With every new year comes a lot of talk about setting, pursuing, and accomplishing goals. With that talk usually comes a lot of questions: Have you set your goals for the year? Have you written them down? Are you working on your goals, even if just a little bit, each and every day? What time frames and deadlines have you given yourself for reaching your goals? I wholeheartedly believe that having goals is great and, yes, in order to be progressive and successful, having them is essential, but I have a confession. Sometimes, when I hear people talking about the importance of having goals and asking these kinds of questions, I can’t help but cringe. Having goals is obviously important, but it’s equally as important that they be attached and anchored to meaningful outcomes that we genuinely desire and envision for ourselves rather than be shaped and driven by the sake of just having them because we know they’re good and important to have.
Not long ago, towards the end of last year, someone asked me a few questions about my goals. I couldn’t figure out why at first, but the questions really nagged me. Then, I figured it out. After thinking about the questions and why they got under my skin, I realized that my answer to all the questions was essentially the same: “I have no idea!” In the moment, I really couldn’t pinpoint and articulate specific answers about my goals. What the questions helped me realize is that, on average, my days are pretty full, and in the course of my daily routines and making sure I’m handling all of what’s regularly on my plate, sometimes my time and attention are so occupied with things I have to do right then that I don’t have a lot of time to sit and think about any goals other than my goals of accomplishing whatever is on my agenda that day. My goals of making sure my kids get out of the house for school on time that day; making sure I have my morning cup of coffee with my husband before we go our separate ways that day; making sure that dinner later on that day will be healthy enough, will taste good enough, and will be ready early enough so that we’re not eating at 9:00 at night; making sure I make all the phone calls I need to make that day, send all the emails and text messages I need to send that day, and attend—and not just attend, but attend on time—whatever meetings I need to attend that day; and also making sure that I spend a little time that day, even if just a few moments, tapping into how thankful I am for life, health, strength, and everything else that I could so easily take for granted. Then, the cycle repeats itself, and tomorrow, “that day” starts all over again.
So, in terms of goals, sometimes, during certain seasons of my life, these are the only goals I can think about on a daily basis, but these are generally not the kinds of goals people are talking about when they tell you that you need to have them and ask you whether you’re working on them everyday. I’ve found that when people ask about your life pursuits, they often want to know just that: what are you working on and trying to do with your life? What milestones are you trying to accomplish? What grand and master plan are you working on for your life? What are you ultimately trying to achieve? People often want to hear our specific life goals, visions, and dreams that we can start feeling guilty and insecure if we don’t quite know, at some given moment, what those life goals, visions, and dreams are. And why may we not know? Because for some of us, it takes time—time to think about what we really want in and out of life. It takes time to think about what we want to achieve, accomplish, and contribute to our community, society, and the world. For some of us, before we set and make genuine, meaningful goals and plans, we have to give ourselves time to actually think about what we really want. We shouldn’t have goals just for the sake of having them. We should have them because they are directly tied to outcomes that we would like to achieve and see—a true vision. And in order to know what you would really like to see—for yourself, your family, your community, society, and world around you—it may take time and maybe a lot of time to meaningfully think about, think through, and adopt a clear vision of what that looks like and, therefore, what you really want. After all, what’s the point of setting and having goals if they’re not a means or a method tied to helping you get to what and where you want to be?
When I was in law school, I had a professor, who did something that none of my other professors did. For final exams, all of the other professors instructed the proctors to distribute at the beginning of the exam period the essay questions along with the blue books where we would write our essays in response to the questions. So, students received the questions and answer booklets at the same time. This other professor, on the other hand, did things differently. He added one hour to the length of his final exam periods and instructed the proctors to distribute only the exam questions for the first hour, and during this hour, we were supposed to simply read the questions and think—think about the questions and how we plan to answer them. That’s it! During that first hour, we couldn’t start writing any answers to the questions, but we were to use that hour to carefully think through the questions and how we wanted to construct our answers. Again, that’s it! Then, after the hour passed, we received the blue books so that we could write out and articulate our well-thought-out and thought-thru answers in response to the essay questions. Did this professor have to withhold the blue books for the first hour to force students to think before they wrote? No, but he knew that some students have a tendency to start answering questions without taking adequate time to think first and then write. I believe the same holds true for goal-setting.
Let’s not set goals just for the sake of being able to say we have them, and let’s not set randomly-rushed goals of no true significance that do not genuinely reflect who we are and who and what we truly want to be. Take time to think. Maybe even that is a goal worth setting: the goal of carving out time to think about what further goals you want for yourself. Here’s the reality: whatever goals you set regardless of why you’ve set them, if you’re an ambitious person, you’re going to go after the goals you’ve set for yourself. But here’s the point, don’t rush! Take time to really think about what you truly want and who you truly want to be. Then, let time and thought shape your goals so that they are genuinely and meaningfully attached and anchored to helping you achieve the vision that you truly want to achieve.
Several years ago, I was speaking with a woman, who was explaining to me how she handled a call from a Human Resources recruiter who wanted to schedule a final interview for a position that she strongly believed she would get. This woman had recently experienced the death of a parent and was telling me how stricken with grief she was during the final stages of her dad's life, her visit with him while on his death-bed, and now that he was gone. She explained, nonetheless, that when the recruiter called, she was still out of town and was in the midst of helping her mom plan her dad's funeral, but instead of telling the recruiter what was going on, she proceeded to schedule the interview for the following week, believing she would have returned home by then. When I asked her whether she had shared with the recruiter that her dad had recently passed away, she said she hadn't, so, naturally, my next question was why not. Her answer: she didn't want to hinder her chances of getting the position by having HR think that her personal issues would interfere with how she handled her professional affairs. Now, I admit that even though, at the moment of her telling me this, I just responded by saying, "Oh, okay," but in all honesty, I was thinking, "Whaaatt?!?! Your father had just passed away!!!"
