10 Jun The 10 Commandments of Being Your Own Boss
She dropped 4 glasses of ice water on the table. They fell off her serving tray and onto the table. The water then spilled everywhere. All over her customers laps and clothes and food. She said, “F*** it.” Then she walked out of the restaurant. I never saw her again. She hated her job. She hated our boss. She may have even hated her life. I don’t know. It was my first day. But I will never forget it.
For 4 years, I was a waiter at Applebees. It was one of my favorite jobs. I think everyone should be required to wait tables for at least 1 year. I learned more in the kitchen than I did in college. I drove the cooks home after work. They lived in the projects and were on parole after being released from jail. This is not me stereotyping. This was the reality of almost all of the kitchen staff. They were good people. At least they were nice to me. They taught me about life, about struggle, about second chances. I was a sheltered 18 year old kid. I knew little about any of these things. They had decades of experiences I did not know was even possible. They were good teachers. They were trying to do better. In many ways, I looked up to them.
One night, I was driving Cory home around midnight. Cory showed me the corner where all the drug deals happened. He then explained the entire process of drug dealing from start to finish. Then he said, “Stay away from drugs. Drugs ruined my life. Oh, and be your own boss, but do something good for the world. I know you will. I can already tell.”
14 years later, I am my own boss. I hope I am doing something that benefits the world. I hope Cory is proud of me. I will never forget that night. I will never forget those years. I am writing this for Cory, and for all of you that want to be your own boss and do something good for the world. These are the 10 most important lessons I have learned in the last 3 years about being self-employed.
1. Say No. Just because you are your own boss does not mean you are instantly accessible for others. I get this all the time. But Brian, you set your own schedule, so let’s have lunch, or take the day off. Yes, you set your own schedule, but that does not mean you should drop everything right away because someone needs a lunch date or travel companion on their day off. If you want to go, by all means, go. But never let someone make you feel bad for saying no under the guise of “you have control of your schedule.”
2. Charge for your services. I am shocked at the number of times people would ask me if they had to pay for me to come speak to their group or organization. I then reply, “If you went to the dentist for your annual clean, would you walk out without expecting to pay? What about after eating at a restaurant? Or being represented by an attorney in court? Of course I charge. And yes, you will have to pay.” Stay strong on this point. I haven’t always been good at this. It takes time. But you have worked hard to acquire skills and expertise. Charge for them.
3. Trust your gut. There is a reason people say this. There are neurotransmitters that fire from our brain to our gut and vice versa. Some of those transmitters are triggered in the stomach first. So you literally feel something in your gut before your brain processes it (about one second later). Trust that feeling. I use the “gut” test during every consultation. While I am talking to the prospective client or organization, I ask myself, how is my gut feeling right now? And then I listen to the answer. I used to not listen. I was broke and needed every job I could get. But it brought me tremendous stress and resentment. I listen now. It helps I am no longer broke, but at least I am listening. At least I try.
4. Give yourself a break. Literally. Take some time off. A weekend, a random Wednesday. Even if you love what you do, it is useful to take a few days off here and there. I try and take 3-4 days off (completely, disconnected, disappear) every 90 days, and at least one day every week. Find your sweet spot, but take some time off. There will ALWAYS be more to do. If you don’t build in time off, it will never happen. Ever. And you will burn out. You don’t want to burn out. It’s a long game. You want to stay in it.
5. Give yourself a bonus or raise. There are many reasons people like having a boss. It is nice to receive praise, have someone tell you to go home early, or take a day off because you earned it. Well, you are the boss, so it is your job to do that for your employees (ie, yourself). After a good week, tell yourself to go get a massage. To go home early. Write yourself a bonus check at the end of the year. Give yourself a raise. If you don’t, who will?
