The best advice I got when I was starting my own business was “plan for the life you want, not the job you want.” I found myself facing the very problem many women entrepreneurs struggle with–we allow ourselves to be defined by our employment, and forget that the life we pursue is so much more than trudging down a career path.
Owning my own business was only one piece of the puzzle that I wanted to stitch together to create my reality–things like travel, health, having time for my loved ones, having a fulfilling and satisfying role in my career, were much more important than my actual job title. It’s likely that you don’t need me to tell you that your family is more important than your money. This basic concept becomes murky though–we need money to do the things we want to do, so we become caught up in making more money, and forget about the goals we originally intended. I stopped looking at how my business could make me money– money is only one means to an end– and started looking at how my business could make me happy.
Priorities are the big questions. The things that are the most important to you, and the things that become the most important to you as you continually grow up. When I first started my dance company, I ended up listing things like being on stage, traveling, choreographing. When I make my priority lists now, they are slightly different (and longer)– traveling, having time for my loved ones, being healthy, choreographing, being excited and engaged by my work, performing. The point is, none of these goals include having money. But (many of them) require money. That is where the means comes in.
Once you know what priorities you are working toward, you can start to look at what you need to achieve those ends. For example, to travel, I need, money, free time, a touring contract or a residency. The art I want to make needs a platform–people, a stage, a company. When I take a moment to step back and consider that money and time are just things that I need to make my bigger goals happen, I find that I can focus my goals and contribute to the world in a way that is meaningful for me. Yes, I discovered I needed to make more money so I could travel. But once I found that comfortable amount, I could look back at my goal (travel) and keep achieving it, and keep enjoying my life, rather than focusing on making more and more money.
The ability to focus on a means helps small business owners remember why they started a business in the first place. Whatever the driving passion is, if you start to see it as simply a mechanism for creating more and more money, with no other goal, your flame of creative genius will likely burn out.
Every business decision I make looks forward at the priorities I have in place, and every tiny step gets me closer to having more and more of the things I want. This method also gives me room to grow and change–there is not a solid 5 year plan for the business, but there is a solid 5 year plan for my life, and any business decision can only reflect that.
Our culture is in constant pursuit of a means to an ideal life. We are looking for money, and for time, and for adventure and excitement, but we are so caught up in chasing those means, that we forget the reasons we want money or time. Having your own business is fulfilling, and exciting, and can give us flexibility and freedom, but if your business is not planned with your own life goals in mind, you are simply pursuing a job, and will never have the life you want.
About the Author: Carlye Cunniff is a freelance writer, professional dancer and small business owner based in Seattle, WA. Most importantly, she hopes to inspire others to believe in their dreams. You can read more of Carlye’s writing here, www.carlyewrites.com