Three Vows to Live and Work By

Featured Post by Jen Wilson

Four years ago, I leapt. I decided to give up the regularity of a steady paycheck and an outstanding benefits package for the freedom and challenge of self-employment. I've been fortunate to have many teachers and mentors in my life. I believe that their influence allowed me to have the presence of mind to make three deeply important vows to myself when I took that leap.

I like the word "vow." Mirriam-Webster defines it as "a solemn promise or assertion." That definition rings true for me in this circumstance. I solemnly promised myself to be assertive enough to follow three guiding principles as my own boss. Each vow is explained below, and while I use them as a self-employed person, I think they speak to universal concepts that all of us can relate to in some way or context whether we are self-employed, a stay-home parent, retired or working in the corporate world.

Three Vows to Myself:

1) Never take work just for the money. This is a hard one to talk about because the reality is that virtually all of us live in a way that obligates us to exchange dollars for things we need and want: housing, food, clothing, entertainment, travel. I'd like to emphasize the word "just" in this principle. If every cell in your body is telling you, "Hey, this doesn't feel right or like something that's going to be good for you..." but the size of the paycheck or contract is dangling in front of you like a glittering diamond, it is hard to listen to that voice. I've ignored that voice twice since I started my business and sure enough, I came to regret it both times. I've also turned down literally tens of thousands of dollars, which meant that when work I was excited about came along, my calendar was open enough to take it. This rule may be a slippery one to grasp intellectually, yet we can easily understand it with our gut when the logical, practical side of our brain questions the wisdom of this strategy.

2) Work with people you like and who inspire you. This one I have done my utter best to uphold. I've had a few surprises when some individuals I've worked with turned out to more interested in gripes and grudges than honest, peaceful collaboration. This can be tough to predict entirely, but for the most part we are able to recognize who these people are in our lives. Recently, I've had the good fortune to work with a small company where everyone is positive, motivated and strives for excellence. I've even thought that it wouldn't matter if we were building birdfeeders or washing windows - they're just great people to work with and be around. The best way to keep a positive attitude is to be around positive people!

3) Be a good boss to yourself. Have you ever had a boss who you felt didn't respect or value you as a person, beyond your value as an employee? That person may not have had the ability to contribute to or care about your well-being or peace of mind. I've observed, in myself and others, that it's easy to develop these own bad habits and impose them on ourselves! Do you drive yourself to work too many hours when the honest truth is that no one but you expects you to do so? Do you leave your vacation days unused because "They just can't do without me that long!" (when really, they could...) and let yourself become exhausted instead of taking time to rejuvenate yourself? Do you judge your performance too harshly and rarely give yourself compliments or praise for a job well done? These are habits we learn from others, and I believe it is critical for us to become conscious of them. Consciousness allows us to rethink and unlearn bad habits, making room for new, healthy habits of mind and practice. For example, I have to consciously schedule vacation, time off, and breaks throughout my day. I have to consciously stop working in my head when I step away from the phone and laptop to join my family for a meal.

I think I wrote this article today to remind myself of my vows, and to renew them. I am wrapping up a major consulting contract and have room to accept new work into my life. This is a wonderful time to remember what I stand for and what I live by. Each vow speaks quietly of the values behind it, and they are my touchstones, my North Star.