When we first set out to build our own business, we had no idea what we were doing.

What we DID know was that we dreamed constantly about having the freedom to make our own creative decisions as to what the business was going to look like or could look like. We focused a lot on creating the content that we shared without worrying so much about having to jump through a bunch of hoops just to please a boss that we’d never see or impressing anybody.

All we knew was that when we focused on creating great content and connecting better with the people who were already listening, finding new clients never seemed to be much of a problem.

It’s been a good while since I have been really consistent with my blog posts, but I am playing more with getting into the rhythm of it again.

I had pulled back from a lot of it mostly due to my own decisions to step back and reflect, as well as a myriad of other stupid excuses we all come up with for not showing up every day.

For the last several years, there has been this nagging pressure that I “have to” keep posting more content. The never-ending social media feeds, the likes, the shares, the comments, the swiping, double-tapping, clicking, and posting gets overwhelming - at least for me.

…and more than that, I hate feeling like I “have to” do something.

It’s a mental pressure that I have wrestled with for as long as I can remember…but I know it wasn’t always that way.

I didn’t notice it getting bad until I officially left the 9-5 back in 2009.

It was around that time that I was managing a book store in Fairfield, New Jersey and hating every second of it.

(Side note: that giant book store has since closed down as the corporation filed for bankruptcy…glad I didn’t trust in the ‘job security’ of that career!)

I hated waking up super early and sitting in traffic just so that I could have people argue with me about why I couldn’t give them extra discounts on already low-priced items all day.

I hated the laundry list of asinine and out-of-touch orders from the people sitting in their ivory towers atop their corporate pyramids. It wasn’t so much the fact that they were giving us things to do - it was how disconnected from reality their requests were because it had been so long since they’d been in the trenches of retail.

If you’ve never worked retail, you wouldn’t get it.

But if you have, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

If I could sum up pretty much every corporate retail e-mail or “higher-up” request I ever received while doing my time in the 9-5, it would go something like this:

——

Hello (insert manager name here),

Put all of these items in this exact order, in this (insanely short, unrealistic) amount of time, and do it along with the seventeen other “must-be-done” things. Also, still run the store efficiently while you’re understaffed and everyone’s underpaid (but us at the top, of course).

We are sending out a regional manager to come verify your progress by the end of the week.

If all of this isn’t done by (insert date here), then (insert unreasonable punishment here).

Any feedback that you or your team may have is welcome (but we will completely ignore all of it and disregard any good ideas that you have because that’s how corporate do unless we decide we think it will make us an immediate profit, in which case you will get none of the credit and all of the work.)

Thanks for all the great work you do at (insert company here)!

We really appreciate all of your hard work. (Without it, we wouldn’t be able to go on all these cruises or play so much golf.)

Sincerely,

A. Boss

——

See, it was this “have to” thing that really turned me off from the whole system in general.

I get that things need to be done in order for progress to be achieved - but it’s all about the way in which you go about asking someone to do something that will determine the result you’re going to get from them.

The most frustrating thing about all of it was that even if you WOULD somehow manage to hit corporate’s insane requirements, they would then raise the standards by which they treated your store every time after that.

If you’ve seen Office Space, you know the scene with Jennifer Aniston in the restaurant?

How she was doing exactly what she was told but it still was never quite good enough?

That is exactly what its like working in a typical job / management environment.

(…if you’re reading this and think, “No it’s not! My job isn’t that way!”, then congratulations. You are a unicorn in a very unique situation and, assuming you actually like your job, by all means stick with it.)

It’s no wonder turnover is so high. It isn’t the employees. It’s the (lack of) leadership.

Just look at some of the headlines lately about the wages and work force in the US. The walk outs. The unions forming. The protests. Lower wages but longer hours. Working 2 and 3 jobs just to make ends meet.

Many of these people have college degrees and tons of student debt, but the jobs just aren’t there that they were promised when they filled out that FAFSA like a good little high school kid.

