When I was an office worker, it never ceased to amaze me how I could just show up at work and sit there – with no plans whatsoever, and things would just happen to me.
People would start talking to me. The phone would ring. Emails would pour in, asking me to do things.
I was reacting. All day long, I was reacting.
Deep down, I yearned to start my own business. But how? That was not possible with all of this reacting going on.
Even when I got home, I was in reaction mode. My young daughter would demand my attention. My friends would call, wanting my opinion on this and that.
By 9 pm, exhaustion would pour over my body and I would fall asleep.
During one particularly bad time – work deadlines were impossible and my wife’s father had just died of a heart attack. Life can get overwhelming at times. So I sat down, stared at the wall and ripped up my little piece of paper with scribbles about business ideas.
And then I cried.
Whispers of wisdom from long ago
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Yes, things were happening to me. All of the time. Then, one evening, trying to escape the chaos, I picked up a book about Leonardo Da Vinci, the ancient artist and inventor.
It was as though this ghost from history was speaking directly to me. Do you know what he said to me? He looked into my eyes from the page of the book and said:
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
That was me. I was letting things happen to me. But I wasn’t going out and happening to things.
Those words floated around in my mind for weeks, and the more I thought about them, the more impatient I became.
Finally, I decided to block out 2 hours every day just for me. From 4pm, the time I left work, to 6pm, the time I was expected to be home, I went to the library and mapped out a plan to start a business.
My writing business, at first, was part-time. I did it on the side, while still working for my employer, with their complete knowledge. They didn’t care as long as it did not interfere with my office duties.
But it was tough. Very tough. It was at this time that I contracted Type 2 Diabetes, because I was not eating or sleeping well.
My dream of business ownership was fading and I was starting to fail at everything. I could not meet the demands of my clients, my employer or my family. Worst of all, I felt like a piece of stale bread run over by a truck.
But another famous person came to the rescue. This time, not from a book, but from a business conference.
Dragged from the depths of despair
It was a leadership conference and the keynote speaker was the late great Stephen Covey. Covey, if you don’t know the name, is the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (and other great self-help books for people in business).
In his speech, it was as though Covey was speaking directly to me. What he said changed my life forever:
“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”
Wow. I was feeling sorry for myself because I felt so hard done by. My circumstances had overwhelmed me. But Covey was telling me that I had really made a decision to be in the situation I was in. It was I who decided to try and keep a full time job while running a business.
It was clear. I had to make up my mind – the job, or the business. I chose the business, even knowing that it was struggling, and I was struggling too. But, by going full time, I was pretty confident I could turn things around.
And I did.
Yes, I made a million mistakes. And no, it wasn’t easy. But as any independent business person will tell you – when things are not working out, you can always change direction. Most businesses look very different from when they began (mine included).
Da Vinci’s wise words of “happening to things” and Covey’s insight that we are the product of our decisions – represent food for thought for all of us.