The American Dream
Like most young lads, I grew up with a lot of the same dreams and aspirations as we all did. Things like owning your own home, a nice car, maybe a few “boy” toys, and … most of all, the ultimate American dream… owning your own business.
Looking back on things now, I guess my interest in owning my own business probably started with my paper route. My family lived out in a rural part of the country, just outside a small college town, and delivering the paper took a bit more than a stroll down a sidewalk. This was farm country, and houses were sometimes miles apart. Luckily, my dad let me ride my mini-bike to make my rounds, and since it was so rural even the county cop looked the other way. Besides, I had his paper in that sack as well… if he wanted his paper he’d have to ignore the half-pint kid on the little Briggs and Stratton powered motor-scooter. At least as long as I had that huge sack over my shoulder and I was delivering the paper, he didn’t seem to mind. But, I’m sure any other time he’d have a few words. (I don’t think you could get away with that today.)
I saved my money, counted it often, and thought it was pretty cool that somebody would pay me money to do something that I was having fun doing in the first place. Yep, I thought this sole proprietorship thing was pretty awesome. Then as we all must do, we grow a bit older and find out rather quickly that a few dollars from a paper route doesn’t add up to a tank of gas in that hotrod you’re now driving to high school.... ya need a better paying job. So the self-employed thing gets put on hold.
For some, the idea of being self-employed goes no farther than the newspaper route or the lemonade stand. It becomes a part of your past, but for others, including me, owning your own business draws you back in.
It could be because of the smiles and wonderful comments I would get as I pulled up on that little mini-bike when I was delivering the paper. Maybe that was part of the motivation to go into private business as an adult. I still remember how some of my older customers I delivered to would be at their mailbox when they heard that scooter coming up the road. They’d smile and hand me my change, then wave goodbye as I took off for my next stop. It was a Norman Rockwell moment to say the least.
Ok, time to snap out of that nostalgic dream land and back to reality. Is owning your own business for everyone? No, it’s not… it’s a tough road of ups and downs, argumentative people, bad choices, poor investments, lack of working capital, and long hours. At that’s on a good day. Not every day is that way; some days remind me of my paper route customers greeting me at the mailbox. But, owning your own business can be a rough, tangled road that takes years to figure out how to make it all work, and even tougher to figure out how to keep it going for another day.
Being self-employed “sounds” great until you realize the hours you put towards your success is based on the hours you put into it. Which generally means, 12 – 16 hour days, no vacations, no paid holidays, no paid health insurance, and no time off just ‘cause it’s your birthday. You have to be totally self-motivated and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. As well as keeping up with the advanced education needed to stay current with your chosen field. It’s not a dream anymore… it’s certainly not a nightmare (unless you let it be.) It’s just not as easy as it was when all you had to do was ride that scooter up and down those country roads with a sack full of papers.
Is it any easier after you put a few years under your belt? Well, that depends on the effort you put into it in the beginning. I’ve been at this independent repair shop thing for three decades now, and I don’t think it’s any easier than it was thirty years ago. Mind you, with the skills, the patrons, and the reputation you gain over the years (decades) things do get a bit better. But, you still have to show up every work day ready to take on the next challenge.
When I first opened my shop there was an elderly man in the rented space next to mine, and he would come over to check on me from time to time. He had been in private business his entire adult life, and would tell me stories of how he made money and lost money. With his various ups and downs his stories reflected upon my concerns about starting up my own business. I’ll never forget what he told me about being in private business.
He said, “Don’t let the banks own ya, and don’t let the business own ya. You run the business; don’t let the business run you.”
I take that to heart every day. What I got out of it was that you have to make sure you remember what you were trying to accomplish in the first place. That is, to create an opportunity for yourself and others while doing something you liked to do. But, don’t forget to take time off, get away from it when you can, and reminding yourself that running your own business isn’t just for you… it’s for your family too. They’re the real winners in your choice to follow the American dream.
Blink, and those days on that little scooter are just a memory, another blink and you’re looking at retirement square in the face. Make the best of your time, and don’t forget your family along the way. Private business ain’t bad. It’s not for everyone, but I do think it’s something everyone should experience. And if you do decide to follow the American dream, just remember that kid on that noisy little mini-bike heading down that country road on his way to the next house. All he was looking for is another smile and a bit of change.
Hopefully, we can all run our business like that, with a smile and make a bit of change, while taking our own personal ride on the American dream.