Things have changed. Dramatically. And the powers that be want to keep things exactly as they’ve been since the Industrial Revolution - with a handful of people at the top of the pyramid calling the shots and making all the money while the peons do all the work.

It won’t last.

People are upset because they’ve realized that they are actually important elements to keeping some of these larger corporations functioning, but they now see how unfairly many of them are being treated and how underpaid they are for how hard they work.

Sure, there are people who insist that things are just fine how they are - and they’re delusional.

The people who think like that are the ones who have forgotten what its like to be joining the workforce. And they certainly don’t know what it’s like joining the workforce with what can often amount to crippling student debt.

(Not-so-fun-fact: The US student loan debt just hit over $1.5 TRILLION dollars. This insanity is not sustainable, and the only people who insist that it is are the people who stand to make a whole lot of money by keeping things exactly they way they are. If you have student loans and are fed up, make sure to check out and support StudentLoanJustice.org.)

The jobs that in many ways are the foundation of the workforce are fading away.

Many of them are being replaced by automation, robots, and other technology…all while people who have spent their entire lives only learning how to do one particular thing are scratching their heads at why it’s so tough, yet remain clueless about how to make a living without having someone hand them a check every two weeks.

And of course, there are all the talking heads that maintain that it “has to be” this way or that way…or that it’s “always been this way” or whatever.

For me, I started tuning it out right away. Especially when the recession hit in 2008, the company I was working for laid off 3/4 of the long-time employees. I was offered a “promotion” and had to move just outside New York City. I was making about $12/hour or so. I had a college degree, a shit load of student debt, and the startling realization that my monthly income didn’t even come close to the bills that started showing up.

It was one of the main reasons that my wife and I decided to go into business for ourselves in the first place - because we were tired of taking orders all day and being stuck in a dead-end system with no way out…and we were tired of not being able to define our own worth and value.

We were tired of trying to climb some ethereal and impossible corporate ladder just to make ends meet. So we decided to start putting in the work of figuring out this whole entrepreneurship thing.

What we’ve discovered along the way is that life is a lot better and more fulfilling when you’re the one calling the shots on how you’re going to live your life and the work that you do. Note here that I have never claimed it has been or will be easy.

Far from it - but anything worth doing is going to have a dip to get through.

Now, a little bit about school here.

I LOVE to learn - and I love to create and work and build and design - but when it came down to it, if whoever was teaching me or instructing me did so in a way where there was a “do this or else” or “you have to do this!” attitude, I tuned them out.

Probably much in the same way that you do/did. The question really becomes then - if you are wanting to truly learn something, you’ve got to figure out how you learn best and lean into it.

(Which often means removing yourself from toxic or dead-end environments in order to better focus on what you’re wanting to learn.)

Being self-employed has a lot of benefits, and one of the main ones is that I can decide what my schedule is and when I’m going to work on the various projects we are working on.

But at the same time - it can also be one of the most difficult things to get a handle on.

There isn’t anyone telling us what to do when I come into my studio during the day. Or the night. Or whatever time in between.

There isn’t a list of things to do other than the ones that I’ve created for myself - and figuring out how to prioritize those to-do’s is one of the biggest hurdles for any business owner.

No one told me this when I started my first business. We were on our own. The internet was not the way it is now. Shark Tank was not a thing and entrepreneurship wasn’t trendy.

I didn’t have a five-year plan.

I didn’t have a business model that I was following. I had just been freelancing since I was 15 on various creative projects so the thought was more along the lines of, “How hard could it be?”

If you have the same question and are considering starting your own business, the answer is “Harder than you ever could possibly imagine until you’re in the situation for yourself”.

But it’s also much more rewarding than I ever thought it would be. And the resources that are available nowadays are right at your fingertips, in your nearby community, and in your local library. There are so many great books and videos out there on how to run your own business - and plenty of people who are more than willing to help you along the way.

Make use of these facts.

While writing this, it’s the middle of the afternoon on a Monday and I haven’t even turned my phone on yet.

Why?

