I was raised in a middle-class family. A broken family, raised as an only child by a single mother. We had no stability on our location in New Zealand nor where I went to school. This made it very hard for me as I was a very shy and quiet child. My mother and I moved around all the time, which forced me to change schools often. This in turn meant I was getting further and further behind in my classes because every school taught different subjects at different times during the year. Between the ages of 5 and 12 I had already been to seven primary schools so I was always a year behind in English and Maths. I thought I was “stupid” and that the smart kids were born that way. Little did I know, it was because these “smart kids” put in more effort then I did, instead of playing when they got home, they did their homework.
It wasn’t until I reached high school at about the age of 13 years old, did I actually realise my potential. I found I was naturally interested in Science and English and I could easily get high grades in these if I studied for the exams. Now that I knew I could do anything I set my mind to, I began studying for everything and succeeding.
In year thirteen, I took extension English (top band), Mathematics with Calculus (top band), Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Why did I take the hardest subjects in school you might ask? I wanted to be an Engineer - wasn’t sure which field yet, but I heard all my professors saying “You need to go to Uni, it would be a waste of your brain if you didn’t”, “You can’t not go to Uni, you’ll be bored in any other job that doesn’t require problem solving”. I would get told this all the time, so naturally I found a degree that could skyrocket my career and give everyone satisfaction.
I went to Canterbury University for 3 years, straight from high school at a raw age of 18. I thought to myself, there’s no point taking a gap year, I know exactly what I want and how to do it. First year engineering killed me - going from a rigid high school structure straight to a “nobody cares” one, was very difficult. Not only that, the subjects were much harder than high school ones. I nearly failed my first year, with a GPA of around 1.8 - if I remember. All through the first year, they were preparing us for the next year, the professional stages.
In these professional years, you choose the career you want for the rest of your life - no pressure. Anyway, throughout the year, the cohort all witnessed lecturers and even other students saying “If you want to get into Mechanical or Civil Engineering, you should have a GPA of at least 5, or you’ll fail - or won't be accepted by the Uni”.
This knowledge was scary and limited my choices I felt. So I chose Chemical and Process Engineering. I got accepted - wahoo! Let me tell you now, I have never been so bored in my life. This 1st professional year of Chemical and Process Engineering was really hard for me in a number of ways. I had no interest in it whatsoever, and the papers were agonizingly difficult - no matter how hard I studied I couldn’t ‘Get it’. I felt beyond stupid at this point and ended up failing one course out of 8, which meant I had to repeat that entire year. After that horrific year, I decided to change to Mechanical. I didn’t care if my GPA was low, I couldn’t stand Chemical any longer, nor did I want to repeat one year just to do one paper again. I was so wounded from this year just been, so let down by myself… My internal dialogue was “you need to prove to yourself that you aren’t stupid, you just didn’t try hard enough - try harder and show yourself you can do it”. I am a very competitive person by nature and cannot stand defeat. Not passing one of the courses really hurt and made me question my own intelligence. So for the entire year, 100% of my energy went into Mechanical Engineering. My GPA went from 1.8 to 5.5 that year. For a Grade Point Average to increase from 1.8 to 5.5 is nearly unheard of because the GPA is calculated from across all years and all subjects taken. The highest GPA is a 9. So I was really proud - I proved to myself that I could do it and I was well on my way to becoming an Engineer. I was running for first class honours and had 2 more years left of my degree.
The further I progressed that year, I began struggling with my own personal identity. I was so obsessed with achieving my goal that I would constantly be sweeping my emotions aside and just soldering on. I couldn’t catch my breath, I was having constant panic attacks and didn’t even know why. I think being in a state of denial for such a long time was finally rearing its ugly head. Finally my inner self was coming to the surface.
