I got expelled from a military academy a month before I would have graduated. After I got over the shock, anger, and sadness that ensued, I accepted and embraced the belief that I would find greater fulfillment elsewhere.
I would have been a 2nd Lieutenant if I had walked across that stage. The expulsion process took months, and the process isolated me from a lot of people. It broke me down over time - mentally and emotionally. I started to question everything in my life. I felt like the black sheep of my family. It was one of the most eye opening, transformational periods of my life.
Despite the weight and guilt associated with the situation, a huge part of me felt that I was walking into a new phase in my life. Even when I questioned the relevance of traditional religion in my life, I held fast to the belief that God had a plan for me. I felt that what was to follow would bring me much closer to fulfilling my God-given potential. I was right, but I had no idea how intense the process of becoming the man capable of fulfilling that potential would be. Personal growth isn't easy. I'm still growing, and it's still hard.
Since I hit that low point, I've graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, worked as a brand ambassador in the corporate world, and set out on my own to take more control of my life. As of today, I've officially been job free for six months. Half a year. It's been one of the most dynamic, overwhelming, challenging periods of my life. That being said, I can look back and be incredibly thankful for all that I've been able to accomplish, and how I've grown during this period.
By no means am I close to having all of the answers. Let's be clear on that. I'm still not where I want to be financially, or professionally. That being said, I've made it through a period of my life that I was scared to begin for years. I probably wouldn't have left the security of my job, if not for a few negative experiences in the corporate world. Long story short, I left my job to take things into my own hands before my employer could fire me.
I've learned a lot since that day. I've been overwhelmed, excited, upset, confused, triumphant and lost. As I reflect, I can say without question that this period has taught me a few important things that I intend to carry with me for the rest of my life.
The points that follow are inspired by the lessons that I learned. I hope that they help someone.
Entrepreneurism makes a day job seem like a walk in the park.
I was annoyed with the way I was treated when I was still at my day job. I felt that some of the people I worked with were incompetent and unsympathetic, and did not agree with the command climate that I was subjected to. I was tired of being given work that was outside of what I had been hired to do, and being blamed for issues outside of my control. I was ready for a change. I thought that it would be freeing to work for myself. I was right about that, but I severely underestimated the barriers to entry.
When I was at my day job, I knew that I was going to get a check every two weeks, right on the dot. It didn't matter how hard I worked, or how well I got along with coworkers or prospective customers. I could be poorly motivated for a week or two, and I would still get that check. Once I set out on my own, that all changed. When you're working for yourself, you have to go out and get it, no matter how you feel. There are no guaranteed checks, and no one to blame but yourself for any shortcomings. You have to be ready to solve problems and succeed by any means.
Don't count your money until it's deposited into your account.
It doesn't matter if you're selling t-shirts, consultations, flat tummy tea, or expertise. If you don't see your account balance change, you cannot consider yourself paid. You can't expect money that isn't guaranteed. People will express interest in what you're selling. They'll tell you, "when I get my paycheck, I'm going to buy your products." That's great, but it's meaningless until it's confirmed. Be appreciative of the support, but do not consider that support a guarantee of payment. People forget, change their minds, and see their situations change. Make sure to follow up with prospective customers who express interest in buying your products or services, but don't assume that their final answer will be "yes."
Remove pride from the equation.
Becoming financially independent and free of the 40 hour work week is often touted as a point of pride by many. There's some validity to that. Being able to control how and when you work is amazing. There's absolutely nothing with being proud of your accomplishments and your abilities. That being said, don't be proud to the point that it drives you to look down on those who choose to remain employees, and don't be proud to the point that it pushes you to isolate yourself from the people who make up your support system.
If you need to ask family members or friends for help, don't consider it a shortcoming. If you know someone professionally who can help you with your situation, don't feel guilty for asking them for help. It's part of the process. Recognizing the reality of your situation and acting upon is just as worthy of praise and admiration as making it happen on your own.
Clarity is absolutely essential.
As an employee, you're given guidelines, limitations and directions from managers and company policies in regards to how you do your job. Those limitations might feel restricting. They are. That being said, they're there for a reason. Employees need to have a clear understanding of what they're setting out to accomplish.