Because writing and creating content for our business and our brand is our priority.

I have had to sever the digital leash that our technology has created for everyone - and disconnect from constantly checking e-mail to see what everyone else wanted me to be doing in that moment.

Author and speaker Brendon Burchard says it like this:

“Your inbox is a convenient organizational system for other people’s agendas”.

I still wrestle with that “have to” feeling - but these days it is in noticing that I’m feeling that way that has helped me stop it in its tracks.

If you’re anything like me, it’s really easy to get in the habit of waking up first thing in the morning and checking e-mail and social media.

Then you scroll, scroll, scroll…and two hours has dissolved into nothingness.

I never feel good about myself afterwards either - do you?

Its like this empty feeling shows up when you realize you’ve just been digitally browsing around for something more interesting than the current moment - and how often do you ever find that feeling of fulfillment you’re scrolling for, anyway?

So for me? I do my best to make it a point to read a book and write first thing in the morning.

Not because I have to.

But because I WANT to.

And that’s the kicker.

That’s the one main thing that really has helped me transform irritating bad habits into productive, focused, creative work.

That is, changing my mental focus from the prevailing “have to” mentality to a “want to” mentality.

How many times have you told yourself or others that you “have to” or “should” or “need to” get to the gym? 

Next question: How’s that working out for you?

I can all but guarantee that the people you know who have made the biggest positive lifestyle changes are those who got themselves out of “have to” mode and shifted into “want to” mode. I’d challenge you to ask them.

Talk to the people in your life who are seemingly living the dream - and ask them how they did it. 

If you don’t have people in your life like that, first of all - you may want to consider forming new social circles.

If you don’t know how to go about doing that, then start by reading books by people who you look up to that are doing the kinds of things that you want to be doing.

Or watch videos of them speaking. Or message them on social media.

The options are quite literally limitless.

It may seem simple, but just try it. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Pay attention to how many times people tell you that they “have to” or “need to” or “should” do something…and then ask them why they haven’t done these things yet. It’s fascinating how we all can come up with so many excuses for not doing the things that we deep down actually want to do.

Pay attention to how often your own subconscious thoughts sound like that - and then pay attention to how stressed out you feel over the fact that you’re not actually doing those things that you feel that you need to be doing.

Again, how’s that working out for you? (I say this as someone who struggles with it myself).

Giving in to all those “shoulds” in your life doesn’t help you. Especially when it’s fearful or bad news demanding that you be outraged about something.

It destroys productivity. It is not useful. Checking social media and telling everyone what you are up to all of the time doesn’t really benefit you all that much either, does it?

It distracts you from the things that are really important to you.

I still wake up and feel that nagging, “What if I’m missing something? What if someone needs us?” feeling - but I’m learning to curb it and ignore it.

Not even ignore it…but to DEFY it.

Having the freedom to defy the “have to’s” of the world and instead focus on what’s actually important to me and those that I care about?

There’s nothing like it in the world.

You should try it some time.

If you want to, that is.

😉

What I’m Reading:

When we first started our business in Silicon Valley, we had a community of people around us who helped keep us motivated and inspired to keep going. A friend gave me the book Creative Thinkering by Michael Michalko and it has been one that I have returned to again and again as we have continued developing our creative skillset and figuring out new ways to grow and expand our business endeavors.

You can pick up a copy of the book here.

…and for You Coffee or Tea Drinking Entrepreneurs…

We designed this mug a number of years ago as a constant reminder of why we got started running our business in the first place: because we’re the boss and have given ourselves the creative freedom to do it our way.

If you’ve been at it for awhile, you know there’s any number of problems that you’ll face - but at least you don’t have 7 different middle-management folks breathing down your neck about filling out that damn TPS report.

Thanks for reading - we hope this has inspired you and encouraged you to keep creating.

We regularly put out content to help creators and business owners learn better ways to bring their art and ideas into the world.

Feel free to subscribe below and we’ll be in touch soon.

Have an awesome day and keep making cool stuff!

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