I have spent most of the last 25 years operating in partial or complete self employment. There’s plenty of reasons for it. Thought it was about time to throw out a few thought about that journey.
My grandfather was a company man. Hard worker his whole life, but always working for someone else. His one venture, that I know of, was a machine shop. Still not sure why he gave it up. He knew everything about that work. Apparently, he just didn’t like the business side of it.
My dad was a survivalist. He has been an artist and writer since the earth was formed. Artists don’t always fit in well with a family of welders and contractors. It took him a long time to find his niche.
He worked a regular job because he had to. Even when it didn’t involve his passions. He would work all day and develop his art and writing after hours.
It still took him years to make money at it. I didn’t appreciate his efforts when I was younger. He is a good man who has taught me more than I understand even now. He was my first influence on my desire to work independently.
On August 11th in 1996, my pastor, Steve Sawyer had a message that affected me strongly. He spoke about greatness. His message was a list of things we should do to break out of lifeless routines and make our life count.
I remember the date because it was exactly one year before my first day in recording school. Meaning that I actually listened to this message.
I don’t remember all of the points, but two burned into me.
Choose to master something.
Deliberately narrow your interests.
I have always been a jack of all trades. A couple I worked for asked me once if there was anything i didn’t know how to do.
Square dancing. That was my answer. It’s still a running joke 18 years later. It’s not too far from true, though.
My resume is ridiculous. Seriously. For two reasons.
One. I have been a rabbit trail kinda guy most of my life. Easily distracted. Short attention span. Constantly shifting priorities. Lack of focus.
Two. Surviving means taking the work available. With recessed areas and economies, work becomes slim pickings sometimes. My resume is littered with jobs I didn’t want. But, there were bills to pay and mouths to feed.
Those two issues are a bad combination. I walked away from several jobs that would have been excellent career positions. There are three jobs in that list that could have carried me into retirement. Comfortably. Good jobs that I let go, in search of something better.
I honestly believe I could have avoided most of the hard years of my life with solid priorities and better focus. If I had used my brain a little better, you wouldn’t be benefiting from my hard earned wisdom right now. Maybe I can save you some frustration.
The greatness sermon made me consider my scattered patterns.
Narrowing my interests meant becoming aware of the hours of my life. There’s only so many we get. I can’t do absolutely everything I want to do. I have to figure out the best use of my time. Figure out what I really want to do. Let go of time wasters and distractions.
Master something. I was good at a lot of random things. Not a master of anything. What did I want? I decided that I loved mixing shows. I also loved the recording studio and mixing an album. I figured that the narrowest path for me was to master live recording. That was my choice.
Through school, through the next years and decisions, that was my plan. To gradually turn all of my projects toward that goal. It worked pretty well. I eventually ended up with my own studio.
The 567 Center for Renewal graciously worked out a deal with me to setup a studio on their property. It was a large control room, hard wired into two venues. We were on the second floor of a large building in Macon.
The first floor featured a large room and stage. They had sold out concerts there constantly. The second floor was an art gallery and smaller stage for acoustic show and small groups.
It was perfect. I got to record a lot of great bands there. My room was beautiful. The sound was good. It was everything I ever wanted.
That was the problem. I had been on this quest, with such determination, I lost track of my other priorities. My wife and kids had been left virtually unattended for a very long time.
We opened that studio during the roughest stretch of my life. More crazy stuff happened over a three year run than I can get my mind around.
At the peak of all this amusement, my wife decided that I was the problem. She figured out that the common denominator in all her troubles looked like me.
I think she was right.
My quest to work independently and prove myself to the world almost cost me everything. Sure. I learned a lot and had plenty of amazing experiences. But, I wasn’t willing to continue without her.
I made a new plan. Do whatever it takes to save my family.
It meant giving up the studio. It wasn’t producing enough income to pay the bills. I found a young guy, with great ears and a solid reputation to run it for me. I made him the offer of a lifetime. He didn’t take it serious and left it locked up for weeks at a time. That’s a story for another post.
Since I couldn’t work full time, run the studio and be with my family for dinner every night, it had to go. I had built an idol that required me to abandon my family. I couldn’t afford to give it any more of my time.
Once again. I narrowed my interests and chose to master something. I got my priorities sorted out and decided what mattered. My family became the hub of my world. Everything had to revolve around them.
We choose careers to support our families. The problems roll in when we begin demanding that our families support our career.
Well. Here we are now. After giving up my pursuit of making me happy and focusing on them, life turned dramatically.
We live in the nicest place ever. We have the strongest marriage I can imagine. Our kids are happy. I have settled into work that pays well. I found a niche in writing that I never considered before.
Turning my focus away from my needs and desires to meeting theirs, changed everything. In my quest to make my life count, I failed. In my new quest to make their life good, I am finding real purpose. I feel like my life matters now.
Back to those Forrest Gump references. Forrest, selfless guy who just did what what was right, got everything. Jenny fought her way through life, determined to have everything, ended up with nothing.
I just wish I had figured all that out twenty years ago. My quest for independence almost left me completely alone. I almost surrendered all that mattered for something that didn’t.
Take all that into consideration when you make those big decisions.