I’ll start by saying this: starting my business is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But I’m glad I didn’t do it sooner.
If you’re young — like, late teens/early 20s young, because I’m in my late 20s, and I like to think I’m still pretty young, thank you very much — and you’re thinking about starting your own business, I feel I should issue you with a word of warning. So I’m going to! Woo!
Yes, starting a business was hands down one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It gave me more freedom and independence than I’ve ever known. And freedom and independence are two of the things I value most highly (just like in Armageddon). Maybe that’s what you want too. But I have to tell you something.
The type of freedom and independence you’ll get from running your own business is completely unlike the kind you get when you’re in your early 20s. Because this type comes lumped with something else, too — something I definitely did not want when I was younger.
Because, although I can now take off pretty much whenever I want — without having to request permission or give anybody notice — my business goes everywhere with me, regardless of whether my laptop’s by my side. It’s always there, lurking in the background. Something that dawned on me recently is that I haven’t had any proper time off since I started this thing back in 2012. Yes, I’ve been places. I’ve been on holidays, or ‘vacations’ as some of you lovely folk like to call them. I’ve done stuff. I’ve had some life-altering, wonderfully fulfilling experiences. But during all those occasions I’ve always borne the weight of responsibility, too.
Responsibility to my clients. To my students. To myself. To my landlady, who likes me to give her money sometimes. To you. This lifestyle is not one of reckless abandon. But if you’re doing anything other than living irresponsibly and recklessly when you’re young, I’d argue that you’re doing it wrong.
I get that you’re trying to figure out a way to live life on your own terms and all that. But when you’re young, and you still have your parents’ guiding hands — not to mention their hopefully free accommodation — I think you’d be foolish not to be foolish. Society practically expects you to be crazy and irresponsible at that age. And for once, I’m going to agree with society’s expectations.
Your early to mid 20s are a time to discover stuff. To have seemingly endless new experiences. To go on adventures without worrying about the consequences. To not give a shit if you get fired from your job, because there’s this other awesome thing that’s come up that’s WAY more important than getting to your shift on time. (I’ve been fired twice.)
When I look back on my life before starting my business, I think I did it right. I went to university, even though I’ve never actually used my degree for anything apart from this blog post, and it was one of the best times of my life. I made lifelong friends. I did lots of stupid crap. I slept with strangers and I drank a lot, often at the same time. (And now I’m really hoping my mother doesn’t read my blog. Sup Mum! Let’s please not talk about this ever.) I went to festivals. I dabbled with recreational drugs (weirdly, not at the festivals). I lazed around in the sun a lot. I went on spontaneous weekend adventures to Cornwall and Brighton and — Jesus — Weymouth? (Seriously, who goes there?) I went to casinos and clubs in London. I invented games with my friends. I played volleyball with my neighbours over our garden fences. And I had SO MUCH FUN. All the time. Without a care in the world.
I’m not saying you should have promiscuous sex or do drugs or get shitfaced a lot. In fact, for disclaimer’s sake, let’s say I’m telling you NOT to do any of that stuff. THOSE THINGS ARE BAD. But I’m glad I did them, and all that other stuff too.
And I fucked about after university quite a lot too. For five years, in fact. And sometimes I wonder if 27 was still too young to start my business. I’ve worked in five bars since I started university. (And one garden centre.) And in between all those jobs I also travelled. I worked at a summer camp in the USA for one long blissful summer, and it was, oh my god, honestly that decision is up there with starting my own business. Best. Time. EVER. But now I think, well, I couldn’t do that again, because there was no internet at my camp, and, besides, I wouldn’t have had time to do any of this writing stuff I do so often now. I could probably wing the zig-zagging-across-the-states I did for a few weeks afterwards, but even that would’ve made this business thing pretty tricky.
After summer camp, I went back home, fell in love, moved in with the guy and lived with him for a year. Another experience I’m so so so glad I had. Because falling in love is something everyone should get to do. And then I went travelling again. I CouchSurfed all over the gad damn place, and those were some of the best experiences I’ve ever had too. But now I think, well, I can afford to stay in hotels now, and I’m more likely to have wifi there and to be in an environment to get work done, which is important.
Because once you start a business, it’s always there. You can’t just drop everything. You have to PLAN. And prepare. And solve problems like how to handle your client workload while you’re galavanting off somewhere. Yes, you will gain more freedom than you’ve ever known. But you’ll be giving something up, too. You’ll be giving up that other type of freedom. The reckless abandon type of freedom.
And I think you should be prepared for that. Because preparation is something I care about now, apparently.