Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Risk Gene

For as long as I can remember, our father brought us up with the belief that you should “never work for the man”. He believed that true freedom lie in being self-sufficient and making enough money to support you and your family by working for yourself.

This fostered in me, and I believe in my siblings, a life-long dream to be self-employed. To get up every morning and go to work for yourself. To be a business-owner, an entrepreneur.

Unfortunately it also engendered in me, a deep and abiding dissatisfaction because I had to work for the man in order to support myself. I say had to work for the man because, while Dad inspired this dream deep within me, he did not pass on the equipment that I needed to make it a reality. So, if my siblings are anything like me, they’ve had this ball of unfulfilled longing in their gut that they have been unable to act upon for most of their adult lives.

I’ve tried to tease away at that nasty little ball several times over the years. After I’d been working in social services for 10 years, I realised that I wanted to get out and do something else. Starting my own business was a vague idea in the back of my mind. It grew into a clearer picture of perhaps owning my own teashop, or my own bookstore. No lofty ideals, just something simple. I’ve now been in social services for 23 years. So, for the last 13 years, that little ball of unhappiness and longing has been growing teeth and biting me in the ass. I’ve left many jobs in the helping field, vowing never to return, planning to walk off into the horizon of self-employment. I’d save a bit of seed money, quit my job and try to make a go of it. I never get through the front door. In fear and panic, I’d quickly spend my seed money and crawl back to the man with my tail between my legs, that nasty ball forever nipping at my heels.

I now recognise that what my father failed to pass on to me was the risk gene. Striking out on your own is like embarking on a roller coaster ride. Your planning and preparation and saving get you on to the ride and clink, clink, clinking to the peak at the top. Fear and uncertainty are just two of the overwhelming emotions that you have to learn to cope with when the roller coaster dips over the edge and you take off, spiralling out of control. They are not my favourite emotions. In fact, I’d do just about anything to avoid them. I can now identify that in the past, I crawled back to the man at the very first sign of either one of them.

The key to developing the risk gene is to ride them out. How do you ride them out? With planning, research, knowledge and, when that roller coaster hits it’s highest peak and begins it’s decent into the fear of the unknown, you need, quite simply, blind faith. I learned that you will need to encounter these peaks and troughs every couple of weeks or so. Things will go smoothly for a time. That’s the roller coaster clinking towards the top. Then, something will happen, some frightening factor will hit you, and the ride will take you down that steep drop and into the abyss.

I cannot stress the importance of blind faith. You’ve run your numbers, you’ve studied all of the variables, and you’ve done your research. But eventually, you’re just going to have to go for it. And, in going for it, you will have to accept that you simply don’t know everything. Something’s going to present itself to you, something you don’t know the answer to, something you have to adapt to. So, you hang on to the sides of the cart and launch yourself over the edge, submersed in faith. Faith in yourself and your ability to handle whatever comes your way.

I’m not suggesting that you recklessly risk everything that you have. I think you have to set your parameters before you start. How much money do you have to invest in your venture? How will you support yourself while you try to make a go of it? What would happen if you lose it all? Do you have a back-up plan? In other words, define your boundaries and decide what you are comfortable risking. And then, hop on that ride.

Part of the fun is learning how to stretch those boundaries and still be comfortable. Because, I guarantee you, you will have to stretch them. For example, I learned that my initial research was flawed. I had a budget and a timeframe in mind to start up this venture and neither was accurate. My budget was way too small and my time frame was way too short. And so in the first few months, the peaks and troughs were quite steep as I adjusted to a more realistic budget and timeframe for start-up.

If you give yourself over to the risk, you may just be entering the most exciting phase of your life. It’s a huge learning curve relying on yourself, relying on your own decisions. You are essentially providing your own security system, something the man previously did for you. It takes some getting used to. You live much more in the moment, and that’s a thrilling place to be. It vibrates with life. I feel like I’ve spent the last five months studying at the University of Living.

Here’s the good news. The peaks and troughs haven’t disappeared for me yet, but they have become less extreme as I’ve adjusted to coping with the unknown. While I still fear them, in a way I hope they never completely disappear, because they are actually what makes this journey so exciting. They really keep me on my toes, and every day I learn more and more that I can rely on myself.

I’ve never made it this far before. Usually by this point my dream of starting my own business, that little ball of discontent has been suppressed in my return to the 9-5 grind, my return to the security that someone else has given me, my return to the man.

Now, I’m just completing the purchase on my first property and expect to launch my business by May 1st this year. I’ve educated myself, I’ve stretched myself and I’ve put myself out there. So far, I really like it. I am truly fortunate to have been given this chance to try to fulfil a life-long dream.

I now believe that the risk gene is something that you can develop. It lives within you, ready to be tapped into whenever you are.

And I’m ready.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

On living rurally

It was my husband’s birthday this week. We celebrated this Saturday with dinner out and tickets to a Matt Minglewood show.

