I’ve recorded a number of podcast episodes in the lifetime of my business thus far, but this time, being here and recording this episode, hits different.
A lot has happened for me since I last recorded an episode. It’s actually been almost one whole month since the last episode was released.
Let me catch you up on what’s going on and some changes you can expect from the Side Hustle Club podcast, as well as what’s going on in my business and how we can work together moving forward.
In this episode, I want to talk specifically about my decision to now become a full-time coach / full-time entrepreneur. That’s the first update! Cheryl Lau is now going full-time into her coaching business.
Let’s start by taking it back to December 2021, when I first applied for a leave of absence from my PhD program and came to Singapore.
Here’s the honest truth. Back in December, I had no intention to become a full-time entrepreneur anytime soon. My plan was to rest as much as I needed during my seven month break, get married with my now husband, and finally see my grandparents and family in Canada who I still have not seen for over two years.
For those of you who have been following along in 2021, you might know that it was a combination of strict pandemic-related restrictions and regulations in Hong Kong that made it extremely difficult for me to see my husband and travel to see my family overseas.
For example, because of Covid and travel restrictions, I didn’t see my then boyfriend and now husband for 19 months, and we finally saw each other for the first time in September 2021.
In a nutshell, I personally struggled a lot emotionally because I really missed my family and loved ones. And I could also see my performance as a PhD student dip as a result. So I ultimately decided to apply for a leave of absence for seven months just so I can spend time with people I really, really miss.
Here’s the thing. I got to Singapore, and honestly, I just never felt happier and more at home. For the first time in my now five year relationship with my partner, we were able to be together in person for more than a week.
The longest we were able to be together was two weeks, but usually we were able to have five to seven days together at a time. We’ve literally been doing long distance since the beginning of our relationship.
And for the first time, we could be together in the same geographic location for more than one or two weeks. That was a big, big deal.
This time, it feels really different. I mean, one, we were getting married. But also, knowing that even after five years of long distance relationship (LDR) and two of those years were during Covid times, we were still committed to making this relationship work.
You know, it just makes any time spent together mean a lot more. I could see myself starting to prioritize our relationship, now marriage, over everything else. In the past few months, I could see my priorities shift .
Because today, if you ask me Cheryl what are your priorities? I’d say, the people who I love and who matter most to me. That is my top priority.
And then, I would say, building a career or business that allows me to be there for these people who matter so much to me.
This realization started to brew around late December, and since then, I started asking myself, “Okay, after my seven month leave of absence, then what? Should I go back to Hong Kong and finish my PhD?”
I estimated that it would take at least 3.5 years to finish my PhD. And because my husband is very happy in his current job, he was also very reluctant to try to find a job in Hong Kong and move over.
Since the start of 2022, I was already contemplating whether or not to continue my PhD in Hong Kong, or leave the program and move to Singapore and start a new life here, especially since we decided to get married in February 2022.
And right now, it is currently April 18 2022 as I’m recording this. It really wasn’t until just this past week when I finally felt so firm and certain in the decision that I am now making.
But there were two specific reasons that made the decision feel difficult.
Actually before I shared that, I’ve had some conversations with clients because some of them have privately asked me about my business, decision making processes, and so on.
I tend to be quite transparent with clients when it comes to sharing how my brain works. But basically, several clients actually did say, “Cheryl, I actually don’t think it’s surprising at all that you are going full-time into the business. As someone who has followed you for a while, it makes perfect sense to see you leave your PhD and do your business full-time instead.”
It’s so funny looking back at these conversations because I think a lot of people in my community who have been following my business and journey for a while, would probably think of course, this makes sense. And a lot of people are probably genuinely very happy for me to make the decision and embrace this next phase of my life.
But for myself, the past few months felt so hard. Now in hindsight, I know what it felt like such a difficult decision and why it felt like I didn’t know what to do. Because that’s literally the story I was telling myself.
I was telling myself THIS IS SO HARD. THERE IS SO MUCH AT STAKE. THIS IS SUCH A DIFFICULT DECISION. But in all honesty. It’s just a decision. You just decide, and you move forward.
But because of the stories I was telling myself, it FELT SO DAMN HARD.
Now, let’s talk about what the two reasons were which made me feel like tis was such a difficult decision.
