Why “you must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” Joseph Campbell
When David asked me to help him sort out his career, he said, “I thought my calling was to be a healer so I went to medical school, did my residency and joined a managed-care group practice. About a year into the job, I felt frustrated that I wasn’t getting enough time with patients to really listen to them and make a difference. I needed this experience before I could open my own clinic. Also, I had enormous debts and plans to pay it off in ten years. Eventually, I realized that just as I had spent high school focused on getting into a good college, spent college working hard to get into med school, and med school and residency looking forward to getting into my “real practice”, I’m still spending my time and energy focusing on “someday”.
“Honestly, once I achieved the goal of getting there, I wasn’t so sure I really was meant to be a doctor at all. Now my loans are paid off and I’m completely burned out. I’m at the point where I dread going to work every morning. I’d love to do something completely unrelated to medicine but I feel like it would be foolish to waste all that time and money I spent on education.”
I asked him what he didn’t like about practicing medicine and if there were any parts he’d enjoyed. “I’m a good listener and enjoy solving mysteries of difficult cases and also educating patients about their own responsibility for healthcare but I don’t get the time to do much good.” We talked about several options for David to use the skills he does enjoy in his medical practice to do something on his own. He got excited at the prospect of doing something different but kept coming back to “all the time and money I put into learning to do something I don’t want to do anymore.”
David is not yet forty. I asked him to try to imagine how he’d feel if he was sixty and had spent another twenty years in medicine. He said, “I’d feel like I wasted my best years.” Hearing himself say that, he realized what a tragedy it would be to not make a change now.
If you are stuck in a job or profession that you feel is not your life’s work, ask yourself that same question: “How will I feel in another twenty years if I am still doing this?” Also, ask yourself if there are skills you can take from your present work and apply to something you will look forward to waking up for everyday.
When I tell people I guide aspiring entrepreneurs along the path of starting and growing a creative business, I’ll occasionally hear, “I want to start my own business but I can’t draw a straight line or sing on key. I’m just not that creative.”
I ask them if they’ve ever helped a friend or coworker solve a problem. Of course they have and I’ll bet you have too. If you believe that creativity is reserved for artists, think of all the times you’ve been a creative problem solver.
Steve Jobs described the simplest form of creativity as just connecting experiences we’ve had and synthesizing new things. Would you consider Federal Express a creative company? I imagine they took a concept,privatizing delivery of packages, that UPS had been doing for years, and saw what was lacking (speed) as an opportunity. That’s creative problem solving.
If you want to start what I call a “creative business”, you don’t have to be a musician, actor, writer or any other kind of artist. Start by observing some of the problems, roadblocks, inconveniences and obstacles in every day life or in your area of interest (career, hobby, household, etc) and brainstorm solutions. That’s where you’ll discover your creative business opportunities.
For more ideas on where to find business ideas, see “Your worst life experience may be the key to what gifts you can bring to the world.”
Recently, I’ve been contacted by a number of readers who are either newly retired, facing an early retirement buyout decision or nearing retirement in the the next few months. Some have an idea for a small business and need help with the “how”. Some know what they love but have no idea how it would make any money. Others know they want to do something they enjoy and that makes a difference but they don’t have any idea what that is. They all have one thing in common: they don’t want to retire. They want to stay involved and do something meaningful. They see this as “my time” but that doesn’t mean lazing on a beach. For most it means finding more meaning as they continue to earn. It’s what I call “Inspired UnRetirement”.
There seems to be a syndrome among those who don’t plan for retirement. By plan, I don’t mean IRAs and 401Ks. Many people decide to take the first few weeks or a month and do nothing but relax. They’re tired of having to be somewhere every day for years. It would seem they’d find that time rejuvenating and be ready to dive full-on into the next phase of life. Sadly, that’s seldom what happens.
If you’ve lived with structure your entire adult life and all of a sudden your days are wide open, things that you used to be able to accomplish evenings and weekends suddenly take a lot more time. The first month passes quickly and then another and suddenly, you look back at the end of each day and ask, “What did I do all day?”
There’s a way to avoid this by spending time now, ideally at least a year and a half prior to retirement, actively planning the steps to make the next thirty years rewarding, fulfilling and meaningful. If you’re suddenly laid off or faced with an early retirement option, you may not have time to plan ahead but it’s important to know that you won’t suddenly just “know” your next step unless you do the work and have the support of others who are in a similar position.
