Rebecca A. Bowman, PE, Esq.
There’s a famous exchange between Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Does that exchange sound familiar to you? I had a meeting this week with a young entrepreneur. I asked him what his goal was. He told me. Unlike Alice, he had a very specific goal in mind: to open an office of his own. Then I asked him what I thought was an obvious question: How much money will that take? I received a very surprising answer: “I have no idea.” At that rate, he is going to have a difficult time in figuring out when he’s ready to make the leap.
I ask you the same question. What is your goal and what will it take for you to get there? If you can’t answer either part, you will drift passively through your life experience. Of course, no choice is still a choice, and you’re welcome to make the no-choice choice.
However, let’s say that you affirmatively decide not to make the no-choice choice. Answering just the first part is only telling me what your dream is. Is your dream to get your license? Is your dream to open your own firm? Is your dream to land a specific client or increase revenues to X dollars? Is your dream to sell you firm when you’re ready to retire?
Now that you have identified your dream, it will stay a dream until you can answer the second part as well: What will it take for you to get there? Now, if your dream is a physical impossibility, change it. Hold up that dream, burnish it a little, and then put it away. Will “close” be satisfying enough? Or do you need to completely shift gears? For example, when I was growing up, one of my dreams was to be the first woman to graduate from the Air Force Academy, but the Academy started admitting women the year before I graduated from high school; that dream instantly became a physical impossibility. Unless your dream is a physical impossibility, there’s no reason you can’t succeed. And there are lots of things we thought were a physical impossibility just a few years ago that are accepted as common place today. Just consider the advances in prosthetics in the past decade.
If your dream is to run a marathon, who do you get there? You set up a training schedule. You gather accountability partners to make certain that you’re out there training. You complete a 5K. Then you complete a 1/2-marathon. You choose your food and sleep patterns to support your dream. Once you have laid out this path, you have transformed your dream into a goal. Then you march down the path you have set for yourself until it becomes an accomplishment. I have a colleague who began running because of physical medical problems. Once he ran a marathon, he set a new goal: To run a marathon in each state. Last time I talked with him, he had only two states left.
Extrapolate this conversation to your work life. Let’s say your goal is open your own firm. There are certainly multiple ways to go about that. You could go in with a partner and maybe start this year. You could borrow money and work from home and maybe start next year. You could shrink your lifestyle to save up enough money to cover six to nine months of receiving no revenue and maybe start in five years. You could save up your spare change and may start in twenty years.
You can take some classes or seminars and learn how to prepare a business plan. You can build a relationship with an established professional and pick his or her brain for new information about hidden risks and surprises your mentor wishes someone had warned about. You can build a monthly budget for difference configurations and permutations; you’re going to need to do that anyway if you’re going to borrow money. You can tour available office space to get a feel for what you want and need. You can evaluate home office space and virtual office space and temporary office space. You can evaluate employees, subcontractors, and virtual support staff. You can review the local ordinances to find out what is required.
These inquires are all steps on the path to accomplishment of your goal. In and of themselves, they reward you for your diligence. You know from your professional work the intense satisfaction of achieving milestones.
You can take specific steps to build your reputation. Write articles (and harvest CPE hours). Give lectures and presentations, both in your current professional environment and in your professional organizations (and harvest more CPE hours).
Find ways to volunteer that enhance your professional standing. I volunteered my services to coordinate the design and construction of a playground for a local non-profit pre-school. Serve on committees in your professional organizations. Volunteer for service on a local regulatory board.
Join networking groups and get to know the sorts of people who will become your potential clients. Get to know the local regulatory officials on a personal basis. If you do these things, when you’re ready to make the leap, you won’t be a complete stranger to your marketplace.
Plan the plan. If you’re Alice, you’re in a Risky Business.