Why do we feel that we cannot allow information about our personal lives to enter into our professional environments? Maybe because there's an unpleasant history surrounding the notion that when you enter the workplace, you should leave your personal life and it's cares, problems, and concerns behind and never the two shall meet. If we're sitting in a meeting with colleagues but, especially, if with a manager ("the boss") and our cellphone buzzes with a text or a call from our spouse or our children, we tend to ignore it (until the meeting is over, of course). If our boss wants to schedule a meeting late in the day, and we know that it may interfere with leaving in enough time to attend our child's after-school concert, we'll say, "Okay" but cringe inside, hoping that the meeting won't run too long so that we can, at least, catch some of the concert before it ends. We're often not comfortable letting people we work with, especially those we report to, know that work is, somehow, going to interfere with personal priorities or that personal priorities may have to sometimes interrupt work because in professional environments, these realities could give an impression that we're not being responsible. We don't want others to think that we're preoccupied with or distracted by personal matters, as though we're not committed to our work, or that we don't respect the workplace, those we work with, and those we're accountable to. So, we're not always forthcoming with, and sometimes we even hide, our personal affairs while we're at work or within a professional arena, but why? I believe the reason is fear--the fear that someone will think something about us that's not really true and that they'll draw conclusions about us that will work against us and will, ultimately, cause us to lose something.
In 2008, I left my last corporate employer and spent the next several months trying to decide my next steps. After several months, I started interviewing, thinking that maybe I would return to a corporate position, and by January of 2009, my interview trail started really heating up. One company, in particular, asked that I return for, yet, another interview, which I was told should be my final round before an offer was extended. I was extremely excited that I was so close to wrapping this process up, and what was even more exciting for me was that the position was less than a thirty-minute drive from home, something I had longed for. So, after the recruiter finished giving me feedback on my prior round of interviews, she began talking about when they wanted me to come back in. So, finally, she asked: "How about next Tuesday, the 20th, at 10am?" and in all honesty, before I could even think of a reply, I immediately responded: "Oh, no, I'm sorry. Tuesday is Inauguration Day, and I've already planned to watch the inauguration with my family." Under normal circumstances, I would not have been that direct, but these circumstances were no where near normal: President-Elect Barack Obama was being inaugurated, and there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to watch that with my family. Of course, we ended up scheduling for a different day, but I was extremely happy that I exercised my boundaries to protect what was important to me, and even though I didn't lose anything as a result, I would have been perfectly okay, even if a little disappointed, if I had lost something, but I would have deeply regretted not protecting my priorities if I hadn't exercised boundaries.
I've witnessed many people, and I know you have, too, who have failed personally and professionally because they erected such thick walls between their personal and professional lives to keep the two separate, trying to prevent them from intersecting with and impacting each other in any way whatsoever. I have learned, though, that that's not always possible, it's not always practical, nor is it always wise. We fail because we try so hard to successfully keep all the balls in the air and to keep all the moving-parts moving but all in their separate worlds. Perhaps, if we let one world--the work world--know what's going on in the other world--the personal world--we could focus on managing one big, integrated world that includes both work and family, both personal and professional, instead of stressing ourselves out trying to keep everything separate but still in the air and still moving, especially when we're dealing with personal crisis, but it shouldn't require a crisis for employees to freely be transparent about personal and family priorities. If there weren't such an unfavorable historical perspective regarding the intertwining of personal and professional and family and work, many employees would be more inclined to openly integrate the two and less inclined to unrealistically separate them. Yes, ideally, our personal worlds and our workplace worlds should not collide, but the reality is that they co-exist and may very likely result in a collision because of the pace and pull of the times we're living in. There are times when we may have to sacrifice personal priorities for work and may also have to sacrifice work priorities for family, but my word to employers is that a collision doesn't have to be viewed as a detriment but, rather, as a reality that the employee just needs to manage. If employers were more accepting of this, employees wouldn't feel the need to hide it, and many professional-personal failures or derailments could be avoided. What complicates matters is that many employers--Human Resource Departments-- understand and are supportive of this reality, but employees don't always experience the same understanding and support from their managers, and in, fact, they often get the exact opposite--outright opposition from those they report to. Regardless, however, of whether an employer explicitly creates and announces a culture that understands that work-life and home-life are intricately intertwined, my word to employees is that you are responsible for setting and protecting your own boundaries, and as you do, you'll make those around you aware that you have them and what and where they are.
So, be proactive and take ownership of integrating your worlds. The next time a colleague or even your manager wants to schedule a meeting that might interfere with your leaving early enough to be present for your son or daughter, try saying something like, "Is there any way we can push the meeting up? My son has a basketball game after school, and I'd like to leave in enough time to catch it." Or the next time you're in a meeting and your spouse texts or calls you, instead of just ignoring it, try something like, "Please excuse me for one moment. My wife is calling; let me just let her know I'll call her back." You could either pick up and let her know, or you could shoot her a quick text that you're in a meeting and will call her as soon as you're done. Either way, the more you begin to intersect and integrate your worlds, the more others will expect you to do so. And instead of trying to avoid a collision, allow your worlds to collide into one big intersected, integrated, intertwined world with lots of balls to keep in the air and lots of parts to keep moving.
