Grab your pen and paper and get ready to think.
Here’s your challenge: Describe your ideal professional life in five words or fewer.
Seriously, think about it.
Where do you want to be in five to ten years?
Are you doing everything you can today to get closer to your goals for tomorrow?
I pose these questions not because I get enjoyment out of seeing people struggle to picture their future, but rather because I sorely wish someone had asked me the same questions, sooner.
Here’s the backstory
About seven months ago I traveled to Budapest, Hungary for my brother’s wedding. It was a bittersweet trip, as I knew it would be the last time I’d enjoy a trip overseas for quite some time.
My impending law school stint was set to start in August (2016) and the combined soul-crushing costs of living in a New York City apartment and attending a horribly expensive school caused my wallet to shudder at the very thought alone of purchasing another set of international plane tickets.
My brother, a very successful entrepreneur, made it his goal at his wedding to send slews of his friends in my direction to convince me out of law school and into solo business.
Needless to say, you wouldn’t be reading this right now if his slick tactics failed.
I don’t give him all the credit for my change of heart, but I do give him some. The legal profession wasn’t my calling and, if it weren’t for my brother, I’d have found myself miserable in a classroom listening to professors speak as I daydreamed about what my life could have been instead of out doing what I absolutely love (like I’m doing right now).
So here’s what this journey from law school debt and misery to solo business freedom and flexibility has taught me...and why I’m filled with anything but regret.
1. Your life is meant to be viewed through your eyes, not someone else’s
With the exception of my immediate family, many people didn’t respond well to my announcement that instead of law I was going to spend my time developing a freelance career and working on my blog. It was like I’d gone from “riches to rags” – law to unemployment; no one knew what to say, so many said nothing at all.
I dealt with whispers behind my back and sneers and snickers from my friends who hold 9-5 jobs with benefits and job security. Suddenly my unemployed, non-student self was cause for laughter, and in some instances, concern.
Though many people envisioned my life taking another path, or thought I’d do “better things” with my time, it’s my life to live, not theirs. If I’m enjoying the view from my perspective, it shouldn’t matter what the “neighbors” think.
2. Flexibility and freedom are invaluable assets
Changing my mind from law school to solopreneurship was monumental in many ways, but most notably, it meant my freedom no longer had an expiration date.
Starting a solo business -- and solopreneurship, in general -- is hard work, any way you slice it. The days are long, and the journey seems endless. But I can work from anywhere in the world and on any timeframe. If I need a vacation, I can take a vacation. If I need to close the computer and recollect myself for a while, I can take that time to breathe.
The journey is no less difficult, perhaps, than a legal career would be, it’s just very different in all the best ways.
3. A fancy degree and pile of debt won’t necessarily guarantee success
When I was a fresh 18-year-old entering college, I thought obtaining my bachelor’s would be the coolest, most “official” thing I could do to solidify my “success” as an adult.
When that failed, I thought I should pursue law school. Maybe then, jaded from three years of law school, buried in debt but decently educated, my JD would help me along professionally.
Cue the laugh track.
Despite my disillusionment, fancy degrees won’t necessarily guarantee success.
If you want success, you need to get up every day ready to put in the work and make your ideal reality happen for you. Your workload doesn’t lessen just because you have a fancy degree to back you, so you might as well be doing something you truly enjoy.
Thankfully I pulled my head out of the clouds just in time to figure this out before the time ran out and the debt started piling.
4. Long-term goals should be factors when making life-altering decisions
Though I’d already applied to 12 law schools, selected a school, paid my seat deposit and expensive down payment on a pricey New York City apartment, my brother’s wedding party challenged me to think about my goals, long term.
Would law school really help me reach those goals?
The cold hard truth was that law school was more of a distraction than a step in the right direction toward achieving my goals; it wasn’t in line with what I really wanted.
Life is short, so do what you love.
Act in accordance with what you want, what you love, and what you believe, and demand the sort of life you’ve always wanted to live. If you want to quit school, quit school. If you want to be a doctor, go be a doctor. If you want to start your business, start the business. If you want to be a better businessperson, start doing what you need to do to be better.
The first step is just to start doing something, anything...because no matter what you choose, you have to do the work.
Ask the tough questions
As solopreneurs, there are many things that can make us crazy and cause us to struggle, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind so that we continue heading in the right direction.
I very nearly derailed my entire life by forgetting to ask myself the tough questions. Thankfully, I corrected that error just in time to avoid the insanity of the legal industry. Now, I still struggle every now and again, but I’ve settled very nicely into my own adrenaline-filled life as a solopreneur.
So, ask yourself the questions that I failed to ask myself early on:
- Where do you want to be in five to ten years?
- Are you doing everything you can today to make your ideal tomorrow a reality?
And if you’re not, what can you do today to change that?