As a private note buyer I’ve found that there are two potential problems that can surface when you are your own boss. First, it’s very easy to be too soft on yourself. That’s what most people think about when they think about problems people have when they work for themselves. What they often don’t think about is the less common but equally serious problem of being too hard on yourself. You have to find a happy medium that makes sense for you.
There are a lot of ways to be too soft or easy on yourself. If you consistently let yourself sleep in rather than getting up in the morning and getting to work, you’re being too easy on yourself. Not many corporate bosses give their employees the option to show up for work whenever they want to. Why should you give yourself that privilege? I’ve found that if I don’t get up and get to work at the time I set, my whole day falls apart. I’m not sure exactly why that happens to the extent that it does, but it’s true.
Giving in to the seduction of distractions is another way that a lot of people who work for themselves are too soft on themselves “Seduction” is actually a good word for this. When you work around other people who are your peers and supervisors and keep an eye on you, it’s a lot more easy to stick to your work because you know people will see it if you don’t. But when no one is around to tell you to knock it off and get back to work, or to make a note for your next performance evaluation, it’s dangerously easy to goof off. Distractions become incredibly seductive.
Unfortunately, too many self-employed people goof off and persuade themselves that they’re not goofing off. There’s always a certain amount of rationalization in us all. You have to make sure you’re not rationalizing when you define what does and doesn’t constitute goofing off. It’s pretty obvious that watching a movie or television show, going to the gym, playing a computer game or reading a nonbusiness related magazine during your working hours is goofing off.
But what about turning on the TV to catch the weather report, taking a quick walk around the block, learning how to use a spreadsheet program because you might someday need it in your business, or reading a business-related magazine because there might be something of benefit in it? These sorts of things are fairly easy to rationalize away as acceptable business-hour activities. But they’re still “goofing off in the sense that they don’t immediately and concretely contribute to getting current business done at the time. Sure, they’re good things to do, but they should be done after hours, or during specified allowable breaks in your work schedule.
Business development is a very common area in which people who are their own bosses tend to go too easy on themselves. By business development, I mean the effort a business owner makes to increase business volume, get new clients or customers, expand into profitable new areas — that sort of thing. It’s very easy for a real estate investor, for example, to sit in his comfortable office and say, “If I just manage the apartments I now have, I’ll make $50,000 a year, and that’s all I need to get by on.”
Do you think any employee could get away with that kind of attitude? Definitely not. Employees’ bosses — if they’re good — are always pushing them forward, upward. If you’re your own boss, you should do the same. Just because you’re “getting by” with your current business results, why not do a little bit better? An old family friend of mine grew up as an orphan in a small town with absolutely nothing to his name. He became one of the richest businessmen in Utah. Long after he had become extremely wealthy my grandfather asked him why he kept working and growing his business interests. “How much money do you want anyway?” he asked. His rich friend just smiled and said, “Just a little bit more.” And he kept making “a little bit more” year after year until he died.
There are so many ways to be too easy on yourself as a boss, but what I find interesting is that few people talk about self-employed individuals being too hard on themselves. I believe that being too hard on yourself can be just as dangerous to your business and yourself as being too easy on yourself — maybe more so.
I personally know someone who used to work from six o’clock in the morning to one o’clock in the A.M. and sometimes later. He did that for six or seven years straight. His schedule left him five hours a day to sleep, relax, and spend time with his family — which he didn’t do except on Saturdays and Sundays because they were asleep when he was home. Every time I saw him he looked like death warmed over.
Finally he realized that if he kept this up much longer, he would be dead. He still works hard — harder than any boss would be able to push an employee — but at least he cut his work hours down enough to allow him to be healthy and get to know his family again. He also enjoys life a lot more. And truth be told, I believe that although he works fewer hours, he gets almost as much done as he did before because he’s more effective.
Another common way self-employed people can be too hard on themselves is to set unrealistically high goals and then beat themselves up when they don’t achieve them. Face it, we’re a goal-setting society. Everyone I know in business today has been inundated with speeches, seminars, and platitudes about the power of setting goals. Unfortunately a lot of business people have somehow come to believe that goals are so powerful that you can set them unrealistically high and still achieve them.
It’s like the adage that says that whatever a man can conceive, he can achieve. Well, sorry, I don’t believe that holds water in the real world. I can conceive a lot of things that frankly aren’t going to happen in a million years. To give an extreme example, I can conceive making one billion dollars before the week is over. I know exactly what would have to happen to make that a reality. I can even visualize it. But given my current situation and circumstances, it’s not going to happen. No way. I can also conceive of breaking the world’s record in the 100-yard dash. But that will never happen, either — not at my age and with my non-runner’s body.
Sure, I could get all hyped up and set a goal to make one billion dollars before Sunday midnight or to break the 100-yard dash record, but I’ll be disappointed with myself when it doesn’t happen. Who needs that? So before you set even a moderately high goal — to increase your profits this year by 20 percent, for instance — make sure it’s within your grasp. And if it doesn’t happen, don’t beat yourself up. If you really tried and made even a little progress, give yourself a pat on the back and vow to keep pushing forward. We need fewer negative thoughts in our lives, and more positive ones. Most of us need to be kinder to ourselves.
Another thing I’ve been guilty of myself, and that I’ve seen in some of my friends who are their own bosses, is the tendency to try to control everything — even things that are out of our control. If you really want to be hard on yourself, let yourself believe that you can control everything, and then try to do it. We call these types of people “control freaks,” and people who work for themselves seem to be highly vulnerable to falling into that rut.
I blame this on the same kind of pop philosophy that tells us we can achieve anything we can conceive. How many times have you heard that you’re in control of your destiny? If an asteroid the size of Michigan fell on your block today, would you really be in control of your destiny? No. Your destiny would be to be vaporized instantly, no matter how “in control” you think you are. Can you really control the U.S. and international economies? No. Can you eliminate the possibility that a strong competitor can move into your area? No. And yet many self-employed people worry about these things to the point that it hurts their business.
The trick is to do everything you can to ensure success in those things which you can control, stop worrying about what you can’t control, and learn to distinguish between the two.
A Private Note Buyer
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