This special guest blog post comes to us from Ellen Rohr of Bare Bones Biz.
As a kid, I operated with a simple career plan. If I wanted to learn how to do something,
I got a job that helped me to do that. That’s how I became an expert skier…starting as a
ski rental technician, becoming a ski patroller, and then a ski instructor. I got a job at a
marina so I could learn sailing and windsurfing. And I had lots of flexible restaurant jobs
that allowed me to eat well while I pursued my adventures.
As a young adult, marriage and motherhood imposed a more complex approach to my
career. I had others to consider, and my career decisions impacted my family. With a
deeper sense of responsibility, I chose to become a restaurant manager. The work was
rewarding and the benefits justified the long hours. But the career came with a steep
cost. I was a mom all day, went to work at 4 pm and didn’t sleep more than a few hours
a night for years.
I hardly saw my husband. He had a growing business of his own. He and his best
friend started a plumbing company. It was all they could do to stay afloat, though I
was too busy to notice until my husband’s partner died suddenly at age 33. He worked
himself into a heath crisis and died. Damn.
So, I quit my real job and went to work with my husband. I told myself – and him – that
I was giving up my career so that I could “help” him. Funny thing about being a martyr:
The person you are giving everything for rarely wants it or appreciates it. This career
phase was marked by anger and frustration. It took me a while to piece it together
but the key issue was simple: we weren’t making any money. Without my salary and
without his partner’s production, we were sinking fast. Money buys options and we
were running out. The resulting stress was taking a toll on our marriage.
In the pages of a plumbing magazine, I found a mentor. A columnist had written
an article that hit me right between the eyes. He wrote that the problem with most
plumbing businesses is that the owners didn’t know their asset from their elbow. I wrote
him a letter and begged him to help me learn business basics. Thankfully, he did.
He taught me how to keep track of the money and how to make more of it. I learned
marketing basics, like if our plumbers showed up clean, sober, on-time and dressed
right we could charge a profitable selling price. We turned our business around and got
out of debt. We stock piled some money and started breathing a little easier. I liked
making money and started to add up the profits we could add with more trucks and more employees.
The next major career shakeup came when I presented this plan my husband. My
world rocked when he answered, “I like working all by myself. I don’t want to grow this
business. I just want to work with a few customers on projects that are interesting.”
That left me out of it. It was his business and I wasn’t happy working with him. Still, I
was devastated that I wasn’t needed or wanted.
We decided to sell the business and pursue our own career paths. What a relief it was
to not work together, and find that we wanted to stay together. I left my husband alone
and allowed him to make his own career choices.
We both blossomed when we allowed each other to do what we wanted to do. His new
business took off, and I started my own business, helping other mom-pop shops get
profitable. I took the simple systems I had learned in our plumbing business and started
helping others get profitable. It was incredibly rewarding and confidence building.
In my forties, I started to notice that time was moving faster. Every time I looked at our
son, he seemed an inch taller. A new career move appeared when I was approached
by a venture capitalist who enticed me to sign on as president of a fledgling franchise
company. I could feel an underlying ambition growing, and wanted to see if I had the
chops to play a bigger game. Still, I insisted on working from my home-based office. I
traveled every week and tried to make it home for basketball games and keep in the
loop with homework. We grew the franchise company to $40 million in profitable sales
in under two years. And, my son graduated high school with honors, with our family
relationship intact. Again, I didn’t sleep a lot.
When my next corporate career step was presented it was attached to a commitment
to move to company headquarters. Damn. I had been ignoring the dysfunctional
company culture and thought I would suffocate if I had to go into the office every day. I
decided to leave that prestigious job, with its hefty salary, to restart my own consulting
Now I am 53 years old. I just don’t get my underwear in a bunch like I used to. I am
confident in what I have to offer, what I am capable of delivering. Every moment of
struggle has led to some worthwhile next phase or valuable lesson learned. All my
experiences have stitched together, and created a quilt of business knowledge and
understanding. I count on my waitressing experience when I need to use both hands
and multitask. I use my sailing experience when I have to be strategic. I use my family
business experience when I counsel a long-suffering client, “You can do what you want
to do and everyone else will be just fine.” The worst thing can become the best thing.
Really, there are no worst things, just best things in camouflage.
One of the best things that I’ve learned is how to make money. It’s not a burden to have
to “bring home the bacon.” It’s part of a full and fulfilling life. It develops character. It
delivers freedom. When you sell something for more than it costs to produce it, you
create money out of nothing. Of all the career moves I’ve made, I am happiest building
my own business and helping others build theirs.
I’m carving out my next career steps. These days, I like to put a plan together and then
be open to serendipitous events that could take me in a new and interesting direction.
I have a sweet awareness that life is lived in series, not in parallel. You don’t have to
do it all at once. You do get to do what you want to do. The result can be a unique,
lucrative, adventurous, scrapped-together career. If you are looking for a change in
your career path, check out The Bare Bones Weekend Biz Plan and turn your dream
of starting a business into reality. Or if this business you have is falling short of your
dreams, a simple business plan maybe what it takes to get you back on track.
PS…My husband just announced that he’s thinking of retiring. Good for him. Me, I’m
just getting going.