Sitting at home on a humid morning, I pour over spreadsheets and pull up my business consultant on LegalZoom for help. Numbers don’t come easily to me and keeping track of invoice numbers for the IRS has me in a bit of a headspin. I’m a writer. Tell me upon graduation a few years ago that I would now be growing a business and I would’ve called bullshit. I was never the super ambitious kid in school. In fact, my teachers senior year roasted me with “Most Likely to Sleep Through Class” – making the crown official with a portrait of my passed out mug mid-economics class. Looking back now, I think my real contention with school was more toward its tendency to waste my time than anything else, but I regress.
This small business thing hasn’t been easy. More than one time I’ve found myself scanning job boards applying to full-time jobs, only to schedule interviews and turn down their acceptance – the feeling of validation being all I really needed in the first place. Like when girls put themselves down around friends simply so they’ll tell them their pretty. I’ve never cared to be told I’m pretty. Tell me I’m intelligent, that’s how you’ll get my attention.
Starting this business has been a long time coming and began long before I even had the notion of getting it going. Today, I want to revisit the point where my small business journey began and take a gander at where I think it’s heading.
My Small Business Journey
Discovering a Tendency to the Unconventional
I grew up in the heart of South Florida suburbia. Captain of the soccer team, dating the high school jock, Friday nights at TGIF and Saturdays spent strolling the mall. But we traveled a lot. My parents shipping the family off to different states and foreign countries during summers and long vacations. June days spent in the mountains of North Carolina. August meant roundtripping to a town of 300 people in Iowa with plenty of stops at America’s quirky backlot attractions. On Spring Breaks we found ourselves jumping from the rusted haul of a beached cargo ship in Bimini or building fences at orphanages in Honduras. It was in these locations that my mind would stay and seldom return. It’s where my tendency toward the unconventional began and where my mind typically wandered. I daydreamed my way through classes. I wrote stories of far away lands. At home, I played games and read books that would take me anywhere but reality. Barnes & Noble was my haven. I crafted worlds teeming with adventure and invisible friends, a habit I’ve never been completely able to break. In fact, it wasn’t until my 20’s that I realized I daydream more than the average person.
After jumping around several colleges my first year, never content with the experience, I landed at the University of Florida. I grew up a Gator and attending UF was all I really wanted as far as college experiences go. I refused to settle for anything else and with a bit of ingenuity was able to make it happen. I studied. I partied. I managed to drop only two classes and do well in all the rest. But looking at my friends I realized the extent of my sway from the traditional. I excelled at essays but struggled with standardized testing – anything standard actually. Thank God college encompasses its own world in a few square miles. I found I excelled in unexpected places. I discovered that I’m very good at statistics despite barely passing calculus with a D. I nailed my mass comm. law final with only one wrong answer. I handed in a flawless paper on Native American place-names for an Anthropology class. I excelled in the areas I was able to freely discover while struggling in rigid courses where I had to recount standard answers (I’m looking at you Financial Accounting).
Moral of the story: college is where I discovered I don’t take the traditional route. I don’t mean that out of rebellion or a screw-the-system attitude. I simply can’t. I get painfully bored. I’ll complete work that meets the standard, but nothing that goes beyond. Contrast this to when I’m forced to do something where I’m given a range of freedom, where I’m able to explore. This is when my work takes that next step into something more. This is where I excel.
Translating the Unconventional into the Work Place
Leaving college, I was spent. I was tired of being stuck in the same place. Tired of being told what and when to learn. Tired of cramming for tests and learning lingo I can simply Google later. So I left – twice. Both to fulfill random dreams I had two years prior that I vowed to conquer. A few days after college graduation, I put my newly earned advertising degree to fabulous use by becoming a divemaster in Honduras. I stayed there a couple months and left come rainy (hence slow) season. A month later, I drove across the country to try my hand at living in San Diego, California. While that idea flunked professionally, I gained a deal of life experience; some good, some bad, none I regret.
Coming back to Florida I felt like a failure. UF has a reputation for churning out successful professionals, embodied by my peers who has landed high-paying jobs in New York City, Dallas, San Francisco and D.C. Then there’s me, working for an hourly rate as a glorified babysitter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just not where I imagined myself post university. I quickly worked my way into the 9-5 office life since that’s where I figured someone “successful” is suppose to be, but from day one I hated it. The lighting, the structure, the lack of recognition, but mainly the complete waste of time. Every day I went to work, I was done by lunch and then planned out how to waste the next five hours of my day. I’ll save you from hearing my disdain for office culture but it’s not far from echoing the empathies of Peter Gibbons.
So I quit. I quit multiple office positions and each time it got a little better, but each time I gained a bit more confidence and reason to take my life and my career into my own hands. Pretty quickly, I got to the point where I decided to quit the office altogether. And that’s why I’m here: at my kitchen table pouring through spreadsheets, making budgets and crunching numbers. Financial planning isn’t exactly my strong suit but I’m motivated by the ability to learn something new and mold my business my way. I don’t miss being billed out by an agency for $120 an hour and only seeing $12 of it. I don’t miss trying to find ways to waste the hours after I’ve complete my work until I can finally go home. I love being able to run off to wherever I want, when I want, for however long I want without asking permission. I love that when I do these things, I can bring my clients with me and directly apply personal experiences to their brand. But mainly, I love being able to pursue the clients, partnerships and collaborations that truly drive me.
If you’re questioning whether or not to make the jump into small business ownership, just do it. There’s always a way to make money. There’s always a way to pay the bills while you get it going. What you can’t get back is the time wasted in a job that doesn’t serve you as much as you serve it.0