I grew up in a small business family and, for that reason, I never wanted to own my own.
This income helped me graduate college without any debt. We had a swimming pool. To the people in my small town, we were living the life.
You might wonder why I wouldn’t want the same lifestyle for myself.
First of all, I watched my dad work. A lot.
My dad was at his business six days a week (they were, and still are, closed on Sundays), 5:30 am to 5:30 pm. He went in during off hours to read his mail or otherwise catch up on the kind of things he was interrupted doing all day.
And when I say he worked a lot, I don’t just mean making money. He donated materials, money, and time to a lot of local causes. (I heard a lot more about this after he died. Everything from him being a blood donor at the hospital (he had a rare blood type) to buying an elderly woman a dog.)
Second of all, I knew I didn’t have the interest and passion for hardware required to run a hardware store.
When I told my father I didn’t have the interest, he and I made a pact jokingly that we would never work for each other because we knew we’d drive each other crazy. But in reality, I know we both didn’t see me ever running a business.
I will say right off that I never knew my dad in the business sense. But from my visiting the store, watching my dad work on things at home, occasionally helping out, and otherwise observing all this for 18 years, I did learn some things about running a business from my father.
It’s not at all glamorous.
If you want a glamorous job, work for someone else at sail out of work at 5 pm every day on the nose. There is nothing glamorous about calling customers who owe you money, scheduling people to work, or about the 80% of business ownership most people don’t see.
This is why I firmly believe if you want to own a business, you should work in the kind of business you want to own at least six months and see what it’s really like.
You are a public person.
I could tell this bugged my dad sometimes. We’d go out to dinner and the waitress would ask when her garage door was coming in. That’s why when you see me out socially, I shut down the work talk pretty quick. Because I actually want to enjoy going places still.
By the same token, I can’t get belligerently drunk, scream at people, or otherwise misbehave in public. Who I am outside my own home reflects on my business, for better or for worse. So I have to watch it.
People are ridiculous so you need to protect yourself.
Someone will trip on your stairs and sue you for example. While most people would probably think it’s overkill, I have done everything by the book for this very reason. I have a lawyer, I have insurance, I have backups, I have a cooperation protecting my personal property. If I hear of something I should have, I get it.
I probably have less money because of this but I haven’t attracted anything bad to happen to me yet either. Note the word yet.
Some people won’t like you, probably for really dumb reasons.
When I first got to Bar Harbor, a local woman decided she didn’t like me (she thought I was incompetent based on a question I answered but apparently didn’t understand). She proceeded to berate me all over town.
I am sure my dad had my share of this in our small hometown. While people tell me what a great man he is, I know at least one person who didn’t like him and told me (the feeling was mutual, dude). No one in the public eye can universally be liked.
You won’t like it everyday.
There are whole days I don’t like my job. And I created it, which makes me feel especially dumb. The only reason I know this is normal is from talking to my parents about it.
Be suspicious of the internet.
My father didn’t like computers much (except his MSNBC page) but he as always suspicious a little if something was only online.
I credit this suspicion I have in me with not having fallen for any internet scams for weird services, paying electronic invoices to companies I have no relationship with, and other nonsense. If I can’t look into it offline, it’s probably not legit.
It’s important to force balance in your life.
When I was about 12, my dad resigned from every board and committee he was on. And I noticed he was around a lot more. I’m not sure if him and my mom talked or it this was all him but I did notice the change (and effort) for him to not check up on work stuff when he was home.
I had a similar epiphany when I realized I was missing things that were important to me. So now, even though it makes Monday almost painful, I take weekends off entirely. I can always make more money but I can’t ever go back in time to my friend’s birthday party. I also have stricter email (and other information checking) practices than most people in my industry in part of this forced balance.
Two things my dad didn’t teach me were:
How not to take things personally. Apparently despite acting like he couldn’t care less whether you liked him or not, my dad really did care and some people saw him as kind of a pushover for it. I honestly don’t care most of the time whether people like me or not. This is part genetics, part hard work to cultivate in particular these last few years with Tao Te Ching-esqe detachment exercises (which practically killed my personal life until I learned to shut this on and off- this is why if you meet me in a personal setting I seem ‘different’ than if you meet me in a business one).
How to deal with it when people don’t pay you. I remember my dad and I were at a bar once and he leaned over to me and said “That guy owes me $10,000.” Then he walked over and bought him a beer. This ‘turn the other cheek’ attitude is admirable but it didn’t teach me how to stand up for myself in these kind of situations. Thankfully I’ve gotten some practice doing this and only get better at it.
So while I never in a million years thought I’d have my own business, I have learned a lot watching my dad and mom run one.
And while my business might never give me a backyard pool, I do hope it gives me other things I saw it give my family: a sense of community, a desire of always improving, and something that’ll live on after I am gone in all the best ways.
Today’s anniversary of my father’s passing makes me think of him and every year I am challenged not to remember him but to remember something about him I can document for myself in the future. Thanks for reading this year’s entry. 🙂