For the Educator-Entrepreneur in the New Year
I think it was the immortal Drew Carey who said, “If life beats you down long enough, sooner or later life will get tired.” Or said another way, Illegitimi non carborundum. That’s Latin for “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
If you are one of the 30 percent of Americans who are self-employed or working on contract, life can be a day-to-day struggle. But it doesn’t have to be. Even if you are a master of the five Ps (Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance), you will have many days that will rattle you to your foundation. But even if you can’t change what happens, you can change the way you react to what happens.
One of the two best pieces of advice I got when I was a young man starting out in business was, there will always be problems in business. What makes a business a good business is whether most of your problems are interesting. The other valuable word of advice: it’s not personal. In business, you often need to separate yourself from your problem. Look at it objectively and then work the problem.
Easier said than done? Always. But there it is. Take the problem. Look at it from all sides. Form a plan. And then jump on that thing with both feet. Don’t let it fester. Fix it. Life, like business, is about choices. A big enough problem may change your trajectory. So change it. The more you are tied to a specific outcome, the more likely you are to be disappointed. Fix the problem with the best possible outcome. Then adjust and keep moving forward.
Being in business for yourself has an amazing list of benefits and perks. Included in the list is the fact that you are not limited to someone else’s vision. And if you’re smart, you won’t be limited to your own vision either. Educate yourself through research and put together a set of advisors you can trust. Include an attorney, an accountant and domain experts. Talk to them. Ask their advice. But make your own decisions. Make sure you don’t assemble yes-men. But don’t let people tell you what you can’t do. Generally, when someone tells you what you can’t do, they are really telling you what they can’t do.
As you take steps along your journey, treat yourself but remember to get rich. Getting rich is, simply, having more money coming in than you spend. If you only have $5k profit each month, find a way to live on $4k. As you make more money, ratchet up your standard of living very slowly and carefully. Treat yourself in small ways. Two weeks off and a hike through the Appalachian Trail is a treat. Financing a new Range Rover is a four-year sentence. If you always spend less than you make, you will always be rich. Your happiness doesn’t have to be defined by the size of your home or what’s inside your three-car garage.
More and more, being self-employed means working by yourself in your own home. Creating a comfortable office in your home is an amazing perk. Aside from the fact that it is the world’s easiest commute, you’ll have no distractions and you can set your own hours. If you are a night person, take time off during the day and work till the wee hours. If your energy dips in the afternoon, go take a walk and revive yourself. Want to spend time with your kids when they get home from school – you can.
Working for yourself also means you can have multiple clients and contracts. You are absolutely not limited by geography. You are free to take on interesting projects, and to invest additional hours or days to make more money.
And finally, make it a point to work with people you like. Find an interesting problem to solve, something you can be passionate about. Then find other people who share your passion. As a friend of mine reminded me recently, if you can find something you are passionate about, you’ll never work a day in your life.
More and more teachers, principals and superintendents are taking on side hustles to ensure a comfortable life after education, or to extend their influence while still in education. All the advice in this column comes directly from my own experience, and much of it was learned at a rather steep price. I believe it will be your key to a successful hustle in this New Year and beyond.
About the Author
Charles Sosnik is an education journalist and editor, and serves as Editor in Chief at the Learning Counsel.