Ten years ago, I started a business. It never became large. It never made me rich, or even that well off, frankly. What it did was suck up mountains of my time, force me to work weekends, holidays and late nights. It took a toll on my body, on my sleep and my psyche. I worked long, hard hours and on more than a few occasions, I had to call in backup to help get an order out by the date I promised. If I had put in anything close to this amount of work anywhere else, I would probably be a VP of some division by now.
Over my working life, I’ve held quite a few jobs in many different industries. I like to think that I’ve done a good job at all of those places and if I decided that it wasn’t the place for me to stay, I’ve always reminded myself that I had learned a valuable lesson in the interim. I had learned what I didn’t want to do and whom I did or didn’t want to work with. Essentially, I got to know myself better through the trial and error of employment.
Putting in overtime always bugged me, especially when I was a salary man. I don’t think I’m a slacker as much as I believe that I have my priorities set correctly. I recall with horror the moment many years ago when I was confronted with this information and I had to keep it from showing. I had just started a new job managing a retail store and my new and enthusiastic boss, in an effort to make me feel… empowered, I guess, clapped a hand on my shoulder and said, “Are you ready to make XYZ store you top priority?”
I’m sure that he was trying to instill a feeling of responsibility and pride in me but what shot through my brain was, “My Mom, my Dad, my girlfriend, my friends, my health, my mental well being, hiking, biking, fishing, painting…. Buddy, this store doesn’t even make my top ten list.” I’m a hard worker though and I tried to make improvements and boost sales. That’s what he SAID he wanted. That wasn’t so true in practice.
He turned out to be a very difficult person to work for and after I had been there for about a year and a half, I left under a cloud after he caught me idly doodling on a piece of scrap paper when I should have been helping nonexistent customers. I had worked for a number of individuals after this particular individual, but always chafed a bit at being told what to do and when to do it. I confess, I’ve never “played ball” well and when I saw an opportunity to start my own shop and do things my way, I took the leap.
Being a small business owner means a lot of things, but what it means the most is time. You get none. The business gets it all. The funny thing was, all the unpaid overtime that I had put in before and resented like hell, didn’t bug me when it was for my own shop. It was all for me, and I enjoyed the work, which is good because there was a hell of a lot of it. More than I had ever seen before. But, hey, I was young, had a wife who also worked crazy hours and though this lifestyle almost ensured that we’d be toiling away through nearly every single holiday that came along, we had no kneebiters of our own, so why not? Then, about three years ago, that last part changed.
With the birth of my son, and then my daughter two years later, the slowing of the economy and my general weariness at having bent my shoulder to this particular grindstone for the last decade, I decided some months ago that I was done, cooked, burned out. I needed a change. The work isn’t fun anymore and what’s most important in my life are the two little munchkins who light up when they see me come through the door. I want more of that. A lot more.
Once the initial decision to sell my business a week or so of flopping around and coming up with strange and unusual ideas as to my next career came and went. I set aside the applications for hamster wrangler and licorice gunrunning and decided to take another look at my fading college diploma. I blew off the dust and just made out the faint cuneiform scratching on the crumbling clay tablet. It read, “Bachelor’s of Art Education, K-12”
I had given up on teaching a long time ago, mostly because it’s fiendishly difficult to find jobs teaching art. Most school shave one, perhaps two art teachers and in times of economic trouble, Art is almost always the first on the chopping block. I had done a lot of substitute teaching during my years of begging for work and I had taken two very important lessons away from that. The first was that I was going to grow old and die before a position opened up. The second was that I loved working with the little kids. K-3 is where I felt the happiest. The students are interested and interesting. The curriculum never leaves you confused and best of all; almost everything you show them is new and exciting.
I thought it was time to reexamine my college major with just a tweak or two for today’s reality. What I’ve found out is that I’m about six college classes and two tests away from being a K-3 teacher. I have a new goal.
Today, I will be signing the papers with the new owner. He will be handing me a check for, if not everything I was hoping for, an adequate amount to set my new life in motion. I’m going through a lot of emotions about this. Relieved that soon, I will be free of the burden that is small business ownership. Sad, to see a decade of my efforts leave my sphere of influence. Regretful for not having gotten to do a few things that I wanted in the business. Empty, realizing that I won’t come here and toil away like I have for so long. Pissed, that I ordered so many now useless business cards a few months ago.
Still, this is a good thing. Better than that, it’s the RIGHT thing. I’m tired of this work while the new owner is excited. He can’t wait to dive in and I have no question that he will do very well with it. He’s even invited me to come back any time and get my hands dirty, if I need a fix, for old time’s sake. That’s very nice of him, but I don’t see it happening.
He’s due to show up in the next hour and I’ll sign the business away. It’s just me, so there are no employees who have to be considered. I’ll put my John Hancock on the line, collect my check and stop at the back on the way home. When I walk through the door, my family will be waiting for me. It’s Christmas Eve today and the house will be warm and cheery. I’ll hug them all, Short Stack, Lulu Belle and Action Girl and get down to business. Being home for my family is my new endeavor. Teaching will help give me that ability.
Finally, I’ll be home for Christmas, and that’s the only gift I really need.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!