Do you have a “someday” dream that you’ve been putting off until retirement? Do you know you want to find more meaning and purpose but not sure what that will look like? I’d love to hear your thoughts on “what’s next”. As always, you’re invited to share in the comments below.
My new dentist sent me to the lab today to have a “color match” for a bridge. As is my habit when I meet someone with an unusual occupation, I just had to ask the proprietor why he started a dental lab. Did he know when he was a child that he wanted to make dentures and crowns when he grew up? It just doesn’t seem like a career that a little boy would aspire to.
He said he started out as a jeweler and when he was having difficulty learning to cast, he asked a dentist for some help. (Did you know that many dentists make jewelry as a hobby? They already have many of the same skills, tools and materials.) He said one thing led to another and he began working in the dentist’s office making teeth. Eventually, he saw the opportunity and opened his own lab.
His story got me thinking about how many people end up as “accidental” entrepreneurs, doing one thing when they set out to do something else.
My own career followed very much that “one thing led to another” route.
I always knew I wanted to teach. Like many aspiring educators, one of my favorite childhood activities was to play “school”. As an art education major, my plan was to start my own early childhood creative arts program. I assumed I’d be self-employed but it all took a very different path than I had envisioned and it’s been a wonderful, round-about journey back to teaching. As I think about my own entrepreneurial adventures, I see that each metamorphosis was the result of “one thing leading to another”.
What about YOU? What coincidences or challenges have taken you in a different direction? Is there something in your present job or business that might serendipitously lead to something else? Is there a part of the work you do now that could lead you down a path to a more satisfying livelihood? What’s your “one thing led to another” story?
I always write on Wednesday.
Regardless of what else is pressing, I write every single Wednesday.
Is Wednesday the day I’m most inspired? No. My inspiration doesn’t follow a calendar or time-clock.
Is Wednesday the best day to post on my blog? That’s a topic most of us ponder and everyone has an opinion on but I post on my blogs whenever I get the inspiration.
Do I have more time to write on Wednesday? No. I make time.
I always write on Wednesday because I have a circle of friends who count on me to show up Wednesday evening with something to share.
What I write on Wednesday isn’t always polished or profound or even necessarily good writing. But I have a group of people who expect me to bring something to read and I do.
I am part of a Wednesday night writing group. I’m accountable to my writing friends.
And I wont’ let them down.
Sometimes we show up with rough work hammered out at the eleventh hour.
Other times, we show up with pieces we’ve crafted and fine-tuned and are proud to share.
But we always, always show up.
I’ve been in this circle of women writers since I arrived in Cincinnati. It’s one of the reasons I’m still here. I didn’t join for the accountability. I joined for the community.
But I stayed for the accountability and the community.
It’s kind of like being part of a Mastermind Group. Sometimes you think you don’t have the motivation or inspiration or time to work on your business. But if you know you have a call scheduled with your group for a specific day, you do it because you’re expected to show up with something.
And you don’t want to let your group down. So, you do something. Maybe it’s not the best work you’ve ever done. Maybe it’s just a baby step but it’s SOMETHING. Something to let them know they can count on you.
That you value their time. That you value their feedback.
Sometimes you show up with something you’ve worked hard on and you’re proud of. Other times, you show up with a thought or action you’ve hammered out at the eleventh hour.
But if you’re part of a mastermind group, you DO SHOW UP.
You bring that “something” to your group because you are accountable.
Who holds YOU accountable?
Three years ago, almost to the day, I published a post sharing my “secret” vulnerability surrounding a health issue. In a recent phone conversation, my friend Barbara Winter suggested that I share the reason for my recent silence and “disappearance” from Cyber space.
I don’t talk about this medical issue because I don’t want to be a whiner or bore you, my readers. I don’t talk about it because I want you to know you can count on me. But I am doing you all a terrible disservice because I am not showing you the example of how my entrepreneurial flame will not be extinguished by challenges. I’m not showing you that even someone with a serious, ongoing medical condition can avoid becoming discouraged by set-backs. When you’re self-employed, you don’t have the option of disability or paid sick leave. The gift in that is that you have to be creative and keep re-inventing what small business means.
Keeping my secret is not being fair to you because I am not sharing the valuable lessons that go along with staying motivated despite major medical challenges. So, I am committing today to share this journey with you and let you see the mistakes I’ve made and the wisdom gained.
