An Overlooked Key to Self-Employment Success

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Overlooked Key to Success

Although I grew up surrounded by self-employed people, I never aspired to join them. Neither my parents nor guidance counselors suggested self-employment as an option. Not long ago, however, I got thinking about my old hometown in Minnesota and took a mental stroll down Main Street.

One of the folks that came to mind was Ed Tetzloff, the proprietor of a musty and dimly lit dry goods store. It was the place where we’d go with our nickels and dimes to purchase penny candy. Transactions with the portly Mr.Tetzloff were often conducted in silence as we handed over our weekly allowance for a few root beer barrels.  

…inspired people tend to create inspiring businesses…

I don’t recall anything much ever changing in the store—or in most of the other stores that lined our Main Street. Throughout my growing years, the same people stood in the same places selling the same merchandise year in and year out.

Did Mr.Tetzloff have a life outside of his store? If he did, no one knew about it. Since his car was always parked in his driveway whenever the store was closed, it appeared that he operated in a very tiny world.

With role models like that, imagine my surprise when I discovered that self-employment could be the ticket to an adventurous and exciting life. In fact, there are examples of inspired entrepreneurs everywhere.

Consider this story about a storekeeper that appeared in a 1937 issue of Fortune in an article titled Dallas in Wonderland. The piece features the founders of the Neiman-Marcus department store.

“It’s madcap, or inspired, beginning sprang from an enthusiasm that has never ceased. Herbert Marcus and his sister Carrie Neiman, and his three sons in the business, have channeled every ounce of their considerable selves into four floors of beautiful merchandise.

The reason is not that they lack other interests. They are exciting business people because in one sense they aren’t business people at all; and they live the store, not by lacking outside interests, but by transferring them inside.

With his mobile expression, Herbert Marcus quotes Plato or Flaubert at you, displays a Canaletto in his dining room and dreams of owning a Renoir; but his real creative and artistic self is released on Neiman-Marcus.”

Of course, inspired people tend to create inspiring businesses. Without this important ingredient, however, almost any business becomes drudgery, not delight. Without inspiration, we turn into Ed Tetzloff.

If you want to build a better business, give acquiring inspiration as much attention as you give to acquiring information. Since inspiration is highly personal, it’s up to you to identify the things that inspire you and connect with them as often as possible.

“Good for the body is the work of the body, and good for the soul is the work of the soul, and good for either is the work of the other,” said Henry David Thoreau. It's something that creative folks have understood all along.

Obviously, those folks who lived through the Italian Renaissance and accomplished so much stayed connected to sources of inspiration. I always think that their unspoken motto was something like, “Make love. Make art. Make music. Make business. Make a difference.” There’s much to learn from that example.

If you’re in need of a creative lift—or want to accelerate your output—consider taking up a new pursuit that requires using some dormant creative muscles. Find a class. Hire a coach. Buy a video. Apprentice yourself. Taking up a new activity will rejuvenate the more familiar things you’re doing. 

It’s that kind of engagement in multiple creative pursuits that is leading more and more of us to think of ourselves not as businesspeople, but as creators who just happen to do business.

Barbara Winter is a writer and gypsy teacher who thinks hanging out with inspired entrepreneurs is as much fun as visiting a museum.