Living rurally, this took quite some planning on our part. The fact that we’re old meant we had even more planning to do. Because we’re living so far from any major (or minor) metropolis, our entertainment budget hasn’t really been dipped into very much over the last 3 months. So this was gonna cost a little more, but we were going for a celebration of blow-out proportions.

I don’t think we really meant it.

A few weeks ago, imagining all sorts of shenanigans we would be getting up to, we purchased our tickets to the Minglewood show and the planning began. We would both drink to excess together. Normally we would have to take turns being the designated driver if we wanted to involve alcohol in our evening. This doesn’t hold much appeal for us, so we’ve never really done it. We miss alcohol. So this Saturday we planed to be reunited with it in style.

Now this event began at 9:30pm according to the tickets. I’m not ashamed to say that 9:30pm is my bedtime. Settle down with a book and read until you fall asleep time. Not drinking and cavorting time.

So, we had an afternoon nap. No way could I have made it without one. All part of the plan.

In order to drink to excess, we would have to figure out how to get to the venue. We could certainly drive there, but how would we get home? And how would we get back to get our car? Would the car still be there the next morning? We’re city people, you see. We haven’t got a clue how to manage many aspects of rural living. Another time, let me tell you about septic systems. But not right now.

We settled on calling a taxi. We called ahead to see how much it would be to get us to the big event. We carefully explained to the 12 year old girl who answered the phone at the taxi company, what our address was and where we wanted to go. In a voice reminiscent of any self-respecting valley-girl, she assured us that it would be less than 10 dollars. Thanking our lucky stars, we ordered one for that night at 7pm.

Well, the meter hit ten dollars in less than five minutes from the house. It’s a 30-minute drive to the venue. We watched with dread as the meter ticked over five cents every second or so. We cursed that 12-year-old girl silently as the meter ticked, and ticked, and ticked. We cursed ourselves for believing something that was too good to be true.

Needless to say, the travel portion of our entertainment budget was definitely hitting the blowout proportions. As we alighted from the car, we realised it would have been cheaper to stay overnight at a local motel.

While the event was supposed to start at 9:30pm, we alighted from the car at 7:25 pm. Also part of the plan. Due to our advanced age, it was incomprehensible that we could attend the evening’s festivities without a guarantee of a place to sit down. We’ll have dinner first, we said to each other. When we finish dinner, we’ll start renewing our relationship with alcohol. The time will fly!

The time did not fly. Dinner came five minutes after we ordered it. We were finished eating by 7:45pm!

So we started drinking. It was one of those nights where you just could not get a buzz on. But we kept on trying. We're troopers like that.

At 9:15pm, you could feel the excitement building. I could also feel my head pounding. I was developing a hangover before I finished drinking. This was all my idea, I was responsible for the blowout. It was a lot of pressure! The clocked clicked slowly past 9:30pm. No Matt Minglewood. 9:45pm…nope, nothing. Surely he’ll be here by 10:00pm? 10:00pm came and went, no Mr. Minglewood. We’re nearly asleep in our drinks by this time. We’re starting to get pretty cranky, I gotta admit it.

Finally, the star of the show arrives at 10:15pm and he’s on the stage by 10:30pm. All the waiting was worth it. We got our money’s worth from his first song. He rocked the joint.

By this time, I’m getting into the swing of things. I’m enjoying the social aspect of the night. I’m talking to fellow patrons, making new smoking buddies. Smiling and nodding politely to the excessively drunk and effusively loud ones. When the police arrived to take another fellow patron away in handcuffs, I was delighted. Oh, the excitement.

But alas, I did not have the staying power. As the clock ticked past midnight, and my coach turned back into a pumpkin, my head continued to pound. Somewhere around 12:30am, I knew I was beat. Defeated. I had only wanted to hear Mr. Minglewood play one certain song. I realised that he wasn’t going to play it until the very end, and I was going to miss it.

With resignation that this was the reality of growing older, we tried to call a taxi. This began another interesting portion of the evening. Taxi companies don’t seem to answer their phone at 12:45am on a Saturday night. I was starting to get concerned. A sweet waitress even held one outside for us. But my husband chose that moment to go to the bathroom and someone stole our ride from us.

We chose another strategy. We would wait outside and ask the next cab that pulled up to radio one for us. These taxi drivers have been working bar closing time for years, you could tell. Their strategy was to just nod and smile politely.

Finally, the impossible happened and the same driver that dropped us off, pulled up and offered to take us back home. We were eternally grateful. Our conversation with Barry the taxi driver was one of the highlights of the night. He was lovely.

Finally, many expensive lessons learned, we were back at home.

We had a good night. We really did. But it was such a hassle, I don’t think it’s something we would really do again. Not via taxi and not three hours before the main event anyway. We need to learn how to socialise rural-style.

Seems to me, a lot of the problem and expense was in trying to accommodate our reunion with alcohol.

We could probably eliminate alcohol from future events.

But I don’t think we really mean that.