6. Organize dinners or outings. It is easy to fall off the face of the earth when you are self-employed. I do it all the time. I get consumed with my work. I get excited about it. I will not leave my home office for days. But that is not always healthy. I always feel better after being around people I love (this is key, surrounding yourself with good people. Otherwise, keep working. Crappy or even mediocre people are never better than working on what you enjoy). Last night, I organized a birthday dinner for my law school mentor. He had to go back to NYC early, but I didn’t cancel the dinner. I was with 4 great friends from different professional industries. We talked about the future of Uber with a UX designer from Uber. We talked about my friend’s plan to travel the world. We talked about my other friend’s first (and second) date. I was even serenaded on the car ride home. I laughed until I cried. I woke up today at 5 am, rejuvenated and ready to write. I thank the dinner for that. I thank the people for that. Organize people who you like, and share some food with them. Drink some wine or tea. Laugh out loud. It does wonders for the soul.
7. Recognize your work as a career, not hobby. I hope you love what you do. If that is the case, you will spend many years and decades on it. View your life and work as a long game. This is not a get rich quick model. This is a career. One that will serve many people. Be patient with yourself, but also realize your obligation to take it seriously. You are not spending an hour a week learning the piano. You are building a legacy. Remind yourself of this often. It is easy to get lost in the mundane tasks of day to day operations.
8. Build your own family tree. Here is a fun exercise I recently started that has accelerated both my creativity and learning curve. Find 1 person you admire professionally. Maybe it is a writer, speaker, lawyer, whatever. Become obsessed with that person. Read everything you can, watch all their videos, and learn about their life. Take a deep dive. Specifically, find the 3 people that had the most influence on their life and then learn everything you can about those 3 people. Repeat this a few times and what have you built? A virtual family tree of your role models. Soon, you will be ready for your own branch. For now, explore the others. If you take time to learn about others, you will succeed. It is about putting in the work. So many people simply don’t want to do this. If you can (and will), you win.
9. Exercise your idea muscle. I talk about this all the time. Ideas are the currency of the 21st century. You have heard this I am sure. But it is true. My life has changed, completely every 6-9 months (for the past 10 years) because of this. Every day, write down 10 ideas. I do this every day. Even if the ideas are bad (many of mine are bad and that is OK), you are building your muscle up. If you can come up with ideas, your business will always grow and you will be an asset to others. The ideas can be about anything. I just jotted down 10 books to write that I think my dad would enjoy reading. He loves sports, so one book I thought would be fun was the “10 most magical locker room moments in the history of football” or “who has the baseballs of the most important hits in the history of the game and what’s their story.” It can be anything! Just start flexing. Every day.
10. Share your successes. Be proud of the work you do. I hate talking about myself. It is painful for me. People call me out on it all the time. I am trying to get better at it. I know I have a lot to share, but it’s hard. Maybe you are the same. Either way, we have to celebrate our successes. It is what makes the sacrifice (and their will be plenty of that) worthwhile. Last weekend, I went to a Gala with my best friend. She works at a public hospital in Oakland and they serve the indigent. They work hard and do good work. They deserved a big night of celebration. The Gala was at a beautiful winery 90 minutes from San Francisco. My best friend is an oncology pharmacist at the hospital. One of her patients gave the keynote speech after the dinner. Her patient is 20 something years old with Stage 4 breast cancer. I did not know what that meant, but I learned that stage 4 is bad. Really bad. The young woman delivered her speech with hope. She smiled. She had an amazing smile. She had an amazing energy. She was alive. She was dressed up. She was with her mom. She was a motivational speaker. She traveled all over the country encouraging women to take care of their breasts, to get check-ups, to be aware. Who knows how much time she will have left on this Earth. But that night, she celebrated her success. My best friend celebrated her success. We all celebrated her success. I am glad she shared her story with us. She didn’t say F*** it. She didn’t walk out of the restaurant. She was there. Even after all the water fell on the table, she was with us. She was our leader.
I am sure it was hard. I actually have no idea how hard it was.
But I know it changed us. All of us. And she knew it, too.
She taught all of us how to be our own bosses that night.
God bless her.
I would love to speak at your conference, company, or organization. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.