Mixing business and pleasure, personal and professional, money and friendship. Some say it's just not a good idea. But why? Why should we keep these things separate? I'm not so sure that we absolutely have to because doing business with and for people we know and have genuine relationships with can be a beautiful thing. Yet, when we do, things don't always turn out so beautifully, and there are numerous reasons why, but I'd like to look at this from one particular angle, an angle that I often call, "Can you help me out." I've spent a lot of time over the years observing, examining, and studying conflict, primarily because conflict exists in so many, if not all, areas of our lives. Its effects can be so rampant but, at the same time, so camouflaged, so subtle, and so easily ignored or dismissed. For the most part, many of us just don't like conflict, so we escape and avoid it at all costs, even if it means ignoring a "pink elephant" in the middle of a room screaming for attention.
So, what in the world is the conflict I'm talking about that has to do with mixing business and pleasure, personal and professional, and money and friendship that I like to call the "Can you help me out" syndrome? It's that conflict that occurs when we decide to start a business or start selling some product or service and regardless of the fact that we haven't seen or spoken to certain people in over ten, fifteen, or twenty-plus years or maybe we see them regularly but never engage them in much or any conversation, but now, suddenly, we decide to reach out to spark or re-spark a relationship because we now want them to help us out by buying whatever product or service we're selling. Look, if we're in business, or even if we haven't officially launched a business, but maybe we've written a book, recorded a CD, or some of us may have started selling jewelry, or health and wellness products, or maybe we've decided to start providing personal or professional care services of some sort, it goes without saying that we're going to want people to know what we're doing so that, hopefully, they'll keep us in mind in the event they or someone they know ever needs what we're providing. But if we haven't taken time to genuinely build, maintain, and value relationships with the people we're now reaching out to for support, they may, likely, get a bit turned off if we're now in touch only because we want something from them.
Back in the mid-'90s, my husband and I became involved with a business that, for purposes of simplicity, we'll describe as direct-sales. Of course, as with any business, but especially in this kind of business, in order to be successful, we had to get the word out to as many people as we could that we were now involved in this highly-popular business arrangement. We attended a lot of seminars, where we were trained on many aspects of how to do the business and how to do it well, and it all started with learning how to identify and initiate sales conversations with potential customers. As part of the training, we were instructed to make a list of everyone we knew--everyone! And to then call each one of those "everyones" and, essentially, ask them, "Hey, can you help me out?" Well, being true trainees, zealous and ambitious to succeed, we did our best to think of and reach out to every single person we knew so that we could initiate that much-needed conversation that started with, "Hey, can you help me out?" But what didn't matter? What didn't matter was how long it had been since we had last seen or spoken to a person. So what that we hadn't seen them since kindergarten. They still qualified! So what that we may not have had a direct way to get in touch with a person. If we had a telephone number of someone else who had that person's number, we'd just simply call the person whose number we had and ask for it (but, of course, not without first telling that person what we were into and seeing if they, too, might be interested). What didn't matter was that once we were on the phone with a person in that initial conversation, we really had nothing else to talk about nor were we interested in talking about anything else besides telling them about the business and then asking them, "Hey, can you help me out" even if we didn't ask in those words verbatim. The bottom line is that all we genuinely cared about was getting them to buy what we were selling. Never mind genuine relationship!
So, what are our takeaways? Here are a few:
1. If we genuinely care about people, we will naturally show interest in them even when doing so is not attached to benefiting us, our products, our services, or our businesses in some tangible or monetary way;
2. If we genuinely value relationships, we'll authentically build and maintain them as part of our natural DNA, which is something we can intentionally decide to be and do;
3. Exploitation can sound harsh, and there is a very fine line between sincerely letting people know what we're doing because we genuinely believe it may be of benefit to them versus exploiting people for our own selfish gain. So, even if that's not our intention, let's be mindful of the sheer appearance of what can be perceived as our being interested in others only for how we may benefit because regardless of whether we intend it or not, people may still feel as though they're being exploited, and nobody likes to feel that way;
4. Our genuine interest in and care for others doesn't mean we have to talk to them every day and send them birthday and Christmas gifts. If that's what we sincerely want to do, that's fine, but it doesn't have to mean that. It may just mean inquiring about how they and their families are doing every now and then or, at bare minimum, simply smiling and extending the common courtesy of saying "Hello" whenever we see them; and finally,
5. Let's keep in mind that support can be expressed in different ways, so people may want to support us in ways other than by buying what we're selling. The reality is that they may not need or be interested in the products or services we provide, but they would still like to show their support by showing up at events, sharing what we're doing with others in their network, by sharing with us words of encouragement, or even by praying for our success. So, support is not only about monetary or tangible gain.
As we know, a common response to conflict is to ignore or avoid dealing with it because conflict can cause awkwardness and a lot of discomfort. And the conflict that many often experience is that tension between wanting to be supportive of those of us they know who are in some form of business or those of us who sell some type of product or service, but, yet, they don't want to feel like their only value in our eyes is as a prospective customer or client nor do they want to feel compelled to buy what we're selling. So, the common solution that many resort to is that they start avoiding us because this tension can create a whole lot of awkwardness. If, however, we, as people in business or as people who sell products and services, focus on genuinely building, maintaining, and valuing the gifts and treasures of people and relationships, we'll lessen the tension and awkwardness that others feel because they'll know that we see and value them for who they really are and not merely for how they can be of benefit to us.
We're at the end of July, in the middle of summer, and finally experiencing pleasant temperatures after a heatwave that lasted nearly a week. Depending on where you live, summertime brings warmer temperatures, but it also brings a change of pace. Kids are out of school; families take vacations; we fire up the grills; we go to the beach and enjoy other outdoor activities; and as for work, some of us work modified schedules--summer hours--in order to make the most of the season. But there's something I've noticed: those of us who make our own schedules--maybe we own our own businesses or are independent contractors--sometimes don't know how to change our pace, even when everything around us is telling us we ought to.
