anna liisaA few years ago I had a choice to make. To continue with the career path I started at the very beginning of my professional life in my twenties, or to change the direction and start my own dream project.  

I picked the second option. I used to be a journalist, worked my way from the bottom to the top, and now I am a woodworker. And still working my way up. My life changed completely once I chose a new career path, giving my thirties a totally new direction. I used to have a well-paid corporate job and all of a sudden I had all the freedom to start building my own business, which brought my life so much joy but also uncertainty and fear. Looking back, I feel there are so many things I would do differently. If you are at the beginning of your entrepreneurial-journey or still thinking about starting your own business, please read the seven lessons I learned during my first few years of entrepreneurship.

1. Keep on track with your dreams

One of my favorite marketing specialist, the author of the bestselling book “Vlog Like a Boss“ Amy Landino writes her dreams over and over again, everyday. Just to be sure she stays focused on going after the life she wants to live. I have to admit, when I first heard her talking about it, it seemed a little bit weird. “Another modern spiritual mumbo-jumbo,“ I thought to myself. But I still continued listening to her podcasts. All in all, she is funny and she usually gives good advice. It was during this time that I was having very heated arguments with my partner who wanted to move to Berlin. “Not again, I don’t want to move!“ I tried to convince him that I was perfectly happy where I was.

Until I realized that it had been my big dream to move to Berlin when I was a teenager. I went on a tourist trip when I was 15 and I remember myself thinking that this is the city I would like to live in when I grow up. Here is the lesson: never forget your dreams, always keep on dreaming, and, if needed, write a new post everyday with your goals. Some day it might happen – your dream comes true and you don’t even realize it’s happening. Now I have made a special Pinterest board for my dreams. These dreams eventually turn to goals, then tasks, and finally into a reality. No mumbo-jumbo at all; pure logic.  

2. Start saving money long before you start building your business 

Although I am a firm believer of “fake it ’til you make it,“ I also think this saying is often misinterpreted. For me, this saying applies to learning a new skill. Oftentimes, it helps when you make things with an “everything is under control“ attitude, instead of “Houston, we have a problem!“ one. This cheats your mind into doing things you previously had thought you were not able to do. That attitude helped me survive the first few months with my daughter. It also helped me to get my driving license and have interviews with people who are so much smarter than I am.

But, this belief certainly will not fit into finances. This is not the area where you should “fake it.“ Now I understand how spoiled I used to be not having to put away money to save for the future. If I could start all over again, I would immediately make an Excel Sheet for my income and cash outflow, and start tracking my money and to save for my dream future business. I would also analyze my shopping habits to try to understand how I was compensating with product consumption. I could have saved so much money! And I would have avoided buying all these dresses and shoes I don’t wear. 

3. Sometimes you need to take a few steps back in order to move on  

When I first decided to start investing in my new career path, my woodshop, and ultimately my skillset, I knew immediately I needed to change my lifestyle. Building your business takes time, it is very seldom an overnight success. Especially when you have really big goals. My partner and I are designing a totally new concept of furniture. My collection has five pieces and I am very proud of it. However, I know it will take time until I have found the perfect furniture distributors and branding kit. 

It is good to have a plan for your own needs, but don`t forget to take care of yourself too. Think not only where you are willing to save, but where you are NOT going to cut back. And then stick to it. I have found ways to treat myself without spending money. It is very important to understand what makes me happy. Do I really need these shoes or do I need to feel pampered because I am tired and sad? When I understand my “why,“ it is so much easier to find alternatives for spending money.  But, sometimes, it is also good to go crazy and buy those damn shoes I don’t need.  

4. Take care of your emotional well-being 

As uncomfortable as it is, you are going to need to explain your new career path and lifestyle choices to your family and friends. If they understand – congratulations! You have found your tribe. If they do not respect your choices, it is time to work on your relationships or move on. It was really difficult to give up some friendships that used to mean so much to me, simply because we didn’t align anymore. Or if we did, I just didn’t have time because I was busy learning new things and making my product prototypes. I have also had to understand how much impact unhealthy relationships have. Not only on my life but also my business. Be very careful when choosing the people you let into your life. You are giving them the most precious thing you can give – your time. Also, try to live your life so that you don’t have any bigger conflicts. If you make a mistake, apologize, and accept the apologies you never get. That helps you focus on more important things – your well-being and your business. It is a constant hustle to build your new income stream(s), so you should be very wise about where you are willing to invest your time.   

5. Find your mentor  

It is very difficult to understand what patterns aren’t serving you anymore. When I quit my job for my new career path, I couldn’t afford to hire a mentor. But, there were so many things I needed to learn. When I had a 9-5 job, then my boss was deciding how I should spend my day so that it would be the most profitable. Now that I am on my own, it is very easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done by yesterday. Everything seems so important, and prioritizing such things are crucial.   

Luckily, I had a free career coach paid by my health insurance. She helped to keep me on track with all my new responsibilities, told me when I needed to take a break, and gave me ideas on how to simplify my tasks. Find out if there is a mentoring program in your area which is funded by the government or your health insurance. Or maybe you can find a volunteer mentor from your friend circle? There are also people who are offering their service for free or almost free because they are in their studies and they need some practice. Now I offer a mentoring service myself, about things I know very well. I also receive online mentoring from other creative entrepreneurs who have been where I currently am. 

6. Learn new stuff and improve yourself 

Hands up: who is capable of reading a meaningful book by the end of the day? Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t count. 

I absolutely love to read; I could lose myself in a bookstore and stay there for hours if I could. Finding time to improve yourself is not easy. Especially if you are in the phase of a start-up or new career path. I have spent the last three years literally at the woodshop; learning how to plane, cut, and install the wood furniture. I have made a deal with myself: no matter how tired I am – every night I watch at least one educational video. To be honest, first I was tempted to switch back to those cute cat videos, but, eventually, I got hooked to learning online.  There are so many wonderful professionals publishing educational videos out there! Even prestigious, expensive university professors are sharing their lectures for free. If they are speaking too slow, you can always speed up their speaking by changing the video settings. It is a good tip if you want to be more productive and learn fast.    

7. Get away from the toxic people  

Do you know of a person who seems to get a satisfaction out of being mean? Or, even if they don’t do it on purpose, there is something in their belief system that allows them to say nasty things to you. Psychologist even has a term for that – they call it a narcissistic personality spectrum. I am not a psychologist. Nor am I going to give any diagnoses to anyone, but if I understood sooner that when someone is mean to me, that says more about them than about me, I would have saved so much time and energy. Google about narcissistic personality traits! Know that people use certain narcissistic tactics in order to manipulate you to get their way. Start setting very clear boundaries.

This is the best way to protect yourself from being emotionally gaslighted or saying things you otherwise wouldn’t say. I usually test people so that I reflect their behavior in a neutral way. My experience is that an emotionally healthy and mature person doesn’t mind if you set your boundaries. When someone tells you that you are hurting them, you would at least try to analyze yourself and make the corrections in your attitude if necessary. Expect that from others too.

Final Thoughts

After reading this article over again before I sent it to the editor, I realized all of these seven lessons keep on appearing in different situations with different people. It is like a never-ending learning process, and every time I learn something new. I used to think that starting my own business would be something that I accomplish and then it is done. Like putting a checkmark on it and moving to the next task. No. It is a process; I can reinvent myself and my business an endless amount of times. This is something that keeps me motivated. Every. Single. Day.