I questioned whether I was ready to be a full-time entrepreneur. I didn’t really plan to become a full-time entrepreneur in 2022. I thought I might consider that as an option after I finish my PhD, which would probably have been in 2025, because I was looking at completing it in five years.
And my podcast is called the Side Hustle Club podcast. The arbitrary job title I gave myself was Side Hustle Coach. I have proudly labeled myself as a side hustler since day one of my business. So, I have a very strong attachment to my identity as a side hustler.
Becoming a full-time entrepreneur was always an option I considered, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon.
I spent the first three years of my business mastering a few different areas and skill sets. I just wanted to focus on time,energy and attention on creating content that was helpful to my audience, especially through this podcast.
I wanted to help my current clients create results that blow their own mind.
I wanted to work on my own ability to manage my thoughts and energy, especially since there were so many moving pieces in my day to day life.
I wanted to become known for some of my own unique concepts.
I wanted to amplify my story and message to as many people as possible. I wanted to help people.
But the thought of becoming a full-time coach or going full-time into the business was a fleeting thought, at most.
In 2021, our business created over six figures in sales. That’s way more than what I was making as a PhD student and it was also a lot more than what I made in my full time research assistant job prior to starting my PhD.
The income I generated through the business is pretty good. So I had evidence that I have now mastered the skill of generating income through my coaching business, and that the amount of income would be enough to sustain my daily needs and lifestyle.
Still, my identity was not there yet. I still saw myself as a side hustler. I saw myself as someone who was slowly chipping away at an academic career that I was really super excited about, and I also run this badass business on the side. That was the narrative I painted for myself.
But you know what I’ve learned about this whole identity thing? We get to decide who we are.
We often hear people ask who is that next level or higher version of yourself?
And then we’re like, ok that version of me is gonna make X amount of money in my business and I’m gonna workout five times a week, work at coffee shops and buy my own apartment, etc. But then we are like, how do I become that person?
And the answer is. You decide to become that person. You decide to create those results. You decide to master the skill sets to create those results. You decide to manage your mind so you don’t let self doubt, fear or mind drama hold you back from honing in on those skills and hence create results.
It’s not just decided that, oh yes, I am that person. But you first need to decide that you’re someone who will do the work to get there.
Because as much as I love planning ahead, setting goals and having a big vision for what I want to create, I legit got to put in the work to make those things happen.
I literally spent the entire month of March working on my identity as a full-time entrepreneur. It wasn’t necessarily working on my belief that I am gonna spend a full-time working schedule to do things for my business.
Let’s be honest, my approach is still going to be literally doing the bare minimum number of things but doing it really, really well.
But rather, I needed to work on my belief that I have the skill sets and mindsets required of a full-time coach / full-time entrepreneur.
On a side note, I won’t be changing the name of the podcast. We’re still going to be called the Side Hustle Club podcast.
I now have a slightly different vision for what this name means. I now see each of us having different priorities and responsibilities in life.
For example, someone could have a 9-5 job and a coaching business and family responsibilities and a social life and make time for their physical and mental wellbeing. Each of those make up who that person is. None of them alone define the person entirely.
I feel like every area of your life is one of many moving parts of you, and none of it alone can define you. None of those things has to be your full-time thing.
Especially when it comes to your business, you get to decide how much time you spend on it.
For me, 20 to 22 hours is actually a sweet spot for me, as I’ve observed from January and February this year, before I really scaled back in March.
That is arguably me building my business on part-time hours. Some might even say because it’s not a full time 40 hours kind thing, that’s not a full time job.
But it doesn’t matter what side hustle means. A business is still a business. You’re still helping people.
You’re still getting paid in exchange for the value you offer. It literally doesn’t matter what you call it. You’re still doing the same thing.
This is why I am not changing the name of the podcast or overhauling my branding or messaging. In fact, I feel even more aligned than ever with the term side hustle!
Because the business is one of many “side hustles” in my life. It’s not taking over my whole life, but rather, it supplements my life.
Once I started to see my business from this perspective, I realized that I don’t have to call myself a full-time entrepreneur, just like how I technically didn’t have to call myself a side hustler.
This name, this term… It’s literally just a label that holds very little meaning or weight.
I still do awesome things. The value I bring doesn’t change, whether I am in a 9-5, a PhD student, or “doing this business full time”. And this is why I now feel extremely assured in my decisions to leave my PhD and do this business full-time.
