Sixteen years ago this week, I left corporate America to go into business for myself. I had no idea then what my life would be like today. Or what my business would be like. It’s been an amazing journey that has delighted, frightened, and inspired me, sometimes on the same day.
Into The Great Wide Open
If I could have written a blog post that day to my future self, I’m sure it would have been filled with hope, tinged with apprehension, and full of the hubris of the newly self-employed. God bless that hubris! Without an almost irrational expectation that everything would work out in my favor, I would never have had the courage to take the leap, even after 2 years of careful preparations, a business plan, money in the bank, and 10 years of well-honed skills at my disposal.
I must say, that after 16 years of self-employment, everything has always worked out in my favor. It’s not always been the solution I wanted or expected, but it’s been good for me. Every step has taken me closer to where I wanted to go, even when I changed directions, or tried new things out.
I carry the battle scars from the hard times like body art. The dot com bust. The current financial meltdown. But each time I’ve been through a rough patch, I’ve learned a little (or a lot) about how to do it smarter in the future. Each rough patch, I’ve been pleased to see I was better prepared than the last time, even while I can see ways to be even smarter going forward. There’s no way to know what life will throw at a person or a business. You can only do what you know to do at each point along the way. Hard times have a way of expanding what I know so I can do better the next time.
So today, with the luxury of hindsight, I’m writing a blog post to my past self, full of the wisdom from lessons learned, challenges met, and observations from the road. These are the things I wished I had known with confidence when I started out.
A Letter To Myself
Through the miracle of quantum physics, I’m writing to you from the future. In fact, I’m you and I’m writing to tell you some things that will greatly help you/me/us going forward.
Congratulations on making the jump to self employment! It’s a huge step and something you will always be proud for doing. Many people want to take charge of their lives in this way, but hesitate to actually make this break. You’ve done it, and for you, there is no going back. Many people will be jealous of you and you’ll lose people along the way. But you have the skills and the perseverance to make this journey. You can do this! And you will.
You will find that working for yourself provides you with all of the benefits you imagined. And then some. You are free to care deeply about your work and your clients. You can impose your own quality standards on your work. In fact, those quality standards are going to get you repeat work with clients. They will want to incorporate your work into their products because you deliver excellence.
You will build up a network of professionals in your industry and related industries that allow you to offer even more complete and comprehensive products and services to your clients. You already know how to identify the people who care about excellence. And you will quickly get good at identifying the people who can deliver products through contracting. Some people just don’t thrive in the unstructured world of working from home, and you’ll soon know how to spot them at 100 yards.
Right now, the scariest part for you is taking on the marketing of your services. But don’t worry. You will figure out how to do that. And in fact, you will get so good at it that other writers will ask you to find work for them. But more than that. In the future, you will teach other small businesses how to market their services, and will consult with them about marketing issues. This is a new part of you that will sprout and thrive through this journey.
You sometimes worry if your curiosity and need to explore and master new bodies of knowledge is a healthy thing in your life and for your business. Stop questioning yourself like that. Let your curiosity drive you. Don’t hesitate to learn something new that interests you. In fact, the time you spent learning HTML is going to serve you very well in the future. That one skill will make all the difference for your business going forward. Not because people will hire you to code things, but because you can create your own websites. It’s going to give you a huge edge. Even as the technologies change and websites become more complex, your basic understandings will empower you to take charge of your online presence.
Your instincts are so good that there is very little advice I feel you need. However, there is something I can give you today that will make a difference. Trust yourself. Trust the unfolding of your journey before you. It won’t always be comfortable, and it will be confusing much of the time. If you can find the faith inside yourself to believe that everything is always working out for your benefit, it will make those rough patches smoother and faster. You’ll learn to relax and trust the process of your life when you stop needing to understand the “how” of the journey. Have faith that the road leads to the destination you chose, especially when it’s dark or lonely or scary. Especially then. Because as I look back at your/our/my path over the last 16 years, I can clearly see the wisdom in everything that seemed at the time to be an interruption or a mistake. There have been no mistakes. The universe is a supportive, nurturing place.
There will be times when you need to take it on the chin. You’ve never made excuses for yourself or blamed others, and that quality will get you through rough times with your soul intact. It’s always better to take the punch without flinching. It’s the fastest way to learn and improve and adapt. And most of the time, the people delivering the punch will respect you for it and allow you to rebuild whatever was broken. And we all break things from time to time.
Mostly what I want to say to you today is that I’m proud of you. Proud doesn’t being to encapsulate the depth of emotion I feel when I look back at you, standing there at that cross road. I’m writing this through tears of joy. I’m having a magnificent life, and being self-employed is the backbone of my experience. It’s the platform for every bit of self expression and self realization in my life. And it starts today, with you giving your notice and going to work in your first home office.
Your dreams are the engine to create anything you believe is possible. So dream big! Trust yourself. Keep the faith.
It’s a grand life waiting for you. Savor every moment.