I wrote it down in my diary, the reasons I was so upset and summed it up into “I don’t want to be an engineer”. You see, the only reason I went to Uni, was because no one in my family ever had and I didn’t want to be financially burdened (as I thought the way you made money was having a high paying job). My family were all middle-class, hard working people. They all earned their money, never owned businesses or worked for themselves. Some of them had mortgages and huge sums of debt.
One of the big turning points for me was actually learning about the different tax thresholds in New Zealand, and learning that with my Engineering salary, I would be in the highest income tax bracket of 33%. I knew that my salary, could be anywhere between $80,000 and $150,000.I didn’t want to work that hard all year and pay the Government.
Have a look at the New Zealand tax brackets to see what I mean.
So what do you do when you have an epiphany moment and realise everything you have worked for in your life isn’t what you thought it would be? Well, you have a breakdown. This is usually known as a mid-life crisis but I was only 20 years old at this point. I had a major breakdown at the end of the year, once I had completed all my exams. After that, I went into a state of sadness for awhile - not because I felt sorry for myself, but because I knew the road ahead was going to be completely different to what I had set out on. I knew whatever I did would be challenging, because I had lived such a rigid and scheduled life for so long. I had been indoctrinated by the school system to get a job and to work hard. Naive me thought that businesses were only something the privileged had. I thought that all businesses were started by people who already had money, I had no idea that I was capable of doing it myself, nor was I ever taught that.
I never knew I was obsessive until I gave up education. I always had a direct path and now it had gone awol. I dropped out of my degree at the top of my class, at my absolute pinnacle, all in the pursuit of happiness. For too long I had been melancholic, knowing the exact direction of my life but being powerless to stop it. I was addicted to the long hours at home studying, I was addicted to the rush I got when receiving my grades, and I was addicted to the competition nature between my peers. I was a self-confessed workaholic. Ask anyone who knew me at that time and they would tell you the same.
Reality hit me like a tonne of bricks when I went for my intern interviews. It’s compulsory to have paid or unpaid work experience for the field of engineering you go into. The interviewers asked all the questions you would expect to hear, and I hated it all. Not the interview itself, but all I could do was picture myself walking around in a hi-vis jacket and a hard hat, walking around engine rooms, process plants and factories, calculating the overall efficiency and how to improve them. I couldn’t stand it, it made me feel physically sick - I loathed what I was heading toward but loved studying. I spoke with my professor and told him I needed a gap year, to reduce my mental suffering and try to come back to reality a bit. He was understanding and granted me my wishes.
During my time working that summer, I started researching into veganism. I went vegan two months into employment and after that began my thinking about Berkano. I saved all of my money from this job, and put it into my new business. There was only one thing left to do and that was my resignation.
Once I left my secure job, I often suffered from anxiety and high stress levels due to not having an income. Everything was riding on my savings and I couldn’t look back now. I was fortunate enough to have a partner who also had savings and we both delved into this business venture together.
We had to wait 7 months for all of our licensing to be completed. To manufacture and process any food in New Zealand, businesses must comply with the 2014 Food Safety Act, and must be licensed. We needed a Custom Food Control Plan with a HACCP plan (for critical control points when cooking hazardous food). Once these were written they had to be verified, to get verified we had to get our product lab tested which cost upwards of $5000. Once these 168 page documents were verified, we needed to get our kitchen audited. Then we needed to register with MPI (Ministry of Primary Industries) and the Christchurch City Council. After the long wait finally we were able to legally operate. This entire process cost us upwards of $25,000. Not to mention the cost of living. We actually ended up homeless a month after I left work. Not because we ran out of money, but inevitably I realised this entire process could take a lot longer than we thought so we decided to seek cheaper accommodation. We were living out of a storage shed with no windows for 9 months. We were finally able to move into a small flat and begin growing our brand.
This is part one of our businesses start-up blogs. I hope you enjoyed reading it. It’s easier to separate them out otherwise I’ll be writing a book.
Thank you for reading, leave any comments you have if there’s something you want me to go into more detail about for the next blog.
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