This is me. This is my identity. I have spent the past few years building my skill sets and mindset as an entrepreneur. I am an entrepreneur.
If any of you are currently struggling with identity:
1) decide who you are. You get to choose. You get to decide what to think about yourself, how to introduce yourself, how to talk to yourself, and so on. You decide.
And also, 2) decide to actually put in the work to be that person. Take the action steps they would take. Think the thoughts they would think. Literally. Don’t just say you’re that person, but be that person on a behavioral level and cognitive level.
The second reason why this decision felt so difficult was because the PhD truly meant a lot to me.
But it wasn’t necessarily the degree or title that meant a lot to me. Rather, it was why I even pursued the PhD in the first place.
When I first dropped out of law school back in 2018, I really lacked belief. I trusted myself to be proactive and work hard, but it was still really hard for me to believe that things will be okay.
The professor that I ended up working for as a research assistant was someone who didn’t just offer me a job which hence offered me an income. But he was someone who recognized my potential, gave me the opportunity to explore my research interests and hone in on certain research skills.
That allowed me to, over time, cultivate my own belief in myself that I can actually potentially consider a career as an academic or researcher. I actually have skills that I’m good at and I have interest in certain research topics.
I give so, so much credit to this professor for providing me with not just a job, but also the space to nurture my own sense of self belief.
Guess what the self belief did for me? Once I started creating belief in myself professionally, I took that belief and ran with it. Because with that growing sense of confidence, I also started this coaching business. I really felt like I had nothing to lose but to just try. To experiment. To do something out of my comfort zone.
I haven’t shared this particular part of my story before, but honestly, I have so much gratitude towards this professor because I think he played an indirect role in me starting this business.
Fast forward to 2020, I decided to actually pursue a PhD because I was working with that professor for nearly two years at that point, and I felt like academics is potentially a great fit for me as a career.
I applied only to one institution, one department / program, and one professor in that department. And yes, it was the exact same professor I had worked for.
Luckily, our research interests aligned and we were able to match up as supervisor and supervisee for my PhD.
I still remember when the department gave me a phone call around either February or March 2020, and told me I was accepted. I cried. I bawled. I called my partner right after and was sobbing, and he freaked out because it was like 2pm and he was at work and he was like what’s going on.
I was just so overwhelmed with joy to be accepted into the program and I couldn’t wait to do my own PhD research under the mentorship of this professor.
I had so much belief in the research I would soon be doing, and so did my supervisor. We were both genuinely excited by my research direction. This PhD opportunity meant a lot to me.
However, the reality was, Covid started around March 2020. At the time, I thought, okay, this thing is gonna last for a few months, whatever. My boyfriend and I will still see each other every three-ish months, just like how we did before Covid.
But Covid didn’t end. It was still happening when I officially started my PhD in August 2020. And it was still happening after my first semester.
After the first year ended, and soon, it just felt harder and harder because I haven’t seen my partner and family for so long.
Yes, I was making an informed decision when I accepted my PhD offer, but Covid didn’t pan out the way any of us had expected.
Naturally, my priorities changed. Right now, being there with people I love is my biggest priority, and hence I had to make some decisions that will allow me to prioritize that.
For someone on the outside looking in, they might think it is almost a no brainer to leave the PhD, move to Singapore and do my business full-time.
But, going back to why the decision felt difficult was because I attached so much meaning to the PhD.
To me, the professor was someone who not just helped me recognize and believe in my own potential as a researcher, but I was telling myself the story of how he was one of the few people who recognized my potential during a time when most people around me told me I was wrong to leave law school, including family, past colleagues and classmates.
Right now, fast forward to 2022, I can see that as much as I wanted to give all the credit to the professor and research assistant job and the PhD program for where I am today, I had to recognize that they played a part in my journey up until this point.
But I was ultimately the one who did all the work. The professor, the job, and the PhD program – they were stepping stones for me up until this point, but I was the one who took the steps. They didn’t do that for me. I did that.
Slowly but surely, I started to see that I create my own results. Every single result in my life, I created that.
I also started to unpack my own thoughts about the PhD. I can see that it wasn’t because of the professor or the research assistant job or the PhD that created my current results in life, career or business, but it’s me.
