"At 24 I was homeless and pregnant... now I run three businesses"

Lessons in building resilience from entrepreneur Yemi Penn.

by Yemi Penn
Last Updated: 13 Nov 2019

At the age of 24, I found myself homeless and pregnant. I was in survival mode desperately trying to secure housing while focussing on keeping my job.

To say life has thrown me some curveballs is an understatement, but I am a firm believer that your past does not have to be your future. After every rejection, missed step and unexpected situation I refused to become another statistic. Through grit and determination, I managed to steer my life back on track. 

Today I run three thriving businesses, produce a podcast, parent my two beautiful children by myself, and I am about to publish my first book, Did You Get The Memo?

Know your why

When we get knocked down it can be hard to find the willpower to get back up again. In these moments it is important to come back to your ‘why’. What compels you to get up and go to work each day? What compels you to put in the 8, 12 or 16 hour days? Is it worth it? 

Your answers to these questions will become your driving force for getting back up when you fall. 

Passion is a secret weapon for building resilience. In some instances, we feel the need to jump into any job or career to keep the bills at bay, but this often leaves us feeling unfulfilled and unmotivated. When we follow our passions and know our ‘why’ we chase our goals with a clarity that keeps us going despite setbacks and disappointments. 

Stop comparing yourself with others

We live in a society obsessed with comparing our achievements and perceived failures to others. Often this stems from not having a clear understanding of what success means to us. 

I like to think of life as a large number of races; we are all running but we are in different heats, starting from different places and racing for very different victories. 

The constant comparison to our coworkers, colleagues and business partners is not only detrimental to our self-confidence but it also significantly lowers our resilience.

Step one is to work out exactly what race we are running. 

Step two is to visualise the end of the race and answer the question ‘what does winning look like?’. 

Figure out what success means to you

For me, success in the workplace, drive, motivation and resilience all hinge on personal wellbeing. Self-care is not indulgent, rather it is necessary for when life delivers its hard knocks. It prepares us to not take it personally, be resilient, regroup, learn from what has happened and get back out there. 

Another definition of success for me is wealth. This comes from a place of not having it and from understanding that for me, wealth equals freedom. Ultimately, I want to have choices and to be able to offer the same to my kids.

We need to be able to manoeuvre roadblocks with flexibility and creative thinking, and to stop viewing and talking about success and failure as independent and unrelated ideas. If we know what we want and why we want it, feel passionate about our work and take deliberate action, we will become successful and resilient people who will use our failures as fuel to work harder.

Yemi Penn runs three businesses including F45 gym in Brixton and W Squared Coaching in Sydney 

Image credit: Yemi Penn


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Co-op’s ethical message creates a rod for its own back

The mutual presents an example of what happens when decision making comes counter to stated...

Ranked: Britain's most admired banks

This is the top ten in the banking sector as judged by their fiercest critics...

6 CEOs to follow for inspiration

In need of some motivation? Management Today’s panel of leaders has put forward the CEOs...

3 ways the pandemic proved me wrong about my leadership

Briefing: Brother UK’s MD Phil Jones discusses how the last year challenged him.

A one-minute guide to getting promoted while working from home

You can't always control the process, but there are things you can do to put...

The most important thing you need to do as a new boss

Executive briefing: Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani talks cultural change.