On a family trip to Massachusetts, we ended up at Wolf Hollow, a lupine sanctuary in the woods north of Boston. Wolves live in packs, under a strict social order. There is the Alpha Male and his mate, the Alpha Female, who are the only breeding members of the pack. All other wolves in the pack are celibate subordinates, and they fill roles in the social hierarchy under the Alpha. Pups who grow up in the pack and choose to stay become celibate followers. Those who choose to leave, when they strike out on their own, become “Lone Wolves.” They leave because they cannot follow the Alpha. They are leaders themselves.
These lone wolves leave the pack and search for uncharted territory they can call their own. Often they meet up with another lone wolf of the opposite sex and decide to chart that territory together. They start their own pack, with themselves as the Alphas.
The parallels between the lone wolf and the entrepreneur are hard to deny! We break away from the safety of the pack – our family, our 9-to-5 job – and strike out on our own in search of uncharted territory while almost everyone we know calls us crazy. You’ll starve to death out there! Maybe we will, but if we make it, it will be awesome. We’ll be the Alphas. And I’d rather take my chances as a Lone Wolf than spend the rest of my life as a celibate subordinate!
When Unemployment = Freedom
This week I returned to a place I’ve been twice before in my entrepreneurial life. The proverbial fork in the road. The question is, will I actually take that “road less travelled” this time? Or will I chicken out and hedge my bets, like I’ve done the last two times I was here?
I started this company with my husband in 2008 because we had both hit a wall in our media careers and realized we were not going to be the Alphas in our current job situation. We both kept our jobs while we started our business. We were childless then, and our dream of financial freedom fueled us with the energy to put in those massive hours. Steve’s job fell away in 2009, a casualty of the financial crisis. He’s been a full-time real estate entrepreneur ever since. I kept my job. Our daughter was born in 2010 and we both decided it was the right thing to do, to have some kind of steady, family-sustaining income coming in with health insurance. But I was so envious of Steve. And in 2012, I got laid off.
This was my chance! I was full of inspiration and was ready to go for my dreams at last – for about two weeks. Then, reality set in. I was the mother of a 2-year-old and our family’s only source of income was a rental real estate business that didn’t throw off a salary for one employee, let alone two. Obtaining health insurance was a paperwork nightmare in those pre-Obamacare days, not to mention expensive. Plus it’s one thing to voluntarily leave a career that was your dream for nearly 30 years to take on another, bigger dream. It’s quite another to be laid off from that career before you’re psychologically ready to say goodbye.
So I hedged my bets. I interviewed for other radio programming jobs in other cities, hoping against hope I’d land one that would pay a fat enough salary to justify hiring a property manager, moving my family, and starting over in another town. That offer never came (it would have to have been a WHOLE lot of money!) So when a friend begged me to take over his morning show for a few months while his host was on maternity leave, I did. And when the resulting job offer came to do traffic reports for that group of stations I grabbed it. It was full time, with benefits, a low but reasonable salary, and I could work from home. It was also only about 35 hours per week with no commute, so I could work on our business, at least part-time.
That was the road I chose to take. A sensible road. A safer road. And I’m kicking myself for it today because it delayed our business growth!
I found myself at this crossroads again at the beginning of this year when the traffic job consolidated operations and laid me off. But I was ready this time. I wrote a lovely soliloquy about God pushing me out of the jump door of an airplane and enjoying the view in freefall: http://thisgingerjustsnapped.weebly.com/blog/without-a-net
Pennsylvania unemployment law, however, had some things to say about how I would spend my time.
Pennsylvania law does not encourage entrepreneurship.
In 2012, President Obama made funding available for the Small Business Administration to help the unemployed transition into self-employment. Pennsylvania, however, blocked that initiative. If I were to walk into the SBA and sign up for a class, I would lose my unemployment compensation benefits. If I were to focus my time and energy on building the business with my husband, rather than searching for a replacement for the traffic job, I would lose my benefits.
Now, I could have just said to Hell with the benefits and gone ahead with my plans. I only wish I were that badass.
Once again I chose the safer road. I followed Pennsylvania’s rules so I could get that unemployment check to supplement the family income. That meant more job applications and more interviews at radio stations in other cities who would not offer me enough salary to move my family. It meant accepting every part-time hour I was offered at my “B” job – and there were an awful lot of hours this summer. Sometimes as many as if I were still working full-time.
Every would-be entrepreneur’s choice.
Once again I stand at that fork in the road. Unemployment has finally run out. There is now no reason why I can’t be 100% self-employed except for my own fears of scarcity. Will I go balls to the wall for my real estate business this time? Or will I chicken out again and grab another job for a few years? I found myself interviewing for one just two weeks ago.
I know my husband secretly hopes I’ll take the job. That makes it harder.
Yesterday at the wolf sanctuary I learned about lone wolves. I also learned another aspect of wolf behavior – the wolf that hasn’t quite left the pack yet. She is a lone wolf – ready to strike out on her own to find a territory and a mate and lead her own pack. But she hasn’t quite broken from her original pack yet. She hangs out in the periphery. That’s where I’ve been since 2012, and I’m starting to get real disgusted with myself.
I got the schedule for my “B” job over the next month. I will be working anywhere from 23 to 44 hours per week, along with my minimum 20 hours per week commitment to the business. There was a time, in 2008 and 2009, when I worked a lot longer hours than this. But now I’m a Mom, and not all my hours are billable anymore. A 64 hour work week is actually a little more than my max capacity, but I’m hoping those will be few and far between.
A “B” job can be a good thing for an entrepreneur. It’s extra money coming in not tied to the business. Mine even has a 401(k) with a company match! I have a lot of credit card debt to pay off due to my spotty employment history over the past four years. I plan to use 100% of my “B” job money to pay off that debt.
The business will have to support everything else. I haven’t quite figured out how yet, but if I wait around until I do it’ll never happen for me. I will forever be taking the safe road. And that road doesn’t lead to my dreams. This is the third time I’ve been given the chance to take the road less traveled. If I decline, will I be given this chance again? It’s time for this lone wolf to break from the pack, or else settle into the role of celibate subordinate. No, thank you!
Another little-known fact about wolves I picked up from my visit to the Wolf Hollow sanctuary: Wolves aren’t really howling at the moon. That mythology started with Native American art depictions of the wolf howling with a full moon in the background. Wolves howl as a form of communication. Wolves are nocturnal, so they howl at night. Wolves turn their faces and their snouts upward to howl for the acoustics – their voices will carry further. The bright full moon only allowed the Native American artist to see the wolf and paint the picture. The wolf wasn’t howling at the moon.
There are a lot of myths about entrepreneurs, too. And about “getting rich” in real estate. I promise to expose as many as I can in future blog posts.