When I first declared that I was going to start my own business, several men in my circle had confident advice to give:
I should grow the business as fast as possible! I should get a job with a famous content strategy firm first (even if it meant a move to Minnesota)! The key to business success was always being available to clients, responding to requests within minutes! And don’t forget: starting a business is hard!
None of the advice was bad. But as the conversations unfolded, I felt a deep sense of unease. The advice pushed painfully against what I actually wanted. It fit me like a too-tight pair of shoes.
Because the truth was that I didn’t want to build a capitalist empire. I didn’t want to manage employees. I definitely didn’t want to answer emails within 30 minutes.
I wanted to be less burned out.
I wanted the equity, reputation, and success I was building to be mine instead of some CEO’s.
I wanted to breathe.
I wanted to stop crying in parking lots at lunch break.
And I was open to advice. I wanted to succeed. But as those conversations progressed, I realized something else about my wants:
I didn’t want to be either of those men.
I didn’t want to be the man who’d built a 15-employee business and spent his days bullshitting his way into bigger and bigger contracts. And I didn’t want to be the second man, who had never owned a business in his life, whose advice was purely an intellectual exercise, not tried, not true.
So why was I spending my precious life getting advice from these men when I wanted something entirely different for myself?
I went to my aunt, then, who’d successfully built up a very small business doing a thing she loved. Herself and one employee and, when needed, contractors. She’d done well and retired early and when she spoke about her business, you could tell she’d had fun.
Her advice was helpful. Practical things like making sure you had savings but also investing in conferences and things that would pay off later.
It’s been years since I started my business. But this is still something I think about a lot. When making any big life decisions. The lesson of who to listen to.
Because there are so many well-meaning people who will tell you how to do the thing you want to do. How to write your novel. How to become a digital nomad. How to start your business. Grow your business. Create your art. Learn a new thing.
But if you really want to do a thing, the people who can tell you how are the ones who’ve done that thing and done it in a way that’s similar to your own goals.
In my case: the aunt with the small but powerful passion business. The woman who successfully navigated Europe with her small dog before I tried it myself. Slow travelers on frugal budgets. Novelists writing commercial fiction and putting out books at a fast clip. People who give a shit about social justice. Dancers who prioritize fun and style over competition and perfection.
And so today, a reminder: if there’s something you want to do, you don’t have to listen to everyone’s well-meaning advice. You can choose to listen to the people who have been there and whose journeys you respect.