While being an entrepreneur comes with its share of challenges, it also comes with many joys and freedoms. Many of us who write our own pay checks, so to speak, have chosen this route because we want a certain degree of control that we don't, otherwise, believe we'd get, like creative control, intellectual control, financial control, and control over time. But what happens, especially when it comes to controlling our time, is that we sometimes find ourselves working more rigorous schedules than we would if we were working as employees for someone else. I completely understand the dynamic in that our income is more directly tied to how much work we do and how many engagements we get, and regardless of the time of year and regardless of how beautiful the weather, our bills don't stop. So, it's easy and, at times, may even be necessary, to fall into a space of "All work, no play," but the reality is that "all work and no play" is no fun, and not only is it no fun, it imprisons us to our work, it smothers our freedom and keeps us in bondage, and on top of that it's simply not healthy and can cause a lot of stress. Yet, these may be the very reasons why we chose a more independent path: we were seeking what we believed would give us more "play" and not "all work"; what would give us more freedom; and what would provide a healthier lifestyle. There's no question that as entrepreneurs, as independents, and even as employees, we're going to have to work hard, but as entrepreneurs and independents, because we, typically, don't have set vacation times or a set number of days that we can use for time off, we have to be all the more conscious about determining our on-seasons, our off-seasons, and when to take a break, and once we decide to take a break, how to smoothly transition into that break or into vacation-mode.
I learned this one day a little under ten years ago. My family and I were about to go on a summer vacation. My husband had decided to work from home for just a few hours to wrap things up with work. Our kids were both pumped and restless and just ready to be gone by now. I, on the other hand, on top of making sure we were all packed up and ready to go, on top of trying to keep our kids occupied so that they would not disturb Daddy while he was trying to work, decided to squeeze in a last-minute meeting with a client just before we were scheduled to leave. In theory, this seemed like a good idea. I'd get to take care of things for the client before I left, which meant they wouldn't have to wait until I returned, and I'd also get paid my fee at the end of our meeting, which meant I'd make some money right before I left. But what became the problem? Before the meeting could take place, I had to revise and print a few documents that the client needed to sign, but once I finished the revisions, I now had one problem after another after another with my printer. The documents weren't printing correctly; the clock was ticking; my kids were growing more and more restless; my husband and I were becoming more and more distracted by them; and he and I were becoming more and more annoyed with each other because we each felt like the other was not helping the other one out by keeping the kids occupied. And the more this scenario continued, the more stressed out I became with those documents, with my kids, and with my husband and the more concerned I became that I'd be late or unprepared for the meeting or would maybe have to cancel altogether. And we still had a flight to catch! And I still had to make sure we were fully packed up and ready to go because, remember, I decided to schedule a "last-minute" meeting, so the time I spent preparing for the meeting distracted my time away from finishing up preparing for vacation, and all of this because I was so deeply entrenched in work-mode. But by this point, I no longer felt like going on any vacation. I was stressed, annoyed, and aggravated, and should have never scheduled that meeting in the first place, and after all of that, you wouldn't believe what happened. The client ended up canceling because they had an emergency.
I've learned that no matter how much and how hard I work and may need to work to complete certain tasks, accomplish certain goals, and achieve certain objectives, I also have to know when to pump the brakes and slow down, and even stop. Even at times when I physically and mentally want to keep my hand to the plow and keep on working, I've realized that there's a time and season for everything, including a time to be on and a time to be off; a season to be on and a season to be off. Yes, I could force myself to keep working even when my head is really not into it, and sometimes I may need to force myself to keep working when my head is really not into it. But at the same time, there are times when I need to put up the "Closed for Business" sign in my mind, because everything around me says I need to, or, at the very least, I may need to hang the "Out to Lunch" sign up. Perhaps, you've found yourself in similar positions and are not quite sure how to set healthy boundaries around and within your schedule so that you're not constantly "on" and working all of the time. I'll share with you what I do, and maybe this will help. Just as a year is broken up into seasons, I realize that my calendar year has seasons of its own. So, I've accepted the reality that there are certain times throughout the year when I need to turn down my work schedule and times when I need to turn it completely off. So, for example, January is turned down for me--I'm coming off of the Holidays, I'm reflecting on the year ahead, and I'm also setting things up for the months to come. Then, February thru mid- to late-June, my schedule is turned up. But, then, July and August, I turn down and, at times, I turn completely off. In September, after Labor Day, I rev up until the first week of December. And, then, I'm completely off during the last three weeks of the year. This has worked for me, and maybe something like this will work for you, but the key is to have something as opposed to nothing to bring structure and parameters to our schedules to help keep us from constantly working all the time. This way, we know ahead of time when we're on, when we're off; when to turn up, when to turn down; when to work, when to play; and how to truly have the freedom and control over our time that we so desire.
"Put it in writing!" A very simple phrase, consisting of only four words, but a phrase that carries a lot of weight. For some business owners or even freelancers, who don't really see what they do as a full-fledged business, but, yet, perform services for a fee, just the thought of putting things in writing and and asking a client to sign on the "dotted" line can trigger a lot of angst and a variety of thoughts:
- Just one more thing to do;
- I just want to get the deal done;
- We don't need to sign anything;
- Everybody's clear on what everybody's supposed to do. These may all be true, but it cannot hurt to put something down on paper to simply document what's expected by the parties involved, and the reason: things happen! Not only do things happen, things also change, and not only do things change, people sometimes forget and also misunderstand what's expected after conversations end. Not that having something in writing means that people won't, can't, and don't still misunderstand, but wrapping written words around a handshake can, at least, give the parties involved a concrete frame of reference or context--a basis of something to talk about--should a misunderstanding arise.
