From Nothing to Something: My Small Business Success Story

Small tree, plant  in the hand

Jurissa Ayala

Running your own show is no picnic. You have no one to report to, sure. You can work in your pajamas while eating too many pancakes. Any time you feel like it, you can take a yoga break. Or a Big Bang Theory break. I won’t lie, that’s all pretty awesome.

There are some downsides to owning a small business, however. When you are self-employed, you report to you. Which means that sometimes your boss is a lazy slob who won’t demand that much of you. Who might make excuses for your poor behavior or let you cut work more often than you should. Plus, your boss has only as much experience as you do, and that can really hogtie you.

It took me more than seven years after graduating college to consider myself a “success.” This is partially due to a lack of determination to get there, and partially to a number of mistakes I made. By sharing them with you, I hope to reduce the time it takes you to find your own success. Ready for a crash course in small business life? Put on your helmet and let’s get started.

Mistake #1: I Went to College Too Soon. Then I Did It Again

I was always a good student, and the occasional C in Chemistry didn’t stop me from getting into one of the top programs in my state. Because school came easy, I never really tried that hard. Nor did I question whether it was “worth it” to spend time and money on college when I was still finding myself. Too bad for me.

When I graduated with a degree I would never use, I shrugged my shoulders and found jobs that didn’t thrill me: first in insurance sales, then at a bank. I used the money to pay rent and party, and started looking for another path only when banking made me so miserable it was starting to ruin my life. I chose teaching, and got another expensive degree that didn’t pan out due to a bad economy. Then I went to school for journalism. Finally: something I loved. It only took me an extra four years and untold student loans to get there.

Mistake #2: At First I Didn’t Stick With Anything

Even after receiving my master’s degree in journalism, I found it hard to settle down. School was so easy for me: I got better grades than most of my peers with my eyes closed. Naturally I assumed this would translate to my career, and was spectacularly disappointed when it didn’t.

No one cared that I was smart, or that my teachers liked me. They just wanted to see results, and I didn’t have any. My dreams of being a world-famous writer and author soon evaporated. I was crushed and lost, and only after a year of soul-searching did I finally settle into the less-glamorous but better-paying world of freelance copy writing. I had finally found something I was good at and loved … and it paid the bills too. Add two years to the clock.

Mistake #3: I Thought Success Came Before Hard Work

At the beginning, I was convinced I had to find a glorious gig to in order to really apply myself. Once I took care of my ego, I reasoned, the hard work would feel natural and the success would come.

The opposite turned out to be true. Once I took a deep breath and accepted that there would be no glory for a long while – perhaps ever – I was able to settle into my day job with a joy and willingness I’d never before experienced in life. It came naturally, fitting into the flow of my life well enough that I was able to care for my tow children at home and keep up full time work. My world became perfect. It only took one more year.

Key Takeaways:

  • Consider waiting on college until you’re sure you know what you want to do
  • Prepare yourself for hard work at the outset, and do not expect success before you put in a lot of long, inglorious hours
  • Stick with it, even when it sucks
  • Consider talking to someone in the line of work you hope to go into to find out what it will be like and ensure you’re prepared
  • Have a positive attitude! No, really! It will totally help

As a small business owner, I now write for clients all over the world. I set my hours, I sleep in, I play with my kids … and I work hard. I’ve transitioned from the nothingness of endless ego drain to the true fulfillment of hard work and a quiet personal success.

Next up? I might take a sewing class. But it probably won’t be glorious.