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Working For Yourself: Month Seven (Failing Forward)

{Photo by Maggie, just because I like it.}

This month has felt less about self employment and more about running a business. And running a business can be a bit high-stress and tricky. I’ve had days this month where I spoke to two lawyers (only one of whom I am married to), an accountant, dealt with a budget issue, managed employees, and chatted with our web designers, all in the same day. On days like that, I miss just sitting down at my computer and writing. But I’m also proud of all the myriad types of work that go into making APW tick, and I’m proud to be learning how to do all of them.

In the second half of my first year of self-employment, I’m coming face-to-face with the fact that this undertaking is a complicated one. When I quit my job, it was easiest to look at the year as just a continuation of the work I’d already been doing (plus a book): write posts, sell ads, grow traffic, use new-found time to write book. But it’s not really like that. To run a business well, you have to think about how your budget is going to play out over time, how you want the business to grow (and how you don’t want it to grow), what your employees need, legal issues, and, well, more. That, and you need to keep sitting down every morning to write. It’s hard, but the freedom that it gives me, along with the ability to do work that I love, makes it worth it.

When I wrote my last post on self-employment the ever-wise Class of 1980 commented, “Self-employment takes you closer to the way things really work. Instead of being a crew member on the plane, you are piloting it… and Oh My God just the slightest touch on the controls makes the plane do big moves!” I’ve been thinking about that comment all month. People think self-employment is scary because your business ebbs and flows, and you might lose your income. But that’s not true. Self-employment is scary because it shows you that business always ebbs and flows, and you just haven’t been looking directly at that fact for all this time. If you make a salary, there is someone above you, with their hands on the controls, trying to make the plane fly smoothly, so you still get your paycheck. Turns out, I’d rather be flying the plane than not. Of course.

At points during this month, while I undertook a variety of new-to-me projects, I felt like I was failing, over and over again. My mantra on those days was “Fail forward.” And I kept reminding myself that the only way I know to be successful is to fail, over and over again, and learn from it. On a particularly rough morning, Lisa of Privilege reassured me, “If you aren’t failing here and there you are certainly leaving money on the table somewhere else.” And I realized, yes. We fail when we want to test the boundaries of what we know how to do well, and that’s how we grow.

Which isn’t to say that things have been all hard all the time around here. APW made and sold its first merchandise this month, to a smashing success (those tote bags sold out in 72 hours, and we ordered a limited additional run, which is also almost gone). We worked to plan a big party (which looks like it’s going to be so fun that there are no words). I spoke at a wedding event, which was smashingly fun, if funny. I finally announced the APW Vendor Directory, which is shaping up to be truly excellent. And, most importantly to me, we’ve been consistently producing content here that I’m deeply proud of.

But mostly, I realized that I’ve been sprinting like a madwoman all year, and it’s time to slow down. For the first time, when people ask me what my next project is, I’m telling them, “Nothing.” Of course, I’m me, and that really means, “Nothing right this second, at least until my book is published in January.” I’m planning to spend the fall breathing, getting systems in place, and making APW run as well as it can. Getting accounting systems in place might not be glamorous, but it’s important, and I’m going to focus on it. There is grace in doing exactly what you’re already doing as well as you possibly can, and that’s what I hope to spend the next few months doing.

That, and taking a vacation. I need it.

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