Since officially starting my business at the beginning of 2015, I faced my first “should I stay or should I go” decision last month. I had been working with this particular client for nearly a year, and although I was regularly paid for my services each month since contracting, I never felt as if our association benefited me other than monetarily. Not to mention, the rate I had originally negotiated fell well below what I today typically charge others for the same job.
So, when the client abruptly and without notice reduced my workload by half, I needed to make a choice. Now, as any owner of a startup will tell you, during those beginning “lean years” every penny that comes in counts. No matter how little overhead you might have, expenses exist regardless. My startup is no different. Parting with money is, therefore, something I never like to do. However, as we all well know (hopefully), not everything is about money.
As a writer who gets paid for my craft, I will be the first to tell you that I went years without earning a penny. In fact, for a long time, I did much of what I do today entirely for free. It was how I gained experience, and I asked for most of the opportunities I received.
At times, I experienced pangs of self-doubt that my chosen career path was the right one but, for the most part, felt confident that by remaining focused, I would gradually build. And build I did. Although I continue to search out new opportunities for myself, they also come to me now without having to look for them. That’s why I felt more comfortable than ever before parting ways with my client, a known quantity, for the unknown. However, it’s not the only reason.
When embarking on any new experience, whether a business, job, romantic relationship or friendship, we each have the free will to stay where we are or move on if a situation doesn’t feel right to us. That power may be masked temporarily by financial constraints or other obligations we believe keep us tied to a specific endeavor. Still, it continues to exist nonetheless.
Exercising free will in spite of whatever is holding us back requires taking affirmative steps to create room for those experiences we want in our life by getting rid of the ones we don’t. Walking away takes practice. And guts. But each of us has it in us. Here are five ways I learned to stay the course while pursuing my dream of growing my own business, even in the face of obstacles, opposition and, as I recently experienced, a setback.
1. Don’t immediately react.
Okay, so there I was holding my iPhone, staring at the email. In black and white I was given an offer, a reduction of the one I already had, and effectively told to take it or leave it. At first, I was annoyed. It was a bruise to my ego. When I was younger and less experienced, I would’ve immediately reacted. Admittedly, I can be a bit of a hot head. Blame it on the red hair if you must.
No more. I didn’t respond right away. Instead, I let the email sit until I systematically weighed the pros and cons of this particular business relationship. When I finally came to a decision, I ran my analysis by someone I trusted. In this case, the person I asked agreed with my reasoning. Only then did I reply, leaving the new deal on the table, and politely parted ways. In my heart, I knew the opportunity was no longer right for me. In fact, from the start, I never felt it was strategic for the long-term growth of my writing career and business but took the paycheck anyway. In my correspondence, I didn’t burn any bridges either and wished the client well. I meant it, too. Why waste energy holding a grudge? When I felt no regret afterward, however, I knew for certain I had made the right decision. Would you believe that the universe rewarded me for freeing up this negative energy in my life soon after with not one but multiple new business prospects? Lesson learned.
2. Face your fears.
I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a little hesitation on my part before sending that email. There was. A sure thing is still a sure thing, especially when it comes to a steady gig, no matter how large or small. Facing the unknown is never easy, but sometimes it’s the only way if we ever hope to move forward.
A few years ago, I found myself stagnating in a low-paying job with no future. Fortunately for me, I was let go before I became even more complacent than I already was. As it turns out, getting fired was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me because days after landing on my butt, I dusted myself off, officially started my business and haven’t looked back since. If my business failed, as some of my other entrepreneurial efforts have, I knew I would figure out a way to leverage my experience and apply it elsewhere. Thankfully, at this moment I can say “so far, so good.” Screw feeling afraid. Where’s the value in that?
Related: Why 'Trust Your Gut' Is a Myth
3. Get creative.
A clean slate is a clean slate, no matter how we find ourselves with one -- by getting divorced, being fired or simply deciding it’s time to regroup.
In reality, though, no one’s slate is ever completely clean. We come to our slate with a history, one that we can only metaphorically erase, which means we're more prepared than previously to deal with whatever curve ball life throws us. We have the skills. Now, all we need to do is figure out how to use them in the present.
I often become frustrated when people say they don’t like change. I get that probably it’s because they’re afraid. Still, I want to shake them and say, “Can’t you see the possibilities?” When my life isn’t going as I had hoped or planned, I crave change. I look at change as a chance to start over, to do “it” (whatever it may be) over again differently and, hopefully, better than before. And if circumstance hasn't forced a change upon me, it doesn’t take me long to find a way to effect it for myself. How? By considering other options I hadn’t paid much attention to before, even if it means doing an about face like I recently did.
4. Be proactive.
Once I thought about my next move and planned for it, it was time to act. Since starting my company, I’ve made many changes -- to my business plan all the way down to the services I offer. As much as I’ve discovered what works, I’m continually figuring out what doesn’t. No longer do I indulge in my proclivity to be shy or spend time alone. I speak up. Time and time again, I push myself to get out there, even when I don’t want to, which is more often than I care to admit. I realized long ago that nothing ever happens while sitting around. In fact, some of my closest friendships, business relationships and learning opportunities have resulted from me just living my life. Keep moving and asking yourself if you should stay or you should go.
5. Have faith.
I’m not a religious woman, but I do believe the world is larger than myself. Put your trust in a higher power -- whatever God you believe in, the universe or both. Most of all, believe in you. Each and every one one of us has potential we’re just waiting to realize. If you look hard enough, it’s there.
If you don’t believe it, take cues from your life. You know whether or not you’re happy and if you can do better. Down and out? Pick yourself up. Unhappily married? Leave. Need more money? Find a boss or become one. Rock bottom is B.S. because, unfortunately, life can always get worse. Sorry, but it’s the truth. That said, life can also get much better, especially when you put yourself in charge.
Be thankful for what you already have, even if on the surface it doesn’t seem like much. There are always others who have it worse. So, the next time you feel the hard pavement beneath you, don’t get discouraged. Take it to mean you finally have the solid foundation you need to stand on your own two feet, understanding that’s how we entrepreneurs build -- from the ground up.