This week I’ve had occasion to revisit my thinking around what makes running a business worthwhile. I don’t know that I even know the answer to the question.
Reflecting on this over the last couple of days has been interesting. This morning, I wondered whether I’d written about it when I shut my last business down, but I didn’t much.
What I did do was issue this press release about Metal as Fuck being acquired, and today laughed mournfully to myself about just how incorrect I was. Rather than the magazine being acquired and lifted, it was acquired and run into the goddamned ground. Not only did I get fucked over in price, but I was fucked over by false promises, and so was my incredible team. I’ll never forget receiving sad emails from people telling me that they’d been passed over, consistently, so that the person who acquired it could (according to them) blow his own trumpet. Sad times. In the years that followed, it went from bad to worse – and it’s changed hands several times since.
That was eight and a half years ago. The sale went through before that; I was 30. I was a destroyed, burnt-out, resentful shell of myself.
I’d sold Metal as Fuck, but it didn’t give me enough money to do anything. I had no job. I had no friends. I was newly single.
Nobody would employ me. The temp agencies who put me into roles were awesome, but clients would consistently ask for juniors and never have me back.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I ended up in a call centre. It was a pretty disgusting kind of hit to my pride, given I was a prized, award-winning student, an author, someone who built an amazing thing.
I just didn’t have any trophies. No coverage in Australia that mainstream people cared about. No local network. Nobody willing to go in to bat for me. And I was broke as fuck – maybe that’s what I ought to have called the magazine! LOL
I swore off business forever.
Fast-forward almost a decade later, and here I am again – except next month my company will be six years old. Six! Longest I’ve ever been in business for myself in the one entity. In doing so, I designed my lifestyle first – as all the fanboyz and guruz tell you to do – and it’s been pretty awesome. I’m unforgiving about focusing on my own projects; about my pricing; about what I do. I have more freedom than most people, the numbers are pretty good, I’m happy more than I’m not happy. Most of the time I love my job.
But there’s still the question:
Is it worthwhile?
You see, darling reader, my take-home pay is $21,000 per year. In six months’ time I’m turning 40 years old. I own zero assets: The business is the only one, unless you count a bicycle. Contrast that to the public servants who earn $200,000 per year for doing fuck-all (as a friend pointed out to me this week), and even to the annoying people in call centres. When I was in the worst, most stressful job in the world, I was still earning $54,000 per year.
Of course, I don’t have the hassle of two hours’ commute every day, of working for someone else from sun-up until sun-down, of being wrung out by someone else’s demands. I don’t have the stress of personal competition, of striving to be recognised, of having incompetent leadership, of having to prove myself to someone else for no fucking reason every goddamned day – as if me being in their business is some kind of privilege.
I don’t have any of that.
What I do have is a wonderful company, with a great brand, and a salary that is $1,000 below the poverty line.
What I do have is a continual tension between wanting to do amazing things, and a client base that refuses to talk about what my company does, because we’re ghostwriters for people building their own brands. Why would they damage their own reputations by talking about who writes their work for them? Doesn’t make sense, right?
And I do have a constantly rebellious attitude, so no I won’t join the club that ties up 90% of Adelaide’s work in anti-competitive behaviour. No I won’t apologise for being expensive. And no I won’t waste my time swanning about with people whose businesses are franchises that somebody else built, who can’t speak in public, who live in a bubble of stupid, whose business and personal skills are fucking rubbish, and who think that just because someone made a million dollars that they’re somehow better than everybody else.
In a town like Adelaide, that kind of attitude – without a long family history in this place, where my forefathers were bumming The Right Kind of People – gets you where I am today. Which is: Living comfortably (ahem, thanks to my husband), in a business that gives me a little bit of freedom. In a business in which 90% of the work makes my brain feel numb and switched off.
The question remains: Is it worthwhile? Wouldn’t I just be better off getting a job for 20 hours a week for more money?
The answer is: Probably.
But here’s the thing:
I write for a living. To use a worn-out pun, I literally write my own cheques. If I had a 20-hour-a-week job for someone else, then I am entirely at the mercy of that someone else keeping the business alive. And more to the point, if I did that, then I would make a decision not to write for work unless it was in a semi-creative or journalistic capacity – yet any other type of leadership work (which is what I’m best at), when you’re almost 40, requires a lifetime in which your resume looks like this:
Same job title
Same job title
Same job title
Same job title
Same job title
Same job title
… for 25 years, which I just don’t have. What a fucking boring life!
The truth is, being in business is exactly the same as having any other job. The only difference is that whether or not it persists is up to you.
For example, there’s not much chance of other people employing me.
I have mad leadership skills – in fact, besides writing, they’re my strongest skills – but fucked if I know how to do anything else. I don’t know how to make coffee or wait on tables. And the only way I’d work in retail is if I could be guaranteed not to have to work with soul-destroying music (or, worse, radio) playing in my ear every moment, which frankly makes me want to kill myself.
Therefore, I trade off everything that society sees as being comfortable for a life that makes me 75% satisfied. It would be nice to be 90% satisfied – with some land and a house that I can build up over the next 20 years to retire on before I die, and before banks say no fuck off, oldie; and the ability to write my own stuff full-time – but the chances of doing that?
Right now, Buckleys.
Maybe if I find the right advisors and mentors to challenge me. (Even finding those – in my XP – is almost impossible.) Maybe if I change my business model.
Maybe if I change my attitude.
It begs another question: Where do you stop?
At what point does “worthwhile” become meaningless?
And at what point do you stop looking for satisfaction in worldly things and just find satisfaction in waking up every day? Do you look up and say, hey you know what, I’m a lucky fucker: Look at what I’ve been able to experience so far, good and bad. It’s showing me what I do want and what I don’t want, and all of it is amazing?
That, for me, is the real question, I’d like to say.
But even so, I’m not sure that it is.