Many of us in business don't like the idea of asking a client to sign a contract because we believe it may be too formal or intimidating for someone we want to do business with, especially if it's someone we know or share some familiarity with. Or, if you're anything like I am, you may just not feel like putting in the time, thought, and energy to write up the terms and conditions that will govern the deal you want to make. You just want to get it done! But the reality is that issues surface, and as much as we believe that nothing will go wrong, things do go wrong. Face it: if we knew ahead of time exactly what may go awry and how a very clear, simple, and straightforward agreement can go off course, we would put things in writing more often. But that's just it: we don't know! So, that's precisely why capturing expectations in a contract makes sense and can save us a lot of headache, heartache, time, energy, and not to mention, money later on. Please understand that putting things in writing doesn't mean that you need a 10-page document, typed in a 10-point font. But have something, even if it's written on the back of an envelope or even on a sticky note. You may think I'm kidding and just saying this in jest, but I am very, very serious. We can always confirm in a simple email to the client later on whatever we jotted down, but the point is that we need something. We should be clear about what products or services we're proposing to provide, but beyond that, we can't be afraid to tell prospective clients our basic terms and conditions for how we would like to do business. It's not unusual to be concerned about whether we'll lose an opportunity because a client doesn't like our parameters. But I tell you from firsthand experience that it's a lot more freeing to be honest up front about how we want to conduct business, even if it means not getting the business, than to get the business and have to deliver based on terms and conditions that we're very unhappy about, especially if it's because we didn't communicate them upfront. This is a sure set-up for feeling undervalued, taken advantage of, and disgruntled later on.
Several years ago, a gentleman, whom I met through my husband, asked me to draft a document that he could use for a business that he owned, and I agreed. After talking with this gentleman to get clear about what he needed, I told him how much it would cost and how long it would take for me to complete a draft for his review, and he agreed. But here's what's funny: the client wanted me to draft a service agreement that he could use with his clients for many of the same reasons I'm suggesting to you to put things in writing with your own clients, but what did I not do? Because he seemed like a very nice, mild-mannered, soft-spoken man, who, by his own admission, was not very business savvy but had a service he liked performing for others but often felt taken for granted and had experienced too many occasions, where his clients did not pay him what they owed or would change the services, which would result in him having to do more work than what was originally agreed upon, I did not put anything in writing with him that would govern the way we would do business (and I'm a lawyer!). I confirmed our initial conversation with an email, asking him for additional information, but as for outlining certain particulars of our arrangement . . . nope; I didn't do it. I didn't do it because I genuinely believed that it wasn't necessary. So, what happened? I drafted the document and sent him a draft to review within the time frame I promised, and once he gave the okay, I finalized the draft, provided him with a standard service agreement that he could use with his clients, and I then sent him an invoice. And then, what happened? This very nice, mild-mannered, soft-spoken, non-business-savvy man told me that he would pay the invoice in three installments over the next couple of months and that he would pay the first installment within the next few weeks. Excuse me?!?! Since when does the client dictate to the service provider the terms for payment?!?! But what was the problem? I never stated upfront, not to mention put anything in writing, that I expected full payment upon completing and delivering the final document. So, I simply said, "Okay" and considered this the cost of an education as well as a reminder of something I knew all too well: state my conditions, especially with respect to payment, up front--not just how much the client will pay but exactly by when (and, even, how) the payment is to be made. Since then, I have never experienced that again. (Well, maybe once, but nothing quite like that.)
So, question: will asking a client to sign a contract completely eliminate mishaps and misunderstandings that often occur in business? No! Will taking notes on what we and our clients discuss upfront and later confirming those discussions with emails mean that all of our business dealings will always go smoothly without any hiccups along the way? No! And are there times when you're doing business with someone you know or are familiar with, and you believe you can safely relax some of your standard practices? Of course! But, in general, apart from occasional exceptions, what does taking notes and putting things in writing, whether in a contract, on the back of an envelope, on a sticky note, or in follow-up communications do? It gives you and me the peace of mind, at the outset, that we stated what we require, addressed particular issues, and set certain boundaries, which should reduce, even if it doesn't eliminate, the amount of unpleasant surprises that we might, otherwise, experience later on. There's something about not saying anything nor being clear about what we want in the early stages of our talks with our clients that makes it difficult to bring it up later because it's like changing the rules of a game after the game has begun. And in all fairness, sometimes we don't know what issues to anticipate arising later on, so we don't know to speak to those issues early on. The reality is that we learn as we go, but as we go, each lesson we learn informs us how to handle things next time. So, the lesson here is what? Next time, don't do what I did. Better, yet, do what I didn't do: set your terms and conditions up front, as simple or as basic as they may be, but also put them in writing!
Keep Expenses Low and Sleep Tight!
Are you one of the many budding entrepreneurs out there who has decided to try your hand at starting, building, and running your own business? Have you decided to turn a personal love that, until recently, you've performed as a hobby into a viable stream of income? Or maybe you have a talent, skill, or craft that, on a part-time basis, you've shared with others for a fee but have now decided to make what has been your side gig your main gig. If so, will you please allow me to share one critical piece of advise with you? Whether you're a freelancer doing business in your own name or you've chosen to set up a formal business structure like a corporation or an LLC (Limited Liability Company), there are a lot of things to know that can help you succeed. But over the years, the one simple piece of advise that I've stressed more than any other to many entrepreneurs, especially as they're just starting out has been this: keep expenses low!!! Let me say that again: keep expenses low!!!
