Starting At The Finish Line

“How long have you been successful?,” asked the woman from the newspaper, who was interviewing me about my new book. I guess I knew what she was getting at, but her question – put to me in the same way you might ask someone, “How long have you been pregnant?” – caught me off guard.

It’s not that I don’t consider myself successful, it’s just that success didn’t come how or when I expected it would, and putting my finger on a particular moment in time feels all but impossible.

Quick Story: On March 4, 2001, I found myself featured prominently and favorably on the front page of the Sunday Boston Globe Business section, in an article about small businesses and technology. Among other wonderful things said about me, the article (did I mention it was on the front page?) began:

“When Michael Katz left a marketing job to launch his own consulting business, he had only three basic tools: a laptop, an Internet connection, and a telephone. That was eight months ago. Today, Katz presides over a small business that looks more like a mini-conglomerate.”

Although I’d fantasized about this kind of thing before (I’d occasionally put the Globe on the kitchen floor, stand on top of it, and say to my kids, “Look, Daddy’s on the front page of the newspaper!”), I never expected it to happen so quickly.

The next several days were a blur: Friends and former co-workers called to congratulate me; eager financial planners offered to “manage my portfolio;” custom hairpiece manufacturers asked when it might be convenient for them to stop by and take a few measurements. You get the picture.

There was, however, one small cloud hovering in the vicinity of this extremely silver lining: On the day the article was published – a full two months into 2001 – the year-to-date revenue for my company was a whopping (here comes the punch line) $500.00. That’s correct. Small business groups were inviting me to come and “share some insights” with their members, and I was busy wondering how much it would cost me to park my car at the event itself.

I tell you all this in the hope that you can avoid the confusion and disorientation that occurs when things don’t unfold the way you expect – in my case, one of those things was recognition for an accomplishment arriving well in advance of the accomplishment itself.

“But how about that reporter’s question?,” you with the incredibly well-developed short term memory are probably asking. “How long have you been successful?”

Here too, the answer may surprise you.

When I launched my business, I gave myself one year to give it a go. I figured that in 12 months, I’d have either made it or not, and one way or another, that would be that.

Well, as it turned out, a year came and went, and I was really no closer to an answer. I hadn’t missed any mortgage payments, but I was still gritting my teeth, waiting for some sign that I had “turned the corner on success.”

So I gave it another year. Same thing.

Then, about mid-way into my third year and still struggling on a near daily basis, it dawned on me: there was no success corner to turn.

In other words – and unlike all my previous (conventional) professional accomplishments, from earning a college degree to getting a job promotion – there was never going to be any single event which would equal “I made it.” Which meant (stay with me, this is the important part), I’d be successful as soon as I decided I was.

And so I said to myself, “What the hell, I guess I’m successful.” And I went to lunch.

Here’s the bottom line…

As a solo professional, you can spend weeks, months and even years, wondering when someone or something is going to come along and validate your success. Or, like so many other things in small business life, you can just reach down and pick it up for yourself, right now.

As for me, I realize now that I’ve been successful since June 23, 2000. That’s the day I walked out the door of my then-employer – a box filled with the contents of my desk in one hand, a fistful of “good luck” cards from my co-workers in the other, and the biggest smile you ever saw, stuck to the front of my face. Everything since then has just been filling in the details.

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