Choose to Work

Remarks made at Fast Trac Graduation at Midlands Technical College 6/23/2018

It’s a pleasure to be here with you and an honor to speak to you today. I’m sorry I can’t stay for the entire event, I promised my daughter we’d work on her diving and flip turns today.

Choosing to be with her is an important part of my entrepreneurial journey.

When we first moved here from the Upstate in 2012 I had about a half dozen interviews for real jobs. All of which would require I put HB back in daycare. After a summer with her — the longest stretch since maternity leave — I decided I didn’t want to go back to 8 to 5. I chose something else. I chose freelancing. I started Clemson Road Consulting.

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Photo by Pixabay on

So I thought I’d talk today about choice.

Each of you is a capable, educated person. Your talents make you unique. You have something special to offer the world and the world needs what you have to offer.

And you choose to give it. Not just give it, sell it. Recognize the value of what you are doing and demand the rewards for it. And that takes guts.

Being in business is a choice. And it’s not just a single get-out-from-behind-the-cubicle choice, it’s a daily choice. Sometimes it’s an hourly choice. Sometimes it’s a moment-to-moment choice.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday, I met with someone who is a serial entrepreneur, an investor, and a leader. Given the choice of what we could talk about, I shared my vision for where I want to take my company.

He wants to hire me to do some work for him. That would be great. As long as he understands my company comes first.

In the moment, when he’s trying to offer me some kind of stable employment, maybe benefits, maybe advancement, maybe the chance to work on something big, I start talking about being the Biggest Woman-Owned Consultancy in South Carolina.

Ten million dollars a year with fewer than 40 people.

My Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal that has nothing to do with him. I made a choice, in the moment, to be THAT version of me: Ambitious.

In corporate America, people described me as ambitious with a sneer. With a raised eyebrow. As if they were wondering what I might be capable of doing to get what I wanted. I was told Ambition wasn’t my most flattering trait. Understandably, really, your boss doesn’t want you to take her job, your teammates don’t want you to throw them under the bus, your company doesn’t want you to jump ship for a better offer. Ambition is all those things and more: it’s achievement and results and accountability and drive.

One of my students had the word Ambition tattooed down the inside of his arm in this black script that was so compelling, every time I met with him I just stared at it. I wondered what a hiring manager, an executive, or a client, would think of a woman with AMBITION written so boldly across herself.

The Ambitious version of me has Big Hairy Audacious Goals. The Ambitious version of me doesn’t want to work for someone else and be told where to be, when to be there, what work to do, and when to do it. The Ambitious version of me thinks she can do anything and be anything she wants to be.

As long as she’s willing to work.

And that’s the choice I have to make every day. It’s not enough to say I want it, to plan how to get it, or to tell others that’s what I’m planning. I have to everyday work toward it. I have to everyday work on it. I have to everyday know that’s the engine I’m cranking up.

Early on in my business, the contracts came easy. They were part of my network, people who knew me and needed what I had to offer. I worked four or five hours a day.

When that business dried up and there was no pipeline, I sat on my hands and wondered, “what do I do now?”

That’s when the hustle truly begins. When there’s no work, no clients, no prospects, and no guarantee this experiment you’re running is going to work out.

One of the earliest lessons I learned as a writer was that you just have to put something down on paper. Something. Anything. Get it started or it will never get done. There’s no such thing as waiting for inspiration for a professional writer. You’ll starve.

I hate routines. I don’t even have a shower routine. I work on checklists. Hair, shave, body wash. Check, check, check. So long as everything gets done, it doesn’t matter the order. I work that way, too. I begin each day with a list of my Have to Dos. I don’t stop working until the list is complete. With one exception.

I write best first thing in the morning. When I first wake up. So I have to make that MY writing time if I plan to generate anything at all. I have to put blinders on to everything else — email, phone calls, family — I have to decline meetings scheduled during that time, I have to protect my routine.

I have to write.

Every day.

In your businesses you’ll be offered the choice to do the stuff you love to do — make your art! And do the stuff you hate to do — network, sell, finances. Making your choices every day about how you will spend your time is your primary challenge.

Too much art time and you have too much inventory with no one to sell it to. Too much marketing time and you’re generating demand you cannot keep up with (great problem to have right?). Too much procrastination time and nothing gets done and your business does not grow.

I recommend categorizing your work. Make sure you’re doing something in every category every day. Quantify the work so you can articulate the effort. Otherwise you’ll find whole days — weeks even — go by and you were working but not making any progress. How does that happen? Trust me, it happens.

The choice of whether your business will wither or thrive is yours. It comes down to how you spend your time. Think of your business as a garden. Sometimes you’re planting, sometimes you’re grooming, sometimes you’re watering, sometimes you’re weeding. Sometimes you’re sitting back and admiring the flowers. Gardening work is determined by daylight and rain, things that are out of your control. Your business will be affected by things like that, too.

Disruption in your industry. Technical difficulties. A customer’s failure to pay.

People will hijack your time. They will try to make their emergency yours. For example, at the Women’s Business Center we were offered some scholarships to an event — free tickets — and asked to give them to our constituents. Within 24 hours the event person called me wanting to know who those tickets had gone to. 24 hours later he called again. Dude. Your emergency, not mine.

Fun stuff can do the same thing. I love a good happy hour. I love to play golf. I get invited to either and I’m’a say yes. Then I look at my categories and say, “Which category does this fill?” If it’s not part of my “work” then I decline. I need to protect my time. It’s my inventory.

Forces outside of your control will push against the delicate balance you have, the routine you’ve established. Still, you have a choice.

Do the work or don’t do the work. There is no in between. In between and you’re a hobbyist. Nothing wrong with hobbyists. They don’t make much money, but they’re satisfied.

If you can’t afford to be a hobbyist, then you have to choose to work.

I made the choice to be a hobbyist in fiction writing. I wrote when I wanted, I submitted when I thought about it.

Yes, it’s more fulfilling to be working for yourself. It’s also more demanding, more disappointing, and more demeaning. You have to do things you never thought you’d do like accounting and budgeting. And when you don’t know how to do those things, you have to get help.

You chose Fast Trac to jump start, invigorate, or set-right your business. You chose to work on your business instead of in it. You’ve been given the tools here to make more good choices about how you spend your time.

Everyday you make that choice. Every hour, every minute, you’re choosing to be an entrepreneur. Even when it’s scary and not fun and hard and not well-defined. It’s a seven-day-a-week, 14-hours-a-day job. Time is your inventory; choose to spend it wisely.

Congratulations on finishing Fast Trac. I hope we’ll see you around the Women’s Business Center of SC.


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