In 2014, I’ll have worked for myself for 18 years. And each year, I feel less qualified to give advice and counsel to new business owners. But my friend had asked to talk about the way he’s been feeling lately. “You live this,” he said, about self-employment.
We’ve known each other for almost 20 years, since we collaborated in advertising — he in account sales, me as the creative for an employment company. He is one of the “thoroughbreds” of sales people — successful, self-directed, loves the challenge, loves building relationships, loves the “kill” (close). Up until 4-5 years ago, he worked for companies and rose to management.
Which was not what he loved doing. Sometimes we can “succeed” ourselves into the wrong place for what makes us fulfilled and happy.
I know — I’ve done that, too.
So my friend went into business for himself in the industry he worked — and does very, very well. Like over $1M worth of business each year. On his own — no employees, working out of his home office.
Some days I wake up and ask myself what the @#$!*&% I’m doing, he told me.
What I heard were feelings like “lack of fulfillment”… “[some days] don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything”… “not enough challenge”… “[some days] I feel — bored.”
How do you motivate yourself? he asked me.
Lack of fulfillment. Feeling compelled to accomplish non-stop. Feeling bored. Having trouble getting motivated… These all normal feelings in any self-employed day.
Every day, I spend a good deal of my morning reading. I read tweets, links to articles and blogs off Twitter and LinkedIn. There are always tweets from new business owners, the self-employed, the start-up (mostly) guys “chest thumping” tweets:
Ready to kick today’s ass into tomorrow! #passion
Let’s rock this day! Expecting awesomeness! #success #leadership
Hello, Monday. Prepare to be beaten into submission.
OK, first of all, calm down. You’re going to pump yourself up into an early heart attack.
I’m here to tell you a few things. Things I know through long years of survival, success and failure in my own business.
- Accomplishment can be addictive. You don’t get to be successful and still avoid the high that accomplishment brings. It’s built-in. The highest highs can feel like a drug. Once the high is over, you’re looking to produce the next, and quickly. Building a business is an accomplishment. But it takes time. And not every day will show big strides.
There are days when you do what should be done – answer emails, administrative stuff, clean the office, read an article — whatever — and it doesn’t seem like much. But it ‘s what needs to be done. The little shims and spacers in the building of your work.
2. Some days, you will question the wisdom of the path you’ve chosen. I know I have over the past 18 years. The first time was when my business “angel” financing my early business told me he felt he couldn’t do any more, and I was on my own. I literally collapsed on my bed and cried, feeling doomed. Then I got my back up and decided no way was I going to quit after just 3 years. Periodically, circumstances make me ask the same question my friend has — “WTF am I doing?” Maybe I should “get a job.” But I have a job — of my own making. I chose to be independent. I choose. And I go on.
3. Passion, belief and energy are important, yes. But so are endurance, resilience, and patience. Cut yourself a break. You are doing something few people have the guts for. Titanium guts, that’s what it takes. You are a risk taker. Risk is your ally. Calculated risk. You’d be nuts to be blind to fear and doubt, to rah-rah yourself (a la those tweets) into unquestioned belief that every moment of every working day is going to rock with fulfillment. It isn’t. Some days will just be… days.
4. Loving what you do — and with whom you do it — can make the quiet days worthwhile. I love my work, I love my projects, I love my clients. One of the reasons why I’ve hung on through bad times is that I get to work with exactly the sort of people I love. I get to learn something all the time. I get to choose my clients. I love solving problems, seeing opportunities for clients, creating with them. I get to have fun with them. Look for the small pleasures on the days that seem boring or not enough of a challenge. Don’t think having downtime is a waste.
I think my friend did the right thing. He sought someone out who could listen to those thoughts and feelings and confirm that working in your own business can sometimes feel insane some days, but it’s is not. Ultimately it’s an individual choice and you make it every day. If it’s not the right choice for you, that’s OK. The fact that you’ve run your own business only adds to your skill set for an employer.
But if you want to make it to 18, or 20, or 25 years or more in your own business — accept that it will be a marathon, not a sprint.
Winning is in every step– the big ones, the little ones, the cheering (YOU DO ROCK!!) and the quiet miles along the way.