When I started my business, I can’t say that I came from a place that was 100% based on my WHY.
At the time, the decision to work for myself was maybe 25% about my “why” and then 25% about wanting to work for myself. But the other 50% was because I had no choice. I’d lost my job, and for the first time in all my working years, I was out of work. I had two children to raise and only a little bit of severance to last me about a month.
My story isn’t anything that hasn’t been told by probably countless entrepreneurs. Usually, people start their businesses because they either have to or sometimes it’s because they’ve lost their job and can’t find work, so they need to do freelance work to get them through. Sometimes, they really do have a desire to work for themselves, and they build a business around their passions. And then others are, at the core, fearless in business and just want to succeed on their own and on their own terms.
No one category of entrepreneurs is better than another because, at the end of the day, all entrepreneurs have to have drive. It doesn’t matter if your starting point was borne of necessity, passion for a project, or just a love of business – the drive is what matters most.
Sunday Night Dread
Back when I was doing my foundational work on my business, I remember thinking that I DID have a passion in myself to work differently. I remember feeling incredibly anxious on Sunday afternoons thinking about going into my regular job on Monday morning. The anxiety would hit me around noon and would last all of Sunday through Monday, until about 10:00 a.m.
I eventually realized that this was happening because I never had a good gauge of the climate in the office. Was the boss upset? Was he in a good mood?
I remember wondering why we feel this way at work. Why do we always have this sense of foreboding? Why do we dwell on the negative instead of the positive?
The other thing that fueled my Sunday anxiety was the constant drama at the office. There’s always the person who doesn’t like another coworker or someone who doesn’t feel that a colleague is pulling his or her weight. Then you’ve got the demanding boss who rarely shows any appreciation.
I remember thinking that if we could just feel more valued in our working environment, more appreciated for the work we contributed, more respected for our effort, and if we clearly understood the scope of our work and what was expected of us, we could all be much happier in our working environments.
Hitting the Breaking Point
When I was getting my business up and running, I took any job that came my way. I took on projects because it meant a paycheck. It meant dollars to pay my rent and feed my kids.
Early on, I quickly tried to niche myself, mistakenly calling myself by the wrong title of VA. I was building websites, doing graphic design work, producing podcasts, and doing anything in the digital space that a client would request. In the second year of my business, I did start to gradually narrow my focus a bit, but it really wasn’t until this year that I decided I needed to put my foot down.
The truth is that many of us who go into business don’t know anything about actually running a business. We just might not have an aptitude for management, accounting, graphic design work, web development, IT, or sales.
What I noticed was that boundaries and expectations were a problem for me, along with the fact that my productivity and scheduling were both out of whack. Clients seemed to think that I was at their beck and call. I started to have that Sunday feeling of foreboding again, and I kept thinking, “Why do I still have this? I work for myself.”
But was I really working for myself? Or had I just traded in one boss for 12 to 15 bosses at any given time? My clients said jump, and I would jump. I was trying to be all things to all people, and I was burning out fast.
Hours would turn into days that turned into weeks that turned into months, until just a few weeks ago, when I literally woke up from a stupor. I’d been working solid for two weeks. I hadn’t left my house outside of going to get groceries at Walmart, which is about eight city blocks from my house. I hadn’t really done anything with my kids. I wasn’t eating and sleeping correctly. I was just working, working, and working some more.
I was focusing on the fact that I was taking a trip soon and needed to get all this work done before I could take the trip. I was frustrated and started thinking about how nice it would be to have some vacation days where I didn’t have to work double or triple time to make up for the fact that I was going to be off. (But projects have to continue, and I get it. That means someone has to get them done, and that falls on my shoulders.)
Who’s In Control Here?
As I was driving my son to meet up with his dad, making a four-hour drive through the hills of West Virginia, I started having some realizations. I took in the scenery, the green trees, and the blue sky, and I was shocked at the fact that I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken a moment to look at nature. I take my walk every day, but I feel like my head is to the ground, and I don’t lift it up to see the beauty around me.
While on that drive, I also realized I hadn’t left my area in a while. Of course, there are times in our lives when that season has to happen for things to get done, but there has to be a better balance.
When I finally took my trip later on, I had stomach pain leading into the trip. At first, I thought it was just anxiety, but the stomach pain wasn’t going away. I eventually realized that because I was so beaten down and tired, my stomach was revolting. My body had started to fight back and say, “Enough!” There was too much stress, too much work, just TOO MUCH — and not nearly enough of the good things.
It got me thinking, “Why did I start working for myself?”
That old anxiety started to creep back up when I returned from my days off – that anxiety of having to be back at my desk at 8:00 a.m. – and I got to thinking.
Am I running my business or is my business running me?
Despite the fact that, as entrepreneurs in the digital space, we say we understand the freelance contractual world, the reality is that we don’t act like it. We say we understand it when we’re doing our proposals and when we’re talking about expectations, but in the day-to-day activity, do we really feel that way? Expecting someone to be at our beck and call isn’t how things are supposed to work in this world.
That’s what an employee is — not what a freelancer or contractor is. Legally, freelancers or contractors can’t be expected to work specific hours or adhere to your schedule — yet many of us let our clients dictate this.
It all comes down to expectations. When you hire someone on a freelance basis, you can’t expect they’re only committed to you. You’re one of many, and you can’t expect the project deadline to be the same as it would be with an employee who’s working on your specified timeline.
[bctt tweet=”Am I running my business or is my business running me?” username=”freshtakepro”]
Taking a Hard Right Turn
As I came back from my trip, driving through lower Utah through Bryce Canyon, it occurred to me that, for the past four years, I had just focused on my business. I didn’t have a social life anymore. I didn’t do things unless I was forced to do them for business purposes, and this was the first time I had taken a trip for pleasure, outside of family obligations.
My trip was just for me because it wasn’t attached to work, it wasn’t attached to kids, and it wasn’t about anything except my own enjoyment. I recognized that I hadn’t done that in years.
Now, it’s 1000% my fault for allowing this to happen, but I came back feeling a sense of foreboding, a feeling like I was getting ready to go back into isolation mode, and I realized I didn’t want that to happen again. I started to feel like the clients were going to start piling on their list of demands and that they were in control.
I needed to course correct.
[bctt tweet=”I’m the boss. I make the rules. I run the show. I lead the way.” username=”freshtakepro”]
I pulled out my Start With Why information, an exercise I did in the second year of my business, and I realized that there is a way — a better way — to collaborate out there, and I’m going to figure out how.
It’s going to be a process, and it’s going to take a while to change my thinking.
In the meantime, while I work that out, I’m going to keep telling myself this:
I’m the boss. I make the rules. I run the show. I lead the way.
Have you ever felt like you needed to make a course correction in your business? Share in the comments below.