CHANGING COURSE BEGINS WITH A GREAT IDEA

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What Keeps You Up at Night? You May be Worrying About All the Wrong Things

In my last newsletter I finally broke the news that I was hard at work putting together all the elements of something intended to help you change course faster than you could likely ever do on your own. One of the inspirations for my new “fast track a dream” project came from a question put to me by a reporter for USA Today’s entrepreneur section. What he wanted to know was, “What keeps a small business owner like you up at night?”

The article came out a few weeks later. Not surprisingly it focused on concerns of people who own dry cleaning shops, car dealerships, ad agencies and other traditional brick and mortar businesses. What kept these small business owners up at night were things like rising fuel prices, employee turnover, the cost of employee health care coverage, and a potential jump in the minimum wage. Frankly I never expected my answer to be included in the article because at this stage of my business the kind of things I angst about are atypical to say the least.

But it wasn’t always that way. When I first left my corporate job to strike out on my own my number one concern was earning enough money as a freelancer to pay the bills while I tried to make Changing Course profitable. I now think of those early years as my “hustle years.” If one contract suddenly disappeared I would hustle to put something else together. Worst case scenario I knew I could always go out and get a j-o-b.

Ten years into the business I’m doing very well. So well in fact, that I now get to worry about far more interesting problems – like, for example, what can be done to somehow help people avoid Benjamin Disraeli’s prediction that “most people die with their music still locked up inside them.” It pains me to meet a person who has these tremendous gifts inside yet who allows himself or herself to remain locked safely but miserably in job jail. People who don’t dare to dream at all and so could not possibly bring themselves to dream big dreams.

You would think that I’d be content knowing that in some small way I’ve helped literally thousands of people to make the leap from having a boss to being their own boss. And you’d think, too, that after doing this work for 12 years I’d have been prepared for the onslaught when I asked readers to send me their top two or three questions about what it takes to change course. But even I was taken aback. At last count I received a whopping 1,200 questions – and they’re still coming in!

I was genuinely moved by how many people who responded to the survey also took the time to include some sort of personal note. Many wanted me to know that my work matters. For example, a kindred spirit from Sydney, Australia included a quick note to say, “Thanks for your enthusiasm & your service to a very wide community.” Another dreamer from “across the pond” wrote, “Your newsletter has often kept me going when I’m at the end of my tether. There’s nothing like this in the UK… very few resources for the many like me who’re desperate for escape.”

Some of the people I heard from have already taken the leap. Like Marianne Korten who runs a communications skills training and consulting business called Soul at Work (Soul-At-Work.com) in Amsterdam in The Netherlands. Marianne wrote: “I would like you to know that I am very grateful for your newsletter. It uplifts me every time I read it and there is always a story or source I can use. You are my light in my darker entrepreneurial days.” Even though she’s already launched her business, Marianne understands that all of us – aspiring and established entrepreneurs alike – need someone to remind us that changing course may not always be easy, but it is worth it.

And that’s exactly what Olliette is learning as well. Olliette’s husband worked for a home builder for four years. For various reasons, including the fact that he did not receive a single pay raise, it was a job he did not enjoy. Olliette says that off and on she’d try to talk her husband into striking out on his own but to no avail. Then out of the blue he was terminated. Being fired is never easy. Yet sometimes it takes a crisis to moves us to action.

Olliette said her husband’s firing, was both “devastating and a blessing in disguise. He became a licensed general contractor that same year. His first customers were folks who had purchased homes from his former boss. It has been two years. There are challenges and of course management issues at time but the ride is wonderful. We managed to turn a small profit last year.”

That was year one. “This year,” said Olliette, “is even better. We started with handyman services and now we are doing kitchen and bath remodeling. We even purchased, renovated, and sold an investment property this year. It is not easy but it is wonderful to know that we are building something from the ground up. I still work full time but I help my husband manage the business, handling much of the administrative duties. I am also able to use my love of decorating to help serve customers. Your newsletter gives me hope and encouragement. It is not an easy road to take but I love the adventure.”

Olliette is right about one thing – changing course is an adventure. According to Webster’s Dictionary the word adventure derives from the Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive. Of course the dictionary tells us that an adventure also involves an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks… but also an exciting or remarkable experience.

Sonia Perez from Charlotte, North Carolina shared her adventure as well. Sonia’s story is a telling example of how a little encouragement can go a long way. She writes:

“I finally quit my job and started my own CPA business doing tax preparation and accounting. I wrote you a very heartfelt note before I left the audit department at the bank sometime before May 2003… I had been preparing emotionally and mentally for this step for years and I was so ready that I had to do it. Your words of encouragement in the newsletter and the fantastic note that you personally wrote to me in 2003 made most of the difference…!”

