When I picked up the evening newspaper after another dull day at my job, I had no idea I was about to be pointed in a new direction—one that never entered my mind. The story I stumbled upon was about two young women who had moved to New York hoping to become Broadway stars. When that didn’t happen, they came up with the idea of starting their own business.
They set up shop in their apartment and substituted creativity for capital. Besides generating loads of free publicity, they employed all sorts of creative activities to grow their little enterprise.
Hoping to conceal their humble beginnings, they found a record called Sounds of the Office which they put to work before answering the phone to give the impression that it was a bustling enterprise. It all seemed wildly radical and considerably more fun than any job I’d had.
When I learned that they’d written a book, I headed to the bookstore the next morning and snapped up the only remaining copy of Supergirls: Autobiography of an Outrageous Business. It was even more inspiring than I’d expected. It became my textbook for starting my own business.
When you’re self-employed you find yourself absorbing ideas from everywhere. The world becomes your school and the textbooks are yours to write. As the writer Oliver Goldsmith said, “There’s an unspeakable pleasure attending the life of a voluntary student.” When you start your own business you volunteer to stretch, grow, and learn. Sometimes that learning leads to new ideas for profit centers. Sometimes it enhances skills and/or understanding.
It would be impossible to identify all the things my business has taught me, things I might never have learned any other way. Here are a few I do recognize:
1. Building from the ground up is fun. My mentor used to say that we all have an architect within us, a force that wants to design and build things that have never existed before. The joy of seeing an idea come to life is one of life’s great blessings—one that entrepreneurs have over and over again.
2. You can’t outperform your self-image. My business is always a reflection of what I think of myself and who I am in the world. Once I learned this, working on maintaining a positive self-image and challenging self-doubts became a top priority that led me to a new area of study.
3. Priorities are important. Learning how to set priorities and stay focused on results is indispensable to building a business. It’s also a way to inspire ourselves to stretch and go farther.
4. It all balances out. Taking a long view is the secret weapon of every successful entrepreneur. Life is about ebb and flow; so is business, of course. If cash flow is down this month it may be unusually large next month. It takes some time being in business before you can really see how this works.
5. The more you invest in your business, the more it returns the investment. When I spend my time and money in ways that stretch me, my business gets better. Books, seminars, and spending time with inspired entrepreneurs are not simply indulgences. They’re power tools for success.
Taylor Caldwell said, “The true purpose of education is to widen the mind, to stimulate wonder, to give a new vision and understanding of the world to excite the intellect.” The true purpose of business is exactly the same…but in this course you get paid to learn.
What a great way to spend a life.
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