8 Surprising Life Lessons Our Businesses Can Teach Us

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(Editor’s Note: In 1993, when I was the Unhappiest Lawyer in the Land while working for the big firm, I picked up a book called Making a Living Without a Job. This great book described how anyone could become “joyfully jobless.” I am proud to say that in the years since, the author, Barbara Winter, and I have become friends and she will periodically be contributing to TSE. Lucky us! – Steve Strauss)

Everyday people post pithy quotes and sayings on their Facebook page. Last week one of them really jumped out at me. It said:

I’m not telling you it will be easy, I’m telling you it will be worth it.

For years, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that one of the rewards of self-employment is that it gives us an excuse to be a lifelong learner. As we all know, learning something new isn’t usually easy.

What can self-employment teach us? Well, for starters there are the nuts and bolts of running a business. As fascinating as that can be, that’s not the best part.

8 Life Lessons From Self-Employment

Here are some of the learning gifts that come when we set up shop:

1. To think creatively. Inc. magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsh used to remind his writers that entrepreneurs are artists and business is their canvas. Building a business that we love keeps our imagination on high alert.

We discover that imagination isn’t idle daydreaming. It’s a power tool.

2. To be an enthusiastic problem-solver. While others may see problems as a bother or, even, a punishment, the self-employed see opportunities in finding solutions to the problems that are theirs to solve.

Just today, Selina Barker reminded me of this in a wonderful piece she wrote on Playing the Money Game. Her story is a case study in how the self-employed tackle problems.

3. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. Charles Kingsley, a writer in the Victorian era, said, “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements in life when all that we need to be really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”

The successfully self-employed are willing to be uncomfortable when it’s leading to greater good.

4. The joy of expansion. The world is full of incredible shrinking people whose lives get tinier and tinier as the years go by. The self-employed, on the other hand, opt for living in a bigger world, extending their boundaries, reveling in new experiences.

5. Right livelihood is fun. The Buddhists, who brought us this concept, pointed out that one characteristic of right livelihood is that the work becomes more, not less, interesting the longer we do it. The folks who have discovered their right livelihood and turned it into a business seem to be having the most fun of all.

Pay attention when you encounter someone who is truly, madly, deeply in love with what they are bringing to the world.

What can self-employment teach us? While learning how to run a business is a good start, that’s not the best part.

6. Personal responsibility is heady stuff. Are there times when we wish there was someone else to blame? Probably.

When we make a commitment to creating a business that grows and prospers, we accept all the twists and turns in the journey.

7. To ask better questions. The dreambashers among us may challenge any new ideas with, “How are you going to do that?” The self-employed learn that the quality of the question does, indeed, determine the quality of the answer. Asking idea-generating questions is a worthwhile pursuit—and a fine art to master.

8. That we can become more than we thought. Our business gives us the evidence, year in and year out. We notice that situations that once were a challenge now are faced with ease and, even, joy.

As we gain experience and our confidence grows, we uncover gifts and talents that have been lying dormant, waiting to be recognized and put to use.

Most importantly, we discover what M.C. Richards meant when she said, “All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life.”