As a business owner, there are different ways to finance your business: some take out loans; some take on investors; some bootstrap (they use their own personal funds and reinvest any money the business makes back into the business). While either approach has its own set of pluses and minuses, no matter which approach you take, I stand by my simple piece of advise: keep expenses low!!! People start businesses all the time, and, unfortunately, people go out of business at what has been cited as a faster and higher rate than they go in. I acknowledge that several factors can contribute to why entrepreneurial endeavors fail and that businesses not laden with financial burdens fail as well. My focus here, however, has more to do with what drives your business over, perhaps, what should not so that your business can sustain. Last year, Small Business Trends published an article, "Startup Statistics--The Numbers You Need to Know," and it named four leading causes for small business failures: incompetence; lack of management experience; lack of product or service line experience; and a catch-all category of neglect, fraud, and disaster. Well, I have a fifth category: STRESS!!! Aside from the fact that high expenses can dwarf revenue and leave no room for profit, just the stress of having to generate a certain amount of revenue higher than what may be healthy for the business owner in order to just stay afloat--forget about making a profit--can cause a business to fail. As entrepreneurs, just like investors, we have to know our tolerance for risk, so in that vein, we also have to know what level of expenses we can tolerate as well.
In the early 2000s, I started my first official business, and just as I was starting, an older gentleman, who had been my boss until that time, asked me if I was familiar with the "Sleep-tight Factor." I was not. He proceeded to tell me that when he had previously been in business for himself, he made sure that whatever could potentially cause him to not sleep tight at night, that's what he made his priority. So, since not being able to pay his bills was something that would gravely interfere with being able to sleep well once his head hit his pillow at night, he took on a lot of work--work that he wanted to do and work that he didn't want to do--so that he could pay his bills every month. Now, this was advice that I've held onto over the years, but I will tell you that early on, even with that advice, I had plenty of nights, where I did not sleep tight. Early in my tenure as an entrepreneur, I took on a lot of expenses, and because I did, not only was I stressed about keeping up with those expenses, but the stress was compounded because I often found myself feeling "forced" to take on work that I really didn't want to do but felt I had to in order to pay the bills. So, the stress of the expenses was coupled with the stress of doing things I really didn't want to do, which inevitably took time away from being able to focus on getting and doing the work that I really wanted to do, all because my expenses were so high. Higher-than-healthy expenses--expenses that were higher than what was healthy for me or, in other words, my tolerance--negatively impacted my freedom to be as selective as I had hoped in terms of what type of work I accepted and what type of work I did not accept. Carrying expenses early on that were greater than what I could reasonably sustain by doing, primarily, the work that I really wanted to do, imprisoned me to doing work I didn't really want to do. So, my "Sleep-tight Factor" was not just shot; it was doubly-shot and turned upside down.
Am I saying that in business, you shouldn't have any expenses or that your expenses should be so low that you don't have to bring in any amount of business to be able to pay them? Maybe! Maybe I am saying that, depending upon your expense-tolerance--what's healthy for you to sustain and have peace and be able to sleep well at night. But, realistically speaking, some expenses are very necessary. There are necessary costs and natural risks associated with owning and running a business and to think otherwise can be very naive. But what I am saying is this: be mindful of your expenses because the greater your expenses, the greater their hold may be on you to have to meet them, which may cause you a whole lot of stress and a lot of sleepless nights. Starting and successfully maintaining a business, in and of itself, can be extremely challenging apart from expenses, but there are some challenges we can definitely control, especially those involving expenses. Instead of renting business space, maybe you can run your business from your home; maybe you can use a virtual office; maybe you can reserve a meeting or conference room only on an as-needed basis; and maybe you can meet clients at a cafe or a coffee house or for a walk in the park. Instead of hiring a steady, full-time, in-person administrative or executive assistant, for a whole lot less, maybe you can hire a virtual assistant; maybe you can pay for shared administrative or executive services; or maybe you can personally perform some, or maybe all, of these functions yourself. Point being, there are always ways to control expenses, and, if, by chance, your "Sleep-tight Factor" may be affected negatively by them, then knowing how to keep them low without compromising on the quality of doing business will cut down on stress, give you a greater peace, and will help you sleep better at night when your head hits your pillow. So, again, my humble advice: keep expenses low and sleep tight!!!
Failure. Disappointment. Both are natural human responses. When we've tried and what we've tried do not work, it's natural and normal to feel as though we've failed and to, therefore, feel disappointed. So, don't let anyone tell you otherwise or try to make you feel guilty, abnormal, or weak just because that's what you feel. If you've invested time, effort, and resources, especially if you've invested lots of them, for what you hoped to be successful to only turn out opposite, doesn't it make sense that you're going to experience some sort of emotional response that's not thrill, happiness, or excitement?
The end result of disappointment may be the same for many of us, but what gets us there may differ. For you, it may be not getting a job you so wanted and just "knew" you would get. For me, maybe it's not getting a client that I zealously pursued for some time and at great length. For others, it may be a myriad of other reasons: not getting a well-deserved raise, bonus, or promotion; the seller of a house that's absolutely perfect for a family accepts their offer to buy, but the deal ends up falling apart; maybe it's not getting accepted into a college or university of one's dreams and the resulting disappointment for the student and their parents; or, yet, perhaps a failed relationship that seemed so destined to succeed. These are just a few, but no matter what the cause, we're left feeling very much the same: disappointed and as though we failed.