Okay, so you’d think hearing from people like Marianne, Sonia, and Olliette would make me sleep like a baby… but you’d be wrong. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love hearing success stories like these. In fact, they make my day. I love giving people the support and information they need to work at what they love on their own terms. And I like to think I’m pretty good at it. But for the vast majority of people the process of changing course is so painfully slow. So slow in fact, that most people never do a thing.

So for a while now what’s kept me up at night is trying to figure out how to help greater numbers of people to change course F-A-S-T-E-R! Since launching Changing Course in 1995, I’ve learned a ton about how to significantly accelerate the process of getting from where you are to where you want to be. Up until now the challenge has been figuring out how to share it all.

Like I said in the last newsletter, I have been literally working on this project for two and a half years… but I’m finally ready to wrap it up. It is going to be a complete brain dump of everything I know about how to quit your job to work at what you love. In fact, when I asked the question in my recent survey, “If you could sit down with me for lunch what top two or three questions would you want to ask me about changing course?” most people wanted to know how to “find” one thing or another.

Some people asked how they could find their heart’s desire… their calling if you will. Others wanted to know how to find the time or the money to pursue their dream. A fair number of people had very practical money questions, like what to do about health insurance and retirement. Others were looking for advice on how to get an unsupportive spouse or other family member to support their dreams. Still others were seeking specific information and guidance on things like marketing or how to start a small business. And a few even said flat out told me that all they really need to get going is a good “kick in the pants.”

The whole point of doing the survey was to make sure that before I sent my new fast track project off to the printer and duping house that I didn’t miss anything. Your answers did help me tweak a few things – like adding more information and some new worksheets on how to establish multiple income streams and passive profit centers. But overall I was really happy to see that my original “brain dump” was right on target.

When this thing “launches” it’s going to cover everything from figuring out what you’d really love to do, to how to turn your interests into income, to finding the money to fund your dream, to dealing with fear and self-doubt, to what to do about health insurance and taxes, to marketing on a shoe string budget, to navigating the transition from salary to self-generated income, to business start-up tips, to where to get ongoing support and answers to frequently asked questions, to how to profit from an online business, to how to stay inspired and keep your dream on track… and then some.

I know that finding the money, time, courage, and support to change course are all important to changing course. The good news is that they are also manageable. What I mean is, there really are actual practical steps you can take to work out, work on, and work around all of these barriers to changing course. I know because I’ve been studying these steps for over a decade now.

I understand your worries because I lived them. In fact, I spent seven years fretting about where I would find the money, time and confidence to change my life direction. What finally moved me to action was a painful wake up call. My mother spent the last nine years and seven months of her life toiling at her job as a second shift custodian – a job she took solely to get vested for the retirement benefits. When my mom died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 61 just five months before she was to retire, it totally changed how I viewed time (we can choose how we use it), money (things work out), and life (it’s all too short).

One of the questions I received was, “What should be the driving, better yet, propelling force to get the courage to do it?” It was a good question but one that is also impossible to answer for someone else. But I know what the propelling force was for me. Losing my mother at such a young age made me realize that I had spent far too much time agonizing endlessly about what might happen if I changed course and not nearly enough time worrying about what would happen if I DIDN’T.

In other words, instead of being afraid of the “unknown risks” that adventure can bring, I should have been equally worried about the “known risks.” The known risk of staying stuck was spending another 25 years dealing with alarm clocks, commuter traffic, office politics, and spending five days a week living the spirit numbing reality that, as it’s been said, “the truth is rarely told between the hours of 9-to-5.”

“The big break for me,” quipped Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, “was deciding that this is my life.” I know what he means. For me the propelling force was finally getting – and I mean really getting – that I only had one life to live. And that by not at least trying to create the life I really wanted, in all likelihood I would die with my music still in me. Now THAT was scary!

The American editor and author Christopher Morley got it right when he said, “There is only one success… to be able to spend your life in your own way, and not to give others absurd maddening claims upon it.” So when you go to bed tonight try “worrying” about what it might look like to actually spend your life “in your own way.”

But rather than letting this question keep you up I want you to think about what you might do to move yourself in the direction of your dreams and not your fears. I want you to begin to focus less on “what is” and more on “what could be.” 2007 is almost upon us. As we approach a New Year you may already be thinking about how you want 2007 to be different… how you can make 2007 YOUR YEAR. So, what promise can you make yourself to make that happen?

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