When you set out on your own, you will have absolutely nothing set in stone to guide you outside of what you create or choose to draw from. You have to provide yourself with the direction that your employer once provided, and the stakes are a lot higher. Plan ahead, and plan thoroughly. Ensure that you evaluate your progress frequently so that you can make positive strides towards achieving your bottom line goals. Embrace the role of charting your course intentionally, because setting out to accomplish something without clear vision of what that is will inevitably get you lost.
You have more opportunities than you think you do.
Very few self employed people have one hustle that keeps all the lights on and gives them a comfortable lifestyle as soon as they decide to become a full time entrepreneur. Chances are, you're going to have to hustle. That being said, you have more ways to use your talents than you might think you do. Always think about how you can provide value to different people, organizations, and entities.
Don't be afraid to throw yourself out there and pitch your skill set to different people in different ways. Even if you get a "no," you can get feedback to help you better target your pitches in the future. If you're a creative writer, that means you have the potential to make money as an affiliate blogger, article writer, copywriter, social media manager, and editor. If you're a photographer, consider different niches such as fashion, landscape, sports, events, pets, portraits, and more. The same principles apply to any skill set. Times are changing quickly. Those who change with the times will continue to excel.
You have more expenses than you think you do.
Everything hits your pockets a little bit harder when you don't have a guaranteed paycheck coming around the corner. Those drinks while you're out with friends. That occasional meal from your favorite fast food spot. The random things that you buy from Target. The extra gas money that you spend driving all over the place on the weekend. Taking your significant other to Red Lobster. You become more acutely aware of how much everything costs. It's more important than ever to know where your money is going. A thorough, accurate budget will help you to navigate your new financial situation. Be mindful of how you spend your money, down to every dollar.
No one can advocate better for you than you can.
Depending on how you make your money, you might have an assortment of people who help you along your entrepreneurial journey. Coaches, agencies, lawyers, consultants, business partners...the list goes on. These people will likely bring a lot of subject matter expertise, experience, and connections to the table to help you press forward. That being said, none of these people are you.
Nobody will ever be as fully invested in your dream as you are. None of them know what you bring to the table better than you do. Never stop being the captain of your own ship. Never stop being as resourceful as possible while advocating for your own success and progression. The focus and consistency that you bring to the table will set the tone for everyone else who has a role in your success.
Hustle like you're broke, even when you're not.
You might get a check tomorrow, but that doesn't mean that you're guaranteed to get a check the day after. When times are good, you can't afford to rest on your laurels for long. The good times aren't guaranteed. You need to keep pushing, so that you can have some sort of financial cushion for when times aren't as good. There are few things more detrimental to creativity than financial anxiety. Save as much as you can whenever you can, so that you can minimize that stress when possible.
Don't expect your friends or family to understand your situation.
As your reality changes, you have to change. As your habits, priorities, and limitations are redefined, you are bound to see the relationships with people in your life shift. You can't be a self-starting entrepreneur and live a life like your friends who work a 9 to 5. You have more work to do. You have less financial flexibility. The hours you work will change as you take full control of your life and figure out what works best for you.
You'll have a lot of friends who encourage you in your endeavors, but if they've never set out on a similar journey themselves, they cannot truly understand the intricacies of your journey. Don't expect them to always get it. Embrace the friends who stick by you, but don't be afraid to let go of or temporarily separate yourself from friends who don't care to understand and empathize with the sacrifices you have to make during this phase of your life.
You have to be the catalyst of your own success. Every step of the way. Every single day.
If you want this life, you have to be prepared for the additional weight that comes with it. Nobody owes you anything. You have to figure out how you're going to win, and take all of the roadblocks that come with it. Carving out your own lane and making it profitable is not an overnight operation. If you're feeling down, discouraged, or just plain lost, it's good to have a strong team of people to support you. That doesn't change the fact that at the end of the day the onus rests on you to make your situation into what it needs to be. You have to take on that responsibility every day. Embrace that added weight and the freedom that comes with it, and don't shirk your responsibilities when things are more difficult than expected.
You can never truly be 100% prepared. If this is what you want, at some point you have to jump.
Planning ahead and researching are important, but experience will always be the best teacher. Switching gears from being an employee from 9 to 5 to living an entrepreneurial lifestyle 24/7 is one of the most radical changes you will make in your life. It's frightening, it's risky, and there is no guarantee of success. You can't account for or anticipate all the roadblocks that you'll encounter. At some point, you're going to have to take a deep breath and embrace the complexities of the path that you truly want for yourself in life.