s speeches throughout the conference continually re-emphasized what I had been quietly observing: There is a type of person that can afford to be called an entrepreneur.

Not everyone can stomach the risks of starting their own business or movement. Even more importantly, though, not everyone can afford to take a risk to disrupt their cash flow. Pure work ethic and an appetite to “risk it all” are not enough, especially for marginalized communities who may not necessarily have the network, net worth, or bandwidth to think outside of the hardships we face. One could say that I started operating as an entrepreneur when I was 10: I made and sold handmade eco-friendly stuffed “Yaz-nimals” at my aunt’s yearly art sale.

One of the speakers on the For(bes) the Culture panel—a panel for the black Forbes community—told the audience, “Stop thinking from a scarcity mindset.” I interpreted this as the speaker telling me to stop clinging onto everything I own and let go of the fear that I was never going to have enough. This point resonated with me. Within the past few months, I have been in the process of restructuring my mindset towards the types of opportunities I wish to obtain.

For most of my life, the heart-pounding anxiety and stress I had about coming up short made me feel like I could never afford to turn anything down. My compulsion to say yes to every opportunity that came my way was based on a fear of not becoming successful. I feared that if I did not immediately take an opportunity, it would be lost forever and the lack of it would be a detriment to my socioeconomic survival and success. Having the scarcity mindset is necessary for human survival when you’re in a position that doesn’t give you much room to breathe. However, it can also limit us from reaching the very goals we aspire to reach.

I only realized I had been operating from a scarcity mindset when I did not have to depend on it. Columbia has a long way to go in minimizing the hardships its underrepresented students face, but being in its bubble has given me a sense of stability I had not experienced. I have a bed, outside scholarships covering my student contribution, food (shoutout to the food pantry in 582 Lerner Hall, random club events, “Food Lovers of Columbia” on Facebook, and Ferris), a deep understanding of what my boundaries are, access to a lifelong network of inspirational and high-achieving people, and ownership over where I spend my time and energy.

During my first year, I was uncomfortable being suddenly thrown into a setting where I had so much access to resources and opportunities. I found myself retreating back to the way I knew how to operate in order to achieve as much as I did in high school: saying yes to any and everything out of fear, stretching myself thin and sacrificing my well-being for the prospect of a better future, and going through cyclical burnout. However, over time, I learned to trust myself and trust that I will secure the bag because I always do. I have started to accept that at Columbia, I can direct my focus on thriving rather than surviving. I can think deeper about abstract qualities of my life, like what legacy I want to leave behind, what plan I have for the future while preserving my state of happiness, and what ideas I want to bring to life.

Attending the Forbes Conference and listening to successful entrepreneurs from nontraditional backgrounds gave me security in the direction I am taking. I still consider myself low-income, but I am not low-income in the opportunities I have access to. I have the privilege of being at Columbia, where I have time, a stable environment allowing me to overcome my fear of failure, and confidence that I deserve more than the bare minimum.

Put some respeck on my check.

Being an entrepreneur is not simply about working hard and taking a risk; it is about securing ownership and equity over your contribution to society. If you love entrepreneurship, email yav2105@columbia.edu.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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