The Accidental Entrepreneur, or How I Started My Own Business Without A Clue

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“Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel

Two months ago, newly unemployed and pretty bereft, I committed to a life of multiple self abuses including emotional flagellation, indulgence, and pity. I took to this mindset pretty naturally, spending hours on the sofa contemplating the ‘what ifs’ and ‘whys’. In addition to promising myself and others that I would get up and dressed most days before 2pm, I set daily goals like buying up all of the sugar raised donuts at Donuts with a Difference or a CVS run for shampoo. As a corporal work of mercy, I visited my friend who was recovering from an extensive surgery. Other days, I went to the library and borrowed trashy novels and piano sheet music books like “Best Break Up Songs of All Times”. I played “The Long and Winding Road” ad nauseum on the piano. I knew it was time to stop when my grandson complained that the song went on forever and I barked back, “Well, they don’t call it “The Short and Winding Road!”. When I became a regular at the Dollar Tree, I knew that I was losing the plot in a big way. Something had to happen soon to reverse the trend and stem this systemic shutdown.

As heartening as it was to hear the encouraging words of friends who still believed in me and my skills, I had lost all faith. I was a casualty of a bad work situation and my career was the road kill. While a core group of my nearest and dearest stayed in touch, others disappeared, teaching me a lot about who you can depend on in a crisis. Angry at myself for allowing this disaster to happen to the post full-time Mommy, mid-life career that I worked so hard for, everyday I could sense some of the weight lifting. Knowing that I could not stay in my house wallowing in misery forever, I sought some enriching experiences that were stimulating and, at the same time, non-committal. At Christmas, my husband had given me a gift certificate for photography lessons, in direct response to an impulse purchase that I made of a Canon camera to celebrate my sixtieth birthday. With my camera and its multiple lenses sitting idle, he capitalized on my despair and thought that I would love these lessons. He had no idea that he was throwing me a life preserver to counteract my rapid sinking. This experience was just the emotional massage that I needed to begin the rebirth of my psyche. Not only did I learn all about aperture and exposure, I learned about my own resilience.

Two classes later, I could take pictures where motion stopped, where backgrounds faded, and where things were generally in focus, all of which I considered major successes. With the art of photography mastered, I now needed a new frontier. I scoured local community education catalogs, websites, and supermarket information boards until I found just the thing – ‘Writing Tight: Short Memoir Writing’ at the Medford Public Library on Tuesday mornings from 10-12 for 8 weeks. Since it fit my schedule (oh right, I don’t have one) and my budget (it was free), I signed up, but the class didn’t start for another 3 weeks. In the meantime, I needed something to fill my days.

When I chose the career of school counselor over 20 years ago, I employed a graphic organizer, the versatile, two column type that lent itself to any purpose – this time, with pros and cons. I broke my life down into a primitive “Things I like to do” and “Things I don’t like to do”. Simplistic, yes – but the information that I gathered about myself fueled my decision to go to graduate school and work towards my Masters degree. I was 39 and a bit of a dinosaur, with my classmates considerably younger, less jaded, and lacking life experience. However, I believe to this day that my advanced years enhanced my attractiveness to employers, with a few job offers upon graduation while others were not as lucky.

Now, more than 20 years later and at another crossroads in my life, or as my friend calls it, “My Third Act”, I returned to the trusty Pros and Cons list to inform my goals. Once again, my age deterred me momentarily but knowing innately that I was not quite done with a work life, I forged on. The pros: I love working with kids, I know education, I have a tons of college application and advising experience, and I am relatively pleasant and easy to work with (if you do things my way, that is). The Cons: I never want to work for “The Man” again! That was it – the one and only negative to a work life, written at a dark time and possibly over-reactive. Not even sure who “The Man” was, I was resolute in my intent to avoid him. Combining these revelations with encouragement from colleagues who know well my abilities and professionalism, I decided to dive into the deep end of self-employment and start my own college advising business.

Terrified of my good friend, the IRS, I needed to make this endeavor legitimate and unquestionably legal. When a lawyer offered to incorporate me for $1995, flat rate, I was shaken but not deterred. Now on a “fixed income”, as my husband often jokes, with no cash flow to speak of, I needed to find a way to create my company on my limited budget of approximately $0. One evening of research netted a company name that was available and catchy, a domain address, and an offer of an LLC filing for $799. Mami, the aging but enthusiastic entrepreneur, was born!

Spending my days writing a business plan, creating marketing tools, and attending small business seminars, I prepare for the curtain to rise on my Third Act. I think I can make a go of it, maybe. If not, I always can write my memoir or take pictures. In any case, my project keeps me busy and minimizes my self-loathing. Sometimes I feel like I am just throwing the possibilities in the air to see which ones stick on the way down. Other times, I wonder if I am anesthetizing myself from reality, immersing myself in my still imaginary company (it’s always imaginary until the first paycheck). In the end, I am blessed to have those airborne possibilities, and the imagination, interest, energy, emotional glue, and most importantly, the hope that they stick.

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“Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel

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