Recently , I was asked by Mennonite Health Services to write a piece on Character, one of the four C’s they identify in Valued Leadership (Character, Collaboration, Culture, Change). No small task, but a great opportunity again for me to engage this whole endeavor of running a business.
As a sole proprietor, there is a lot of freedom, but there is also a lot on the line. Vision, direction, motivation, practices and sensibilities all rest on your own shoulders. It’s all you. So, how to find a way forward? I have found a few things that work for me, but I am continually looking to grow and find better ways of doing things.
Three years ago, I never would have pictured myself an entrepreneur with a burgeoning business operating in a beautiful downtown Goshen studio space. In all honesty, before my business venture, my professional life resembled a pinball game, as I bounced around racking up experiential points, but lacking a clear (career) path forward.
Following my graduation from Goshen College, I served in Montreal with Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) for a year, toured the country as a musician, worked in education with ENL students, was part of an artist community, before moving into marketing and communications with the University of Virginia. A generation or two ago, someone might backpack through Europe to “find themselves.” I did not take that route exactly, but in my process of doing so, I struggled with a couple of cultural notions that were becoming increasingly burdensome.
The first was that I needed to “pick a career.” This notion is embedded from an early age as we are asked what we want to be when we grow up all the way through school, college and “professional development” opportunities. While it is no longer very common for individuals to work at one job for their entire career, there are certainly strong remnants of the expectation that we as individuals have one thing we are supposed to do with our lives.
Another struggle that I had was a latent expectation that in order to properly live out my faith, I needed to find a vocation that was more overtly religious in nature. Simply stated, I needed to “work in the church.” While I my parents never explicitly instructed me to do so, their lifelong roles as church leaders provided plenty of inherent pressure. These two notions can be summarized as “finding my calling.” For many years, I yearned to know what it was, and found myself often wishing I was just good at one thing, and that one thing could provide the answer I was looking for.
Only recently have I learned about an alternative philosophy for people like myself, who enjoy doing many different kinds of things. I have reference this before. These special folks are called multipotentialites. Multipotentialites are defined as individuals with interest and capacity in many different areas or disciplines. They excel in idea synthesis (seeing and applying connections with different ideas), rapid learning (devouring a new topic or area of interest) and adaptability (being able to function effectively in a variety of circumstances). These characteristics have become crucial in my ability to effectively wear the many hats needed when running a business as a sole proprietor.
Secondly, I have come to terms that there are many ways and methods to live out your faith in a career and outside of your day job. Additionally, as I had bounced around from job to job for several years, there was work going on inside of me, helping me to understand who God created me to be and firmly establishing the divine nature that creativity plays in all of our lives.
The final piece fell into place when my family and I moved from Charlottesville, VA to Goshen, and I had the opportunity to more fully pursue the creative endeavors that for many years were a hobby, or secondary job skill I could list on a resume.
Unable to really find the kind of job I really wanted, and with plenty of encouragement of those nearest to me, I took the plunge and started R3 Design. All throughout my life and career were strong notions of working hard, always looking to grow, get better, push myself and try new things. As I embarked on this new journey, I had to embrace another common mantra: don’t be afraid to fail.
But more than the learning curve with setting up internal processes, time tracking, invoicing, taxes etc., I had to make some important decisions about how I wanted to run a business. It was all new, so I did plenty of research and looked to other designers and business people for best practices and finding success. The sources ranged wildly on their philosophies, each promising a different definition of success. Some emphasized the practical – how to obtain and keep clients, methods for billing, effective time management strategies and so forth. Others swept those items aside and focused on how to find meaning and be happy with what you are doing.
I confess that I tried out several different things and still occasionally question myself as to whether there might be a better way to do something. What has become clear to me, however, is that I am clearer in who I want to be as a business owner. I want to keep learning and growing, but I also want to be intentional in viewing clients as people, not as numbers, each with their own unique story to tell.
I love that the design field allows me to keep exploring many different worlds. In any given week, I might be working in the food sector, or cosmetics, or in the education field, or entertainment, or a church or other non-profit. I get to witness the work God is doing a variety of fields and in a variety of people. With each new project, I have an opportunity to work at character, embracing my convictions and gifts, and treating others not just how I would like to be treated, but as unique children of God, each with their own gifts and story to tell.