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August 22, 2008

Staying the Course When Deciding to Go Solo (Part I)

When you first commit to the whole concept of entrepreneurship, starting a solo practice, you are simultaneously ecstatic and frantic and giddy and fretful.  Once the decision is made, though, it seems you can't get started soon enough.  You want to realize your dreams of self-employment, the autonomy, the flexibility.

You may start by scouring the internet for resources, telling all your friends, fantasizing of how you are going to tell your boss and co-workers your plans, maybe hire a coach or join a listserv, buy a domain name and business cards. You think about how you are going to make a difference in this world, maybe even that one case which changes law and people's lives into the future. You even envision what you will earn and how you will spend it. Yet after a few weeks, or even days, your initial euphoria and energy dissipates and you start wondering if you're making or have made a mistake.  You question if you can do it.  More importantly is it worth losing the (false sense of) security you have as an employee with work handed to you versus what you envision solo practice to be all about. After all, a bird in the hand.....

How do you keep yourself motivated and on track if this is what you truly want to do?

When I work with clients we do a very important exercise: 

  • Envision where you want to be 5, 10, 15 years from now, not just professionally, but personally. 

This is not an exercise in fantasy.  It is creating a road map.  If you don't know where you are going, how do you know if you've arrived?  If you don't have a destination, how can you plot a course.  The destination can change as can the course, but you have to start somewhere.

Going solo is unlike working for another in ways you may not have considered.  Your personal and professional life must mesh seamlessly as whether you like it or not, you are 'on' 24/7.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  But what you must wrap your head around is this: in order for it to work there must be little to no tension between your work life and your personal life.  The way this gets done is by not changing who you are or what you want to achieve, but constructing a whole life that accepts who you are and respects where you want to go. Isn't it better to float downstream than to swim against the tide? It's certainly less tiring leaving more room for enjoyment.

So, back to motivation. 

1. Create an internal support system.  You need to change your internal dialogue (you know, those phrases you say to yourself which feeds your fear or defeatism) to a new dialogue which applauds your aspirations and challenges you to move forward through your fear. This will keep you on the road towards your goals because eventually this new internal dialogue will permanently replace the old.

2.  Find your inspiration -

It's very important to find your inspiration, that carrot which keeps you moving forward even when you don't feel like it or think you can't. I'll share mine because it left an imprint on my entire life.

high ropesMany years ago I went to a health spa, nothing fancy.  They had a climbing tower in the back.  Not a rock wall but a full fledged tower you climbed.  You participated as part of team to build trust.  Falling backward with your eyes shut, etc.  At the end we had to climb the tower and rappel down.  Great.  I was going to get to the top of the tower if it killed me. Nothing was going to stop me. We were told to pick a word or a phrase which we should call on for motivation, something emotionally meaningful, when we felt our strength waning or when we didn't think we could push ourselves anymore.  I knew mine.

I started to climb with enthusiasm and speed until I realized it was more difficult then I expected.  I got anxious, a little nervous.  I thought, "I can't do this."  I froze. I thought, 'this is as far as I'm going to make it." The coach said, " see if you can just get passed where you are now?  Are you further than you expected to be?"  I realized I was.  Then I thought, "Wow.  I can do this."  As I climbed higher and higher, I got more nervous.  I'd never been that high climbing straight up, the only safety net was this group of strangers whom I was asked to trust.  The coach said, 'don't look back or down.  Keep going.  Is your motivation to get to the top?"  Of course, it was.  So, I continued to climb.  Before I knew it I was just under the platform.  Now I had to swing over the top but it required me to use considerable upper body strength which I didn't have.  I kept trying and trying frustrated and miserable that I couldn't seem to do it.  Time ran out.  I didn't get to the very top and had to rappel down.

I said to the coach, "I didn't do it.  I just didn't have the upper body strength.  I failed."  She said, "you did?" Of course, I did. "No, you didn't.  The exercise wasn't to get to the top.  The exercise was to get you beyond where you thought you could go.  BINGO. I used my internal dialogue, my mantra, to encourage me to go beyond my perceived limits.

What emotional, yet meaningful mantra do you have to help push you further towards your goals?

I figure we all have enough of our own fears, so I couldn't let other people's worries get in the way of what I wanted to do."

-----Emily Kimball, age 76 who at age 61 rode her bike cross-country in spite of being told by everyone she was 'too old.'

In Part II I'll offer some suggestions to help you stay focused on the end game, your own solo practice.


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I thought it was only me who knew about this. Thought this was a unique idea to myself, glad to know that there are people who are aware of these points.

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