November 19, 2010

Tomorrow I will be teaching people at the REFOCUS.REINVENT.REBUILD daylong retreat for people planning their lives as they leave middle adulthood. My friend and colleague Francie Cooper who is my co-host of the Tapa Palapa podcast invited me to present, and we’ve been referring to this workshop as the “Triple R Seminar” for a few weeks. Recently I’ve been thinking of it as the Re-Re-Re-Treat.

The theme of my talk is self-employment. My topic has to be focused because I don’t have the whole day, just a keynote presentation. I’ve got a small window of time to tell the attendees that the most exciting thing about a creative career is that it lets them align their work with who they really are. I have just a few minutes to say that self-employment lets them claim their own productivity and creativity, to “own” their personhood.

In that short time, can I get them to feel what I feel when I hear the Declaration of Independence? When I hear the affirmation that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I hear that each person is unique and has value. I hear that each individual has the right to develop his or her unique combination of gifts and talents and express them. I hear an acknowledgement that a person has to be free to do work that flows from those gifts and talents, in alignment with that person’s deepest values, in order to experience a sense of purpose or joy.

I don’t know much about the people who will attend so I’m not sure what message will benefit them the most. Did some of them follow the crowd and do what was expected of them as they entered young adulthood and got established in a career? Did they go to college to get a “respectable” or “safe” degree, or did they get some sort of career training that could always depend on? If so, I know there’s a good chance they had to park their dreams on the back of a shelf, because dreams are rarely seen as respectable or safe or dependable.

Maybe they believed that after they give a few decades to following the standard template they could retire and finally have time and money to pursue their dreams. If so, I’ll need to warn them that people who park their dreams to follow the crowd can get so accustomed to denying the importance of their dreams that the inspiration fades away. I’ll also need to warn them that, although people can try new things at any age, it is possible to wait too long to pursue a dream, because it takes a lot of energy and courage to turn a dream into reality. And getting off the crowd’s well-worn path after a lifetime of following it is an enormous challenge.

Maybe some of them will have spent their adult lives taking care of other people. Maybe they raised children and made it a priority to give those children opportunities and education to launch them into adulthood with all sorts of possibilities at their fingertips. Maybe they had a spouse with a demanding career and had to be in a support role to help make it a success. Maybe they’ve been caring for aging parents or relatives.

Maybe they planned that some day in the future they would have time to find work that really matters to them, and they see that time coming. Since they have had their attention and their spirit tuned to someone else’s needs and someone else’s best interest, will they be able to hear their own needs and their own best interest? Will they be so accustomed to serving other people that they think they are being selfish when they want to do something for themselves? They will need to hear that the most effective way any person can give is by developing his or her natural gifts and sharing them with others. And they will need to understand how much other people can be blessed by their gifts in order to see the importance of identifying those gifts.

Maybe they will expect to hear about choosing a business entity, setting up a home office, or writing a business plan. Will I have time to explain that what is really important is choosing a business design that suits their life, choosing work that lets them be in the kind of environment where they do their best work, and learning to identify who needs what they can offer is the best business plan of all? I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to fit it all in.

Instead, I may only have time to address the questions of people who are just beginning to consider self-employment. What kind of business can I create that will let me earn enough money so that eventually I can do the things I enjoy doing? What kind of business can I run well? Am I cut out to make it self-employed? I think they will be surprised when I answer each of these questions with the best business design question of all, a question I learned from Valerie Young’s Changing Course formula™:

What do you want your life to look like?

Fortunately for them, the whole day is planned to help them answer that question.


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