Whenever I reflect on my own feelings of failure and disappointment, I usually think back to an experience I had years ago when I was transitioning into the legal profession. I had heard plenty of stories about how difficult it is to not just land an associate's position at a top New York City law firm, but how slim the chances are to even be considered. When an opportunity, nonetheless, to interview for a prominent firm came my way, I decided to give it a shot. After a series of interviews and completing an extremely daunting writing sample, a memorandum of law, I was more than thrilled to learn that I made it to the final round of consideration. I was now one of four finalists, and only one of us would be selected, but I had been assured that of the four, I was the most likely candidate to be selected for the position. So, I had my final interview, I confidently answered every question thrown at me, and I came away knowing I had put my best foot forward. By now, though, I'm sure you know what happened. You guessed it: I didn't get the position! And not only did I not get the position, they had to nerve to tell me, of all days (albeit, unbeknown to them), on my birthday!
I don't believe anyone could have had any idea how disappointed I felt. Here I was thinking I'd receive the best birthday news ever, but, instead, I received the exact opposite. Not only did I have to deal with the overwhelming shock of it all, I could not wrap my brain around how I had failed at something I was almost assured of getting. My disappointment was so dark that I felt like there would never be another opportunity that I could or would ever possibly want as much as I wanted this. I felt at such a loss for where I missed it or dropped the ball during the interview. I felt like I had been set up all along to think I was a highly-viable candidate to only be rejected and rejected on my birthday. I could not recall too many other times when I felt so low, but as low as I felt, as much failure as I felt, as much disappointment as I felt, I had to eventually do what we all must do. Yes, we should grieve our losses, our failures, and our disappointments when they occur. And, no, grieving our pain versus having a pity-party are, in no way, the same thing. But, after awhile, even if very slowly, assuredly, the light will shine again, and when it does, how should we respond? Instead of doing whatever we can to dim the light that naturally wants to shine after a period or season of darkness, we should welcome that light and embrace it as the sign of hope that light represents. So, in spite of our losses, failures, and disappointments, eventually . . . after awhile . . . let's let light shine!
At some point in our careers, and maybe more than once, many of us decide that we want to make a change. In spite of how long we've worked in a particular field or profession, we decide that we would like to do something different. Maybe we'd like to pursue that thing we've always dreamed of doing; or maybe it's a new-found love that we do on occasion but long to do on a full-time basis; maybe we no longer enjoy doing what we've done for the past twenty years; or maybe we've been downsized and have decided that this is a good opportunity to make a much-needed, long-awaited change. Whatever way we discover or experience this new pull, it all boils down to wanting to make a shift in our careers after having invested significant time in the work we've been doing, possibly, for years.
We've heard of people, and may even know some, who have successfully changed career lanes and the type of work they do: the systems analyst who became a school teacher; the lawyer who became a non-profit director; the social worker turned college professor; the accountant who becomes a real estate agent; the nurse who's now an interior designer; the journalist who becomes a pastry chef; and we could go on. But how does one really do this? How do we successfully transition from one career and line of work to something, sometimes, starkly different? And not just transition, but transition without what many of us want to avoid: without starting from the bottom or from the beginning within our new industry? Let's face it, if you've worked in a field for a good number of years, you've, likely, advanced in that particular field in more ways than one: in knowledge, experience, and, of course, in salary. And chances are, the salary range you're in is the salary range you'd like to keep when you enter your new profession.
I cannot tell you how many attorney-friends I've had over the years, particularly women with young children, who, at some point decided they wanted to make significant changes in their careers and maybe even stop practicing law altogether--a song I personally know all too well. They've usually started out, just as I, insisting that, in their new professions, they earn the same amount of money, that they work fewer hours, and that they have much more flexibility in their schedules so they can spend more time at home and with their kids. But what are some realities? Well, for starters, one is that you have to actually qualify to enter the new profession, which may mean going back to school, getting another degree, and maybe even volunteering in the new field to build the knowledge, experience, and relationships necessary to fully make the transition. Another is that once you qualify, you may not earn the salary you've become accustomed to, at least, not right away. And another is that you may not get certain benefits and freedoms in your new-found field the moment you walk through the door. After all, you're a newbie!
So, what's the best way to approach changing careers:
-- 1. Recognize your realities. Yes, miracles can happen, and, yes, it's not impossible for someone to open up a door for you to enter a brand new field, where you don't have to make any sacrifices whatsoever and can start at the top with the salary and all the benefits, flexibility, and freedoms you want the moment you walk through the door, but also realize that may not happen, and that it's not far-fetched if it doesn't;
-- 2. Be prepared to bridge the gap. While you may be an absolutely stellar performer, highly-decorated with an outstanding record of accomplishments in your current role, you may have a huge learning curve to bend. You may have great passion and a strong pull towards your new field, but that alone, even if you have a natural talent for the work you’ll be doing, doesn't make you qualified and competent. So, be prepared to invest new time and new energy in getting the necessary credentials to effectively perform in your new space; and
-- 3. Ease into it. Just because your desire to transition burns inside of you like a flame that won't go out, be patient, and don't be drastic. Take time to explore your prospective profession and the best possible ways to depart where you are and enter where you want to go. There's nothing wrong with being inspired by others who have successfully changed lanes, but everyone's circumstances are not the same. You may need to dibble and dabble in your new field for a considerable time before fully jumping in, but that's okay. If it's a field worth entering, it will be there when the best time comes for you to make your move.--
As you recognize your realities, work on bridging your gaps, and patiently chart and ease your way into your new career, don't let having to, possibly, start at the beginning or the "bottom" deter you from making a change. Just as you've been a highly-decorated, stellar-, and star-performer in your current role, decide that you'll be the same, and even more, in your new one. Onward and Upward!
