Lemme run a scenario by you, and you tell me how it feels.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

You…

  • Fantasize about not working any more, or semi-retiring to some improbably perfect scenario (the perfect Little Café, Mojito Island)
  • Envy people you know who seem to have time to do everything they want
  • Find yourself uttering the phrase “… I can’t, because…” and madlibbing in either time or money, depending on the situation
  • Have a certain dollar amount in mind that, if you had it, would give you the freedom you want
  • Dream of how wonderfully marvelous your magazine-feature life will be, once you get your business going…sometime in the next 10 years

Well, my friend, pull up a chair cuz I’m here to drop some knowledge on ya.

It’s within your reach

Yep, it’s within your reach.

You can have that amount of money. You can create the time to do what you want. You can say “yes” to things you’d love to do.

You can throw away your pair of ratty crutches Time and Money and stop hobbling one-legged through life.

To have it, though, you’ll have to get off your butt, stop daydreaming, stop fantasizing, stop making excuses, stop pulling random big numbers out of your waxy ear and pretending that they’re truth.

You’ve gotta let go of the escapist fantasies – they’re unicorns, m’dear – and you gotta let go of the if-I-only-had-$x-dollars fantasy, too. You gotta let go of the daydream that there’s some magical line you’ll cross, some tipping point, where you’ll feel free, successful, and rich. Because there isn’t.

Freedom, success, and richness are gradients you achieve day by day or not at all.

Success is like aging, that way: when you wake up on your birthday, you don’t feel older. There will never be a day where you wake up and suddenly feel successful.

If you’re ready to achieve real freedom, success, and riches – even though you will never suddenly feel free, successful, or rich – then there’s a template you can follow.

Ready to start kicking your own ass? Here’s a recipe

You’ll have to fill in the blanks yourself, and keep at it and adjust it for your purposes, but there’s a core pattern to the lives of most successful people. And it’s more than just “hard work” or “persistence” or “irrational optimism,” although those things play a part.

Here’s the recipe I’ve compiled from years of research and my own personal experience:

1. Get real about what you really need to do the things you’re putting off

You don’t need $50k in the bank. You don’t need a year or even half a year off. You may need to quit your job, if your employment agreements stipulates that they own everything you do outside work.

You may need one extra day a week to work on your thing. You may need to fire unprofitable clients, and charge the rest more, and work fewer hours for them.

But do you need an idyllic situation? No. Do you need funding? No. Do you need a sabbatical? No. Do you need everything to be just so, in its right place, all i’s dotted and t’s crossed? Absolutely not.

What do you REALLY need? A little extra time, a little extra money, and the willingness to keep going.

2. Figure out how you can get it

By hook or by crook, dude.

Take a long, hard look at all the unspoken, unwritten assumptions that govern your business/professional life, cuz obviously they are not getting you where you want to go. Unspoken assumptions such as: If I try to negotiate, I will be fired. I can’t possibly fire clients, I need the money. My butt needs to be in this seat for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Let’s take that last one as an example. Thought experiment time: Imagine what you could actually achieve with one extra day a week. Got a job? Do they need you? You could negotiate a 4-day work week – I did it, and at least two people I’ve advised did it, too. (And no, I wasn’t “famous” at the time – and neither were they.)

Here’s how I did it: I went along for a whole series of interviews, including a flight to another city, to get a job offer I had no intention of taking. Then I presented the offer to my existing bosses (it was a 20% raise) and negotiated to stay, instead. Was it easy? No. But did I end up with a 4-day work week of regular-length days (no extra hours) and the same salary as before? Yes indeed.

Freelancer or consultant? Your business is sloppy, I can tell from here. You have unprofitable, energy-sucking clients you can fire. You have bad estimates for how long projects take. You have an hourly rate that is too low. Shore it all up: fire clients, charge more, set yourself up to earn more in less time, stop wasting time, eliminate repetitive crap, stop sitting in front of your computer dawdling when you’re not working. Freckle will help you with all of the above, because it was designed with exactly this purpose in mind.

And there’s no room in this equation for self-pity or other self-denigration such as, “Oh I’m not important enough,” or “I’m not skilled enough,” or “Nobody would pay me to teach them anything.” Everybody who’s ever sold anything has felt this way, sometimes or all of the time.

We all love to have a little pity party now and again, but it sure as hell doesn’t take you anywhere. So give it up like the self-indulgence it is, and get crackin’.

These techniques will help you free up time and money…what little extra you actually need to get started. One day a week will do it. Yes, really. Lots of people have built empires on less.

