Shortly after my husband Thom and I met in 1977, we opened our first business. We named the beach nightclub that we owned and managed on the coast of North Carolina, Night Moves. Since then, except for a couple of painful months in the following years as employees, we founded several other businesses and fully embraced the entrepreneur lifestyle. While I can’t imagine living any other way, I recently realized that the entrepreneurial approach isn’t mentioned much these days. What happened? Where did it go? And why aren’t more people embracing the many advantages that come from being self-employed?
I came to be an entrepreneur naturally. While my parents did work for others on and off during my early life, my father started his own pool-cleaning business when I was still in high school. My mother’s lifelong dream of opening her own western store eventually happened a few months after I graduated. Both businesses raised my family from working class to upper-middle-class in a relatively short time. Not bad for a father who never attended school after eighth grade or a mom who scrapped by with a high school degree and four kids. But because we started so modestly, I learned early on that if I wanted money to spend, I had better figure out a way to earn it myself.
Thom also came from a family with little educational focus. Thom’s mom was a stay-at-home mother while his dad supported the family as an auto mechanic who rebuilt cars on the side. Somewhere along the line, Thom decided that rather than stay dependent upon his parents, he vastly preferred to use his creative mind to generate income. At age ten he started with two paper routes, next he mowed lawns and washed cars, and gradually developed a mind that never stopped plotting and planning how to make money to do the things he wanted to do.
I think a big reason Thom and I attracted each other from the beginning is because we saw the entrepreneurial spirit in each other. When Thom mentioned opening a night club, even though neither of us knew a thing about running a business, I said: “why not?” When we opened a custom-made furniture store in Colorado a few years after that, I said: “Sounds interesting.” Later, when we felt drawn to the real estate industry we both saw it as a path with unending opportunities. Now, over 30 years later as real estate brokers, we remain fully self-employed. And my writing business? That’s just another aspect of an entrepreneurial mindset that chooses to express itself creatively.
With all that said, here are ten benefits we’ve received by being self-employed over 40 years:
- Freedom. Lots of people continually ask Thom and I if we are retired. We aren’t and don’t plan to. That’s because not only do we love what we do, we have an enormous amount of freedom to make it up any way we want. It’s not an accident. We purposely designed our lives this way. Because we value our time more than just about anything, we get to decide where, when and how we will spend it—and the freedom that comes from that is priceless.
- You never have a fixed income. Ever heard someone complain, “I can’t do that because I’m on a fixed income?” Really? Who fixed it? As an entrepreneur, you know that the amount of money you earn and spend is entirely in your hands. No matter what your age or body limitations, to a great extent you alone determine the limits on what you make and when or if that ends.
- Work where you want. Through the years we’ve heard people complain about being stuck in a city or location because of a job. Others grumble about a horrendous commute time. Entrepreneurs seldom feel that way because they know that they have the power to choose where they work. Yes, trade-offs are necessary, but ultimately the choice is up to us.
- Make your own schedule. Most entrepreneurs can’t imagine being stuck in a 9-to-5 position. Have a tight deadline or a big job? Then work all night or all weekend, and then take the next two weeks off. Entrepreneurs make that choice all the time. Of course, most of us love what we do, so it often doesn’t seem like work even then.
- It trains you to look for possibility and opportunity everywhere. When a person learns to rely on themselves and their imaginations to generate income, you instinctively teach your mind to stay open and receptive to potential ideas and avenues. Thom and I both see opportunity just about everywhere we look. Of course, that doesn’t mean you get involved in everything you see, (that discernment is something else you learn along the way) but it does provide you with limitless choices.
- You never fear you’ll end up becoming a bag lady. A conversation I’ve had with several women is an underlying worry about this happening as they age. An entrepreneur never worries about this because they have confidence in their ability to find work no matter what. It might not be a dream job, but there are always ways to find work and income. A lifetime of living that way is proof.
- You’ll never regret an expensive formal education. On-and-off through our lives, we’ve met dozens of people who went to college for many years at a high cost to either their families or themselves and now feel trapped by their profession. It turns out that lots of people went on to school because it was expected of them rather than because they wanted to learn. Others go into professions because they are talked into it or told it would be a good way to earn a living. Then once they spend all the time, effort and money to “arrive,” they just can’t walk away without enormous regret. Entrepreneurs get their education from experience, and every step of the journey helps them on the path.
- Money and success are a state of mind. Through the years Thom and I gradually realized that our income and our level of success had more to do with our state of mind (our consciousness) than the kind of work we did or the hours we put into it. Before that, we believed (like most people), that luck, an expensive education, or hard work were necessary elements to getting ahead. When we learned to focus and elevate our consciousness, our expectations, and our intentions, that changed everything for the better.
- You only have to work with people you like and respect. One of the most rewarding aspects of being an entrepreneur is deciding who you will work with on a daily basis. Sure you might have to say no to some income, but if money isn’t your primary motivation, you never, ever have to work for anyone that doesn’t respect you or your work.
- Your destiny is your own. You get to make it up. Of course, you also don’t get to blame anyone else for your mistakes or failures. While it sometimes might be convenient and somewhat comforting to blame others, like a boss, the economy, or the government when things take a turn for the worse, entrepreneurs can’t do that. Instead, you learn early on that your success or failure lies in your own hands.
Of course, there are several downsides to being an entrepreneur. Besides the fact that you must be a self-starter and budget carefully, we’ve always had to pay for our own healthcare and never once had an employer-paid vacation. As self-employed people, we can’t fall back on unemployment insurance, and there is no such thing as sick leave or maternity leave when you write your own paycheck. And retirement? Not only do we have to pay 100% of our own Social Security taxes, all other retirement savings are completely up to us. But with all that said, we still feel incredibly fortunate to live in a country where you can start with nothing like our parents and we did, and still create a happy and prosperous life.
Thom and I are proof that you don’t have to have a college degree, be a creative genius, or come from a wealthy family to be entrepreneurs. We are also proof that you don’t have to run a million dollar business startup to be successfully self-employed. Anyone, anywhere, at any age, who is willing to take their destiny into their own hands and start creating one from this moment forward can start embracing the benefits. The moment you start taking full responsibility for the choices that you make regarding your life, your money, your work, and your time, you become an entrepreneur. As usual, the SMART key is remembering you hold the choice 24/7, 365.