The doubts first crept into my mind after I celebrated my tutoring business’s tenth anniversary. Ten years of homework, interviews, QuickBooks, payroll, marketing, and websites. Maybe it was one too many “but will my fifth grader ever go to college?” conversations with a well-meaning parent. A grey tunnel opened in my mind’s eye, and I saw Future Me doing the exact same thing thirty years from now. I didn’t want to run this business any more.
I felt so guilty for feeling depressed about the prospects of Future Me. My business had afforded me a lifestyle of open schedules, creativity, effort, dedicated clients, reliable tutors, and the joy of seeing my students blossom from elementary cuties to impressive young adults.
Admitting that my small business was no longer the love of my vocational life was sad. I felt like I was asking for a divorce, and I slipped into a functional depression. Finally, Counselor Me began to have important, rational thoughts, and this meta-cognition led me to a better place. Lesson 1: If you don’t like your life-place, allow yourself to admit and think through it.
Together with Counselor Me, I could sense growing competition from technology. Mobile payments meant anyone can collect the money. YouTube and the Khan Academy provide free lessons for conscientious students and alternative learners who might otherwise turn to me. All of this represents nibbles of lost revenue that I can’t ignore. Lesson 2: Be aware that trends and technology pose threats as well as opportunities. Don’t get complacent about your skills.
Another important thought…”can I retire based upon this business?” No, not in its current format. My husband is preparing for our retirement, but I want to bring an important contribution to that nest egg too. Lesson 3: Hold yourself—not just your husband—responsible for the condition of your retirement.
I asked myself what it would take to bolster the business to a “retireable income,” and the answer was a lot more strategy, effort, and expansion. There lay the fork in the road that the Opportunity Cost of Time makes us address. I’m 43, and health and fate permitting, I want to work into my eighties. I find meaningful work very satisfying. Some folks work to live, but I live to work. I hate being bored. So, I could spend my time honing my small business marketing skills, or I could learn something new. Lesson 4: Value your time. It’s running out, and the approach of The End makes the resource of time fabulous and precious.
I could learn something new? NEW! The epiphany grabbed me six months ago while I was driving up Highway 405 to a nail appointment. I wanted to enroll in college and study clean technology. Within a week, I was registered in the Recycling and Resource Management classes at Golden West College. I will have my certificate in another semester. I don’t know where it will lead, but the possibilities for Future Me lay at the end of a brightly lit tunnel of LEDs powered by electricity generated though plasma arc conversion of our household waste. Lesson 5: If you’re not on fire about some aspect of your life, then you’re just smoldering and wasting away. Get en fuego!
So where did my tutoring company end up in all this? Our year leapt out of the gate. I’ve got tutors and clients eager to get connected. I’ve brought on help with my recruiting and billing, allowing me to study more and work less. I’ve stepped up my mobile productivity apps and even have an iPad tab labeled “Clarity Learning World Headquarters.” I can run much of the business during my class breaks and in the evening. I love seeing my personal students (although I’ve had to limit the number of students I take on to allow time to study). I am once again motivated to work for myself because it’s not my only option. I see the business as the financial backer of Future Me’s education, and that means this business must be run efficiently and passionately. I have a new passion for my business and myself.
About the Author
Michelle Deets Haynes is the founder and owner of Clarity Learning Private Tutoring. A reformed math-hater, she now tutors through college algebra. She also discovered CrossFit, although she’s a relative slacker. Emboldened by her triumphs in math and fitness, she has returned to college to pursue a second career in sustainability and waste to clean energy issues. After 12 years of improving other people’s essays, she really enjoys earning A’s on her own papers. Michelle lives a charmed life with her husband, cats, dog, and vermicompost worms. She can be reached via: Email | Twitter | Facebook
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