I was presented with different opportunities and I made the decision to take up those opportunities. I gave it my best to maximize my results and growth within those opportunities.
Once I could see that I created all of these opportunities. Like how I cold pitched this professor years ago and he interviewed me and then gave me a job. It wasn’t like he magically appeared in my life.
Also, it wasn’t like the professor helped me start the business. But rather, I applied my newly cultivated confidence in my professional life to other areas of my life that had nothing to do with research, and that’s why I started my business.
Every opportunity that came my way, I made the decision to both accept that opportunity and also create results from that opportunity.
This is how I know that I will be okay with whatever decision I choose to make. Whether I choose to go back to Hong Kong and finish my PhD, or leave the PhD and move to Singapore. I will be okay no matter what.
Because I trust myself to make decisions and stay committed to making those decisions work. I trust myself to take full responsibility over whatever decision I make. This is who I am. This is my identity.
And this identity thing. It took a few months to get there. I first started having thoughts about this back in December, and it wasn’t until early April when I finally felt 100% certain of my decision.
I also talked to my PhD supervisor about this decision last week and I cannot be anymore grateful to have his full, wholehearted support to withdraw from the PhD.
It was an emotional conversation for me but I have since then felt so much weight off my shoulders because I fully trust that this decision is the best decision I’m making, and I wouldn’t have chosen otherwise.
Looking at these two reasons why the decision initially felt so difficult, there’s a clear theme here. Which is. Identity.
The decision felt hard at first because I wasn’t yet firm on who I am. In the past few months, I worked a lot on this.
Moving forward, I am very affirmed in my decision and I know that my “next level version of me” will make the exact same decision.
I am not just deciding that I am that “next level version of me”, but I am also choosing to think the thoughts, take the actions and make the decisions necessary to be that next level version of me.
There you have it. A behind-the-scenes look into what’s next.
Now maybe the question on your mind is, “Cheryl, what’s next?”
Well, I’m gonna leave you hanging for now. Mostly because this episode is getting pretty long and I would like to wrap up this episode.
Also, I’m still figuring things out. So many new things, changes and transitions are happening. Lots of identity shifts. And definitely a ton of new ideas for the business. I have so many things I want to refine and update for my current existing clients and so many new podcast episodes I want to create.
Right now, besides living my best life and learning how to navigate being a newly married person and also figuring out life things like moving my entire life to a new country. I’m also working with our current 1:1 clients and those who enrolled in our most recent round of the group program.
I have several things I’d like to do for our existing clients to up level the client experience. As mentioned on previous podcast episodes, 2022 is the year where I am super focused on client results, client experience, and curriculum development for our clients.
Honestly, if I’m not doing life things, I’m thinking about current clients. So if you would also like to join in on the fun, you can head on over to cheryltheory.com/program for all the details for the 1:1 program, right now we can start onboarding new 1:1 clients.
This is for those of you who want to sign clients for your coaching business by becoming known for your unique thought leadership and you also want to build your business on part-time hours so you can ultimately make time for the other areas of your life that matter most to you.
My approach is all about helping you show up as the most honest and genuine version of yourself to captivate your audience and ultimately draw in ideal clients into your coaching programs, rather than trying to impress strangers on the internet just to get them to want to work with you.
Again, if this resonates with you and how you’d like to grow your coaching business, please head on over to cherytheory.com/program, submit a short application, and let’s book a discovery call to chat more about how we can make this happen.
Thank you so much for being a part of my journey, thank you for tuning into this episode, thank you for your support as I embark on a brand new chapter of my personal life and life as an entrepreneur.
I cannot wait to continue creating more amazingness for you all through this podcast.
Join Us in The Side Hustle Club Hybrid 1:1 + Community Program.
The Side Hustle Club is designed to help coaches and entrepreneurs to sign clients on just 0-2 hours a day and ultimately build a business, life, and career they’re proud of.
Our program and curriculum is centered on 3 core skills to help you do this:
1️⃣ Becoming known for your unique thought leadership
2️⃣ Soft launching to sell your coaching offer
3️⃣ Building a uniquely differentiated brand
Get all the details and apply. We’ll then book a sales call to make sure that the program is the best fit for you, and we can onboard you as early as next week.
SOUNDS GOOD? AWESOME. LET'S GET TO WORK