This year marks the 15th year that I have been working for myself with no other source of income other than what I have been able to generate on my own. When I started my first business I was 18 years old. I attempted to build an online business that was way before its time. I had limited success but not enough to justify putting much effort into it. A couple of years later I decided to start my own local business by opening a physical store selling retail products. Aside from having a couple of jobs in Mall stores, I had no experience at all. What I didn’t know at that time is that I was starting on a path of self-reliance that would shape my entire life.
It hasn’t been an easy journey at all. It takes more than one hand to count the amount of times that I have made six figures in a given year only to end up with an overdrawn bank account. After starting that first brick and mortar business and deciding to close it, I knew that I at least had a stomach for doing my own thing.
I grew up racing go karts. I think one of the most important lessons that I learned from racing is that I am the number one reason I will succeed or fail. I am also the reason why I might finish in the top 5 vs DNF (Did not finish). When I decided to start my first business, I did so with only a couple of thousand dollars that I had saved from deciding not to attend college that semester. I told myself that I needed to try this before I got far enough into life that I had responsibilities that would make it more difficult for me to try my hand at starting a business. Now having a family of my own, I know that starting a business would be much more challenging and stressful having the responsibilities I have now.
One of the things that I have came to realize is that I have never completely lost confidence in my abilities to survive. When I was racing, I knew that as long as I didn’t crash I still had a chance to finish well. Even if I got passed a couple of times, all it would take is somebody in front of me making a mistake or causing a caution to give me that opportunity to catch up. As long as I didn’t crash, I was still in the race.
Through my years of working for myself, there have been several times where I have allowed myself to almost hit the wall. It’s actually not that hard to crash. The reason I like this racing metaphor is because when you are racing, if you stop paying attention even for a second, you can crash. That has been my journey as an entrepreneur. There have been periods in which I have stopped paying attention as closely as I should be and it has resulted in me almost crashing.
I am very fortunate that I have not ended up living out of my car but I have came close. I remember a time in my mid twenties when I was so close to not making rent that I sold off all of my DVDs to pay my bills.
Now I have those responsibilities that I knew would make it difficult to attempt self employment 15 years ago. I often feel like I am still at the beginning of my journey even though I have 15 years under my belt. They say the most crucial years of a business are the first three, but these days I feel like every year is crucial. One of the most important lessons that I have learned is that I need to remain flexible. Those who know me, often ask me what my current focus is. This is probably due to the fact that many of my business over the years are nowhere near similar industries. My first successful business, was a skateboard shop which I quickly pivoted to carry a move successful product line. However, everything that I have learned through starting the businesses that I have started has given me the knowledge that I use today to run my current venture.
Even though these days I feel much more comfortable than I ever have before, I still have to pay attention. If I don’t see the corner ahead, I might not be set up to make the turn at the pace I am traveling. That is when you end up crashing. We all travel at a certain pace, some faster than others. The problem comes when we are not paying attention and there is a turn ahead. It’s very easy to drive right off course and end up crashing. The more responsibilities we have, the bigger the vehicle. Larger vehicles can be harder to steer.
Beyond keeping focus on the turn ahead, getting to the point where you can anticipate them coming is important. None of us are travel on a straight path. There are always turns and unanticipated bumps in the road. We need to keep focus on what’s going on in front of us while at the same time remaining agile enough to pivot should we need to avoid an unexpected obstacle.
At this point in my life, crashing would affect a lot more than just me. It is no longer just myself driving down a path taking turns and avoiding collisions. My wife and kids are also in the car. This means that I need to focus even more. I don’t want to be sliding through a corner that I did not anticipate when I would rather be spending quality time with my family. Nor do I want them to have to hold on for dear life as I attempt to regain control.
As long as I don’t crash, I will be fine. I may get close to running off course at times and may have to come in for a pit stop to fix minor damage (stress, acid reflux), but I can easily reenter the race. As the driver, I need to take care of myself so that I remain able to control what I am driving. I also need to take care of what I am driving so that it can handle the course ahead.
I am thankful that God has given me a clear enough path that I would be able to see far enough ahead so that I would not drive straight into a wall. I am very capable of driving straight into a wall should I rely only on my own strength. Though at times I may not have driven through these corners as fast as I could have, I have survived all of them.