Being a music performance major in college, you are universally told one thing: If you can think of something else you would rather do with your life you should do it.
I, like other music performance majors of the college age, didn’t truly understand the gravity of that message. It’s a message that comes from experience.
Now that I’m 40 years old, and I see the life of most musicians I know, I get it.
I know a musician who travels between Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus and Erie, Pennsylvania to string together enough playing jobs to create a salary. He also tunes pianos on the side.
I also know a very successful musician who solos all over the world. He is in a constant state of travel by himself. Without his family.
Of the dozen musicians I know right now in my life I can only think of one that is in a really cushy position. The others struggle.
The message I heard in college about making a career out of music should probably be the same message a person hears who wants to start their own small business.
The difference with people in small businesses is that most of them lie about their position in life. So you often hear much higher success and happiness stories than is the truth. You have to do that as a small business. You can’t let your competition, customers and prospects smell the fear and frustration.
As a fellow small-business owner, I’m often entrusted with information that is not for the general public. You need to commiserate with someone. A person in your shoes is an ideal target.
What I can tell you is small-business ownership is like riding a raft in the middle of an ocean. There are wild ups and downs. Then when things are calm you are worried that you are headed for another violent down moment. So it becomes very difficult to relax.
When I first started SageRock I told everybody that they should start their own business. I don’t tell people that anymore. It’s not for most people. The monetary swings alone are not for the faint hearted. I’ve gone from making a lot of money to no money.
But the monetary swings aren’t the worst part. It’s the emotional swings that will literally kill you. Customers, partners, employees. They all can have moments of intense emotional outbursts. And you are not a robot either. Mixing in your emotions into that stew makes it even worse.
Most small business owners I know are not quite right. There is usually something physically or mentally off about them.
You don’t go into small-business ownership to be rich. Sure. You think about it. And you hope it will happen. But if you really wanted to be rich you should have become an investment banker.
I believe you go into small-business ownership for three reasons: 1. You are too arrogant to let some other arrogant son of a bitch tell you what to do. 2. You’re a gambler. 3. Nobody else wants you.
These are not qualities commonly revered in American society. But they are qualities I see in small-business people that can’t get out of small-business. These are people that are addicted to it. It’s a drug.
If you want to create a society of entrepreneurs you really should come up with some sort of social program that makes people so insecure they need to prove themselves to the rest of the world for the rest of their lives. And with any kind of luck that self-loathing will turn into an addictive personality that has a gambling streak.
I simply never see socially well adjusted people stick around the small business club. They might come by for a while. But they soon learn its not for them.
So the message I heard in college about picking any other career than music applies in this case. Habitual entrepreneurs are stray dogs. They are people that have no other place in society. They are people that most of society doesn’t really want in their traditional organizations. They are loud, obnoxious and strange. I’m not saying they necessarily have to be extroverts. The “loud” I’m referring to is a personality that stands out some unusual way.
I tell you this story for a reason.
This story isn’t for current small-business owners. You are a hopeless lot and there’s nothing I can do for you (or me).
This story is for all the stray dogs continuing to knock at the door of traditional organizations. I see it over and over again. People come to me asking what they should do so that someone would hire them. There are still people out there that have gotten caught up in the long, great recession.
They either can’t get hired or they just get fired over and over again.
Listen to what the world is telling you. Traditional society doesn’t want you. Sorry. It doesn’t want me either.
Stop going down that path. Make your own path.
It’s not easy. In fact, it’s oftentimes incredibly stressful. But I’m here to tell you, it’s worlds better than the alternative. Being repeatedly rejected by everyone else in society is a pain greater than anything you will ever experience in owning a small business.
I can make no promises whatsoever of the outcome of starting your own business. I take that back. I can promise that it will be incredibly difficult, incredibly stressful and you will, at best, come closer to failure than you ever have in your life. But being successful… that I can make no promise of.
But who cares.
You aren’t hoping anymore to get a job that comes with a great pension. The only pension you can hope for these days is that Social Security will still be around when you get too old to work. You aren’t going to retire at 65. No one is going to give you a gold watch.
We live in a world that still lives by the unspoken rule that we must get a good job. There’s no reason for that anymore. You don’t need to work anyplace for 25 years. There’s no point.
If you see a continual pattern of traditional jobs spitting you out over and over again listen to what is being said. You don’t need them anymore. But the small-business world is always looking for a few more insane, insecure, not quite right people. You are our brothers and sisters. We get you. You are us.