On tax day, ironically, I was asked to comment on a number of issues relating to entrepreneurship, and the pros and cons in a range of areas – what was lost and what was gained.
As those of you who have been following my writing know, I don’t like to look at life in terms of “losses”. I always say that if looked at negatively, life can appear, especially as the last of my parent’s generation die off, and complements come with the additional proviso “for your age”, all about losses.
My comments about the challenges of being an entrepreneur come after 23 years of hard won success. So all the “pain and suffering” of the early years have faded in memory as I now have achieved the goals to which I aspired – mostly having to do with freedom and independence – as well as the financial and professional success which were the vehicles of that hoped for self-directed life.
Some inquire as to whether all the “dues” were worthwhile. I say of course. We all err sometimes, but the key is that my life including the stumbles has led me to where I am today.
Here are the five areas on which I was asked to comment:
Your Sense of Security
There’s a key difference between being secure and feeling secure. Until starting my business I operated in the corporate world. It’s easy to feel secure when you’ve got a paycheck regularly coming and you’re doing well professionally. I focused on work and the paychecks came in.
Ultimately a corporation’s top priorities don’t include your security. The first corporation for which I worked became obsolete and then went bankrupt. I had left years before, but many of my former colleagues who were lifers forfeited late career and retirement expectations. The chemical company and major oil company for whom I worked went through at least two mergers. I lived through one, and that was enough. The money center bank for which I worked went through two mergers. I left during the first one – mergers often involve changes in corporate culture, not to mention hierarchical battles. I don’t like mergers, so I quit. I took a consulting assignment with a large OPEC producer, and a year after that started my own company.
Somewhere along the line I decided to take my life into my own hands. Even though, at times, I felt quite insecure, in the long run, taking responsibility for my own security has meant I could give it the priority I chose. So, as I near what used to seem like an ancient age, I’m secure enough to retire if I want and live in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed. That’s real security.
The tradeoff: Losing an illusory security and gaining a hard-won, bespoke security of my own making.
As for sleep, that’s one of the few things that you get to do when you start your own business. Aside from the necessities of life, what I did when I first got started was work. I used to say, “When I am awake, I am working.” This “work all the time” life lasted about 10 years. Since then, I’ve worked from home, and worked fewer hours over the years, focusing on high-level issues instead of grunt work. Even though those early years seemed to last forever, I’ve had lots of time to do work I really enjoy, teach, research, comment on the markets, and write.
The tradeoff: Short-term sacrifice for longer-term gratification.
What I did during my leisure time in the early years was addressed in the paragraph above (sleep). After paying my dues, though, provided I don’t get myself overcommitted (which can be a pitfall), I have lots of time to do fulfilling things related and unrelated to work. I’ve been able to give back, volunteering at nursing homes, teaching adult religious ed, serving on the board of a homeless shelter, and for a large charitable trust. I also had time to develop deep friendships, pumped a lot of iron, read, and bake, and am now over half-way done with a second master’s this one in pastoral theology. I’m also active in my local MOAA chapter and the Tucson Subvets’ Base. The tradeoff: Giving up leisure time as you ramp up your business, so that you can have more leisure time after that.
Cynthia A. Kase and Shipmates Enjoying “Leisure Time” and “Social Life” (see photo) Celebrating the U.S. Submarine Service 115th Anniversary
If you don’t have a successful life, then you can’t say your business is truly successful. So while it’s normal for one’s social life to suffer in the short run, successful business people usually have successful social lives, including nice relationships with colleagues and clients.
The tradeoffs are the same: short-term sacrifice for longer term gain.
“Expensive Spending Habits”
If one defines “expensive spending habits”, as spending more than one can afford, I’m against it. No matter how much one makes, I’m against spending more and saving less than prudent. However, to those whom luxury items are well within reach – and for whom spending on “expensive things” won’t make much of a dent, then I think that’s their business.
The tradeoffs are living frugally in the short-run to build up a high net worth in the longer-run.