Just get started! Whatever it is that you know you need to do but have been putting off, just get going with it! Procrastination is a "dream-killer." It's not the waiting that kills dreams but it’s what often happens during the time we're not engaging in the thing we should be doing to get to where we want to go and to where we want to be. Dreams can live in our hearts for a very long time, and the longer they live, the stronger they may become: the little boy, who always wanted to become a police officer and becomes one when he grows up; the little girl, who always wanted to become a school teacher and does just that when she grows up. So, the length of life of a dream can fuel the strength of it within us. But as adults, with so many pulls on our thoughts, our time, and on our energy, the longer we wait to take concrete actions to pursue our dreams and our visions, the greater the chances we just won't do it.
Too often, we become intimidated by how much work is involved and how much time it will take. Yet, the dream, the vision, the desire, the goal continues to nag within us, yearning for attention and to be achieved. But rather than focusing on how many pieces are in the puzzle and how long it will take to put it all together, running the risk of not putting any of it together at all, how about getting started by picking up just one piece and then looking for one other piece to connect that piece to? Then, once you've connected those two pieces, look for another one--just one more piece--to connect to those two.
So, what does this look like in the practical? Okay, here we go:
-- If you have a book inside of you, and you're wondering where to start and how to start writing it . . . The answer: just start writing! The book will never get written if you don't write it, so just get started;
-- If you have songs inside of you that you'd like to record for the world to hear . . . Answer: just start singing! It may take time to get them recorded, but start singing to the world around you so, at least, the world around you can hear your message;
-- You want to go back to school to finish your degree or get a more advanced degree, but you're clueless about who has the program or what the program is even called . . . The answer: go online and start visiting websites of any colleges and universities you can think of to, at least, get your juices flowing. With so many online programs out there, it doesn't have to be a school in your town, city, or state;
-- You want to start a business but have no idea where to start . . . Answer: call someone, anyone, who knows anything about business, or maybe someone who has one, and ask them how to get started!
-- Or for years, you've dreamed of opening a school for children with some special need, talent, or ability . . . What's the answer? Go on the Internet and type in a search for just that: "How do I open a school for children with some special need, talent, or ability?"
The point is that no matter what it is you want to do or how long doing it might take, there's something you can do today to get started and get going with it.
Just because we have goals, visions, and dreams in our hearts, we still have to do the work, and sometimes . . . oftentimes, very hard work for a very long time to reach our goals and see our visions and dreams become realities. Just remember and never lose sight that it's not as important how much work is required and how long it will take. What matters above all else is that you just get started, even if it means picking up and connecting just one piece at a time. But whatever you do, do not procrastinate!
If you've worked long enough, the likelihood of your having to leave a job not on the best of terms or through no fault of your own are quite high. Between the state of the economy over the past several years or natural, normal attrition rates, many of us have lost our jobs at one point or another--we've been downsized, rightsized, outsized, outsourced, our positions were relocated, or we were simply let go with no real solid explanation. But here's the thing: on the drop of a dime, things can change! Our status can change in the blink of an eye. From the southern-most sphere on the organizational chart all the way north to the C-Suite--"Chief" of this or "Chief" of that--no one is exempt. What's interesting is that those who have held the most senior-level positions often have the most difficult time accepting or adapting to their new status of "Unemployed," or perhaps, their new "non-status" because they no longer hold the titles they previously held.
Not only might we experience drastic changes in titles, but unlike the days of yesteryear, employers, in general, are no longer giving away "free" money. So, they want employees, at all levels, to not just work for every dollar we're paid, in many instances, employers want employees doing more work than the dollars we're paid. So, for many, particularly those who've held management- or senior-level positions, the other drastic change on top of title is that one day, we may have more responsibilities on our hands than we have time to handle, and the next, we have more time on our hands than there are hours in a day. And I know from personal experience that, as a result, we can go a little stir-crazy, feeling a loss in direction, a loss in value, a loss in purpose, and, ultimately, a loss in identity, but why? Because, sometimes, we base so much of what we are and who we are in the work we do and for whom and with whom we do it.
To a degree, whenever we leave a place--really, any place--but whenever we leave a place we've worked, even if by choice, especially if we worked there for a significant period of time, it's natural to experience, in many ways and on many levels, a sense of loss and feelings of anxiety during and after the separation. The question, however, is how long should we experience this, realizing that the answer may vary among us because we're not all the same. But regardless of how different we are, there comes a point when the sense of loss and anxiety start to last way too long and we start to become stuck, unable to get past the reality that we no longer have the titles and responsibilities we previously had. As necessary, we should grieve the loss or separation from that place that has held a prominent place in our lives, but we should grieve it without actually losing our sense of direction, value, purpose, and identity.
Your identity nor my identity is defined or determined by what titles and positions we hold or how many responsibilities we have. And the truth is that many of us know this. The challenge, though, comes in genuinely accepting, regardless of how and why it happened, that our season with a particular employer has closed and our job assignment has come to an end. Grieve the loss, but don't get stuck. Recognize this time and season for what they are: the opportunity to now do that very next thing that you've been released from your previous job to now do and would not do if you were still there. Always remember: accept what is; let go of what's not; and be ready to move into the next season of your life.
Like you, Katrina loves seeing people in healthy relationships (with themselves and others) that they genuinely enjoy and not just simply tolerate. This blog is dedicated to achieving that vision.
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