3. Let go of your dreams. Yes, really.

Should you follow your dreams? Sure. But you have to acknowledge what you can and can’t achieve at once.

Dream your big dreams, but recognize that you’re unlikely to reach them for years and set them aside so they don’t distract you from the reality of today.

Once you eliminate luck and perfect storms, major successes are all snowballs: they start as many small successes (and small failures). You have to aim for a small success.

You are building a cathedral. You can’t start with the spires: first you have to dig a hole for the foundation.

Digging holes is unsexy as hell, but there’s no fucking way around it.

4. Get over Soulmate Syndrome

You wouldn’t expect to find one single person who’d fulfill all your needs for people in your life, would you? Of course not. So don’t fall prey to the myth that one “job” (business) can fulfill you in every way.

Is charitable work one of your personal values? That’s wonderful, but it’s not a business.

Take care of your financial needs first, and then you’ll be able to volunteer or donate (or engage in your hobbies) without stress. Don’t try to turn non-business pursuits into a business – you’ll shortchange everybody, including yourself.

This is the same principle as “secure your oxygen mask before aiding others.” If you pass out and die, the little stubby-armed people next to you are going to die too. That is the opposite of charity.

5. Recognize your strengths and limits. Beg, borrow, steal any advantage you can.

There are no medals for heroism in business. So stop trying to be a hero. Find the easiest possible route to success…and take it.

Don’t fight an uphill battle. Work with what you’ve got. You can shore up your weak areas – or hire help for them – once you’ve achieved a solid income.

6. Embrace boredom

Here’s a fact most people won’t acknowledge:

Most success is boring.

Success is, by definition, figuring out what works and doing it over and over again: Writing email newsletters. Sending out discount codes. Tweaking your copy. Doing the same type of product again and again for different audiences. Taking what you’ve already made, and repurposing it for a different price point and different audience.

Keep doing it until it stops working. Which, by the way, it almost never will.

Don’t let yourself be seduced by novelty. Don’t let yourself be overcome by the self-indulgent anxiety of “Well I already posted on this topic last week,” or “I already ran this blog post a year ago.” Nobody cares but you.

Look at bestselling books and movies for inspiration: they’re pretty much the same thing, over and over. There are only so many human stories; as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. And yet people keep buying and nobody complains. Why? Because we like it. Because it works. Because it doesn’t matter.

7. Investigate the true nature of business

Is it unethical to sell something you think is obvious? (No, of course not. Who died and made you the ideal customer?)

Why do people buy, anyway? (Things that kill a pain or create a profit. And only people who seek out & willingly buy new things will buy it.)

What’s a good price? (The absolute maximum you can charge without cutting into your profits.)

What about the people who tell you you charge too much, or your product’s no good? (Fuck ’em. People who bitch instead of buying aren’t customers, by definition.)

These are the questions you will face. The answers are not what you think. You can’t just take mine at face value, you’ve gotta do your own investigation — but be prepared to start from zero, as if you knew nothing, because your half-voiced assumptions and beliefs aren’t helping you.

Bonus Rule: 8. Claim your baggage

Fact: Business is hard.

Or is it?

Life is hard. Relationships are hard. Being a good person in the world is hard. Business is a subset of all of those things, and in some ways a magnifier. But the hard of business is no different than the hard of life.

But nobody suggests you avoid life because it’s hard. Nobody says, “Oh, life is too risky. Better to die early and save yourself the trouble.” Nobody says, “Oh, are you sure you want life? My sister’s best friend’s cousin’s husband’s brother had a real problem with his.”

Tell people that running a business is hard and you should keep your day job, and they’ll nod sagely, as if you imparted something wise. Tell people that life is hard and you should keep your coffin handy, and they’ll back away slowly and stop inviting you over for tea.

And yet — business and life are the same damn thing.

Most of the problems you’ll have in your business will mirror the problems you have in your life. Are you a self-indulgent worrier? You’ll worry self-indulgently about your business. Do you have a problem telling your friends and family “No”? You’re going to have a hard time telling your customers “No.” Do you fail to finish any of your projects around the home? You’re going to have a hard time finishing anything for your business.

They’re the same damn problems.

The corollary, of course, is that a great business with lots of money won’t solve your personal problems.

But business, like life, is very worth pursuing.

Done lazily or lackadaisically, it’ll be just as messy and screwed up as everything else.

Done right, it’s an endeavor that will help you grow as a human being… show you new depths to yourself and others; teach you persistence and perseverance; make you feel competent, useful, and adult; give you resources to help other people and to leave a positive, lasting legacy on the world.

Believe me: that’s worth it.

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