I was lamenting about the slog of retail yesterday, because really, most of us would be promoted or fired if we did the same thing for over a decade. One of my store owner friends, who has 24 years in business, commented that maybe, with my 14 years, I'm still in store owner purgatory. Store owner purgatory is when you are not quite profitable enough to do what you want, you have limited wiggle room, and all you can really do is work your way forward out of the hole.
When your perspective is you have done this long enough to be a success, a slog in year 14 is demoralizing. It's your ego telling you you're better than this. Your ego is a dirty liar, so if you can trick it, you've accomplished something. If you take a longer view, like say, if you've been doing this for 24 years, it's a liberating concept that maybe your struggle is only coming to a middle. Your ego can go back to sleep while you vacuum another million square feet of store space.
The real problem as small business owners is we know how to fight, but we don't know how to win. We make good underdogs but terrible overlords. Americans love the underdog and as you can hardly make a mistake if you are small and scrappy. Big and arrogant? You can't walk to the restroom without offending someone. Most of us don't have the answer to "Now what" when it comes to success. This is why small business ownership is always a risk and why when we approach the top, we tend to make one of two big mistakes: disengagement or overextension.
I work on my Jeep to avoid gnawing my arm off, typical disengagement. It means I'm taking my eye off the ball and growth is taking a back seat. I engage in risky construction projects more out of boredom and the need for a new personal challenge, rather than business need, typical overextension. Business eventually becomes boring, but only when you've reached a certain height. Re-define your progress as being somewhere in the middle, and your perspective brightens and your decision making improves. So the lesson here is find your extended purgatory by redefining your struggle as somewhere in the middle.
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