Building an Empire: One Grain of Sand at a Time

Aug 25, 2020 | Insights

I would like to share a story with you today… a story about the journey that I have been on for almost 30 years.

I am an Occupational Therapist by profession and have been for 35 years.  My special interest is, and always has been, mental health and illness.  I have been self-employed for almost my entire career, initially within a private practice at a physical and psychiatric rehabilitation facility, and, since 1998, as a consultant to the life insurance and legal industries.

And so, the main theme of my story is self-employment.  What a journey this has been!  A fabulous one, on the whole – albeit with the steep ups and downs of a roller-coaster.

Over the years I have met a number of people, both in my private and business life, that have longed to be self-employed, to be their own boss.  For me, this was never a longing, but rather as an extension of the nature of the work that I do.  However, I would not change it and, to be honest, after all these years – I have come to consider myself as unemployable to anyone other than myself.

For those of you who might be considering working for yourself, going it on your own, so to speak, let me layout my top 5 of the ups and downs:

  1. Firstly, you get to manage your own time – start and finish work when it suits you, take vacations whenever you want, enjoy extended lunch breaks with family and friends, and take “time out” as and when family, personal or domestic matters need your attention. This being said – don’t for a second be misled into thinking that you will work less and play more. The opposite is more likely.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself working into the evenings, over weekends, and even during those vacations that you have taken at your leisure.  Self-employment is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. Consider that lifestyle of a farmer as another very good example of this type of career choice.
  2. Secondly, you get to decide how much and how frequently you are going to pay yourself. However – don’t think that this is going to provide you with a bank account that’s bursting at the seams.  Yes, there will be times when business is good and you will be able to reap the rewards. Similarly, there will also be tough times when withdrawing a salary is simply not possible and cutting back on your living expenses is the order of the day.  Believe me, there will be times when you wish you had a set salary coming in, instead of worrying about your capacity to pay the bills.
  3. Thirdly, you will not be told by anyone what to do, when to do it, or how to do it, as you will make these decisions all by yourself. This comes with its own challenges – there will be times when you really don’t know what, when or how to do something and then you will miss more collaborative input.
  4. Fourthly, it is true that you will be freed from having to work alongside demanding colleagues, and without managers watching your every move. You will, however, feel lonely at times and miss the interaction that your old office and colleagues provided you with.  Those of you that have been working remotely since March 2020 may have already realized this.
  5. The fifth thing on my list is a note on positive reinforcement. This kind of feedback will not always be forthcoming in self-employment as clients are likely to more often share their negative rather than their positive feedback. You have to be tough out there on your own, and find security in your sense of professional value.

I do want to add that this journey can be incredibly rewarding and totally worth the finding your way through the new challenges – such as I have experienced them above.

However, during times when the rollercoaster is going downhill (and sometimes stuttering to a complete standstill at the bottom), I remind myself that building an empire is all about stacking the sand together one grain at a time. As with many of us, March of this year saw such a standstill happen to my business – more suddenly and unexpectedly than I had experienced before.

I spent April 2020 trying to come to terms with the impact of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. I experienced myself fluctuating between denial, anger, sadness, and bargaining – as is not uncommon in times of grief.  But then, I started the rebuild… bringing it back to one grain of sand at a time.

I found my acceptance and I revised my expectations. For now – from an empire, to a sand-castle. After all, realistic goal setting is so important, if you want to be successful.

Slowly things are coming together again and my view of the future is optimistic.

Self-employment is not for everyone but I know it’s for me.  It’s best suited to self-motivated, hard-working, well-disciplined people who believe in themselves and their businesses confidently.  It is for people for who share a driving force based on purpose and passion. Is this you?

For my journey right now, my empire is a sand-castle, but it is a grand and majestic one built with great attention and care. As long as I continue to enjoy and believe in the journey I am taking, this is absolutely fine with me.

Take care everyone.


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