HERE is the brief story of how I got sick and how it changed the direction of my entrepreneurial path.
In the fall of 1991, I was an avid runner, long-time yoga enthusiast, vegetarian and 50/50 founding partner in a wildly successful multi-million dollar business. My family and I divided our time between our homes in Scottsdale, Az and Laguna Niguel, Ca. We spent Christmas vacations in Hawaii and traveled to Alaska and Europe. It all looked glamorous from the outside. The inside story was very different. (If you want to skip the “how I got so ill and how it’s effect on my present life” part and get straight to the “big entrepreneurial lessons” just click here.) , The business consumed my life and because this was pre-internet, mornings meant a mad-dash to the Resort’s business center to send faxes. My son recalls an afternoon spent on the loading dock stuffing envelopes with payroll checks while the Federal Express driver tapped his foot and checked his watch. We did have some wonderful times sailing, snorkeling, doing helicopter rides and my son received valuable lesson in entrepreneurship. But even with well-paid support staff at home and in the field, it was not a healthy way to live.
Twice a month, I joined the day-commuters between John Wayne and Sky Harbor airports to meet with our controller and office staff. The night before one of those trips, I came down with the flu. In the morning, I had fever and chills but flew anyway because I had appointments and commitments and my end of the business to run. For the next several weeks, I felt worse, but I kept on plugging because I was afraid if I stopped to take care of myself, the business would fall apart. I also kept running because, like many runners, I had this crazy notion that whatever ailed me, I could run it off.
It didn’t work. By the time I finally sought medical help, the virus was dormant but the damage was done. I’d injured my autonomic nervous system, the part of the brain that controls heart rate, blood pressure and other major body functions. One of the complications is that when I stand still, my brain gives the wrong signal to my heart and it doesn’t get enough blood. It also caused a rare type of diabetes that has nothing to do with blood sugar and requires daily mediation to maintain fluid. It left my immune system in overdrive so I never, ever get a common cold but my body fights off things that a healthy body doesn’t see as a threat. New carpet, household cleaners or even a Sharpie sends my system into defense mode and it takes immune suppressant drugs to calm it down. With the right balance of neuro, cardiac, and endocrine drugs, I can usually function well but sometimes things get out of whack and my vitals and chemistry go haywire. I know now that my body was screaming for attention and I’ll always suspect that had I listened to and honored that message, I may have fully recovered without complications.
So, how do YOU benefit from my story? HERE I share my first three BIG lessons that every entrepreneur needs to know for their business to survive a major illness.
BIG Entrepreneurial Lesson #1: A balance sheet can show a healthy net profit but be WAY out of whack.
I was so afraid of neglecting my end of the business that I neglected my body and it failed me. Unable to push anymore, I left it all up to my partner. We’d built a very successful business that required our very different and complimentary strengths to maintain. When I became too ill to do my share, the business became as unbalanced as my body.
Lesson #2. Consider future possibilities when you enter a business partnership, including an option to sell and a plan for how you will handle the illness of death of one partner.
It may not seem necessary if you start a business with a close friend or family member but historically, the statistics show a business partnership can do irreparable damage to a relationship.
Before I got sick, I was feeling ready to make a change. I was putting all my energy into something that had lost meaning for me. While it felt good to know we were providing the opportunity for so many people to earn a substantial income, I was constantly stressed about the responsibility of having over 100 employees. My partner and I had a different long-range vision. A life-long friend was interested in buying into the business and I was ready to sell my share but my hands were tied because my partner didn’t want a different partner. In hindsight, we should have had an agreement from the start that if one of us wanted to sell and had a competent, qualified buyer, the other would agree to either allow the sale or buy the other out.
Lesson #3. Create a duplicatable business model that is not solely dependent on your own physical presence.
That is something we did right and enabled us to bring in revenue even when neither of us were present. Had the only revenue been dependent on my personal hours-for-dollars, income would have come immediately to a dead halt as soon as I become ill.
Are you prepared should an illness or accident mean you are unable to work for awhile? Is your business healthy enough to survive an illness?
June, for me, was a month of things broken:
Broken Teeth: It began when I cracked a tooth and learned that the tooth next to it was also broken at the root. Oral surgery. Massive dental bills. I’ll find solutions.
Broken records: Record breaking high temperatures. Heat exacerbates my medical issues. Though I am not an indoor, climate control kind of girl, I decided to take advantage of this time stuck indoors, in front of my computer and write some new courses.
Broken Office: Record rainfall flooded my temporary home/office space.
Broken Computer: My post-warrantee Mac Book spent a week at the Apple Store and must now be sent away for a total overhaul. It’s my only “device”.
Broken Trust: (and a bit of a broken heart) when someone I considered a good friend betrayed me. This hurt the worst, but it didn’t destroy my belief that most people are basically good and kind.
I don’t believe in bad luck. I think it’s a self-perpetuating concept. I didn’t ask, “Now what? What’s going to happen next? (though I did hold my breath when I took my vehicle in for a 105,000 service. )
I headed into July knowing that good things are coming because I can make good things happen.
Then, on July 4th, my phone rang and I had a feeling it was good news but when I flipped it open to answer, it broke in half. Honestly. Two pieces. Dead. Wires severed.
When I told a friend, she said, “maybe this is God’s way of telling you it’s time to get a job so you won’t have to replace all that stuff yourself”
and I had to laugh
because I can’t imagine taking this small stuff as a “sign” from above
when you’ve had a gravely ill child, lived with a serious medical condition yourself, watched someone’s home that they built with their own hands burn in a wildfire or lives float away in a tsunami, when you’ve witnessed nations destroying themselves and killing their own over political or economic differences, you realize that
these are small things, really small things.
Broken teeth and some broken “stuff” may for a short time feel like it will break the bank
but I won’t let it break my entrepreneurial spirit
or my faith in my ability to make things better.
I see these extra financial stresses as a motivation to act on some previously neglected ideas and expand my business, not give up.
My friend Barbara Winter tells the story of receiving some disappointing news just prior to leaving on a trip to Denver. When her friend, comedian Karyn Ruth, met her at the airport, Barbara told her that she’d been feeling terrible earlier but was over it. Karyn said, “Deep mourning lasts about 48 hours for an entrepreneur.”
I believe she’s right.
In 2007, I sold my gallery because I wanted the freedom to be away for more than a week or two at a time. I designed a more mobile livelihood, gave away anything that wouldn’t fit in my VW camper-van and leased out my California home.
For the first two years, I spent long stretches traveling, living in campgrounds and working in my van by the beach or outside public libraries. I spent the winter of 2009 in my Florida house between tenants, then hit the road again. At one point I felt like I needed a base for a couple of months so I rented out an ocean view studio two blocks from my Cambria home. Then I hit the road again.
A couple of years ago, I I was ready for a bigger adventure but wasn’t sure what that meant. The eventual destination surprised no one more than me.
For nearly three decades I’d lived in beautiful areas and had businesses that allowed me to indulge my wanderlust, but I was thousands of miles from family. Frequent trips home always ended too soon so I decided my mystery adventure would begin with a cross country drive and un-rushed time with family. No hurry to catch return flights. Just an open-ended odyssey.
I spent time with my sister in Nashville, my son near Asheville and my niece in Athens, Ohio. I went to Cincinnati where my mom had recently moved and my little sister lives. That was as far as I’d planned.
I started thinking about what it would be like to walk dogs with my sister, Wendy, have Sunday brunch with my mom and be a day’s drive from my son, Todd or my sister, Pam. But would that mean “settling down”? It’s easy to be mobile from the central coast of California where I can be comfortable without climate control year round, but to be anywhere within a few hundred miles of family meant dealing with weather. (translation: must have indoor digs.) So, I leased a small apartment with a gorgeous community office space, purchased minimal furnishings and spent winter days working in cushy chair in front of the clubhouse fireplace.
Using my Ohio apartment as a home base, I continued to make frequent road trips and flew back cross county several times, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit I had “settled” in. Friends and clients envied and looked up to my nomadic lifestyle and I felt like giving up my mobile status meant I was a fraud.
The last couple of months I’ve been feeling antsy and I know it’s time to get back on the road. What I’ve learned about location independence is that there is no freedom in feeling like you “have to” do anything, whether it’s stay put or keep moving. Being truly “free-range” means you make the rules and you can change them. Better yet, forget the rules.
As always, your comments are invited and encouraged. Tell me: What does being location independence mean to you?
Two UK-based friends who describe this phenomenon well are Marianne Cantwell and Selina Barker Check out their blogs.