I hired a six-year-old to run my business, but only after the teenager I'd put in the corner office had messed things up pretty bad.

Let me explain.

In my five year journey as an entrepreneur, I have faced many challenges. I have also reaped many rewards, like being able to spend three winters in Arizona and setting my own hours. I was able to work till midnight if I felt like it one day and take the afternoon off the next. If I felt inspired, I could pursue an idea without going through a lot of politics to get it approved. I never set an alarm to wake me up and could work out in the middle of the day (I always wondered who those people were I would see going for runs at 2 pm).

These kinds of freedoms were the reason I had started my business in the first place.

There is no question that I did well as CEO at times. Like when I got my act together in year two and began running financial reports and creating monthly projections. Or when I developed a strategic plan and a marketing plan that worked like a dream.

The day I learned how to run a Cash Forecast Report in InfusionSoft, I wanted to give my creative ass the accountant of the year award. (Not sure that would qualify, but as a creative professional and writer, I was pretty impressed.) I felt like a grownup, and I was.

At some point in my business, though, a teenager took over – a rebellious, fiercely independent, mouthy kid longing to self-express. Someone who didn't like rules and didn't do anything she didn't feel like doing. Someone who liked to get on her soap box, and who had an idealism that only someone so young and inexperienced can grab onto.

Unfortunately, she was also someone who, like most teenagers, thrived on drama. It was about this time, looking back, that the cash flow rollercoaster started in my business. Up and down, up and down it went. She really created a lot of stress with her teenager-like view of life.

She was given the CEO position because the grownup was causing all kinds of problems. Like making a rule that no one got to have fun, and squelching entire parts of my personality that she was afraid my customers wouldn't approve of. And burning me out by working me 4,000 hours in one year.

Looking back, having a teenager run my business probably wasn't the best idea. For instance, she allowed me to take long stretches of time off even when I wasn't making my numbers. (She did this in the interest of curing me of my burnout.) Then I noticed that she refused to run the financial reports anymore. She insisted she didn't need those types of things; way too boring. I noticed that she would give the entire team (me) the day off for no reason, and didn't mind at all if I just watched a movie in the middle of the afternoon.

At first, I thought she was a pretty cool boss. Until I realized the problems she was causing.

Then the six-year-old in me let me know since things weren't working out that well with the teenager running things, she was willing to take charge. See, she'd been biding her time for years, waiting for the moment when she could do what six-year-olds do best: play. She wanted me to have more fun. The grownup had burned me out, the teenager had made a mess of things, and now the child in me wanted to give myself a break. In fact, she had waited so long, she dug in her heels as if to say, "But you promised! If we don't get to go to the park soon and play, I'm not doing this anymore!"

The six-year-old lived a whimsical life, but when it came time to pay bills, she was at a bit of a loss as to what to do. (For a time, the teenager and the six-year-old held a co-leadership position, but you can imagine how well that went.)

Have you ever thought about who is really running your business?

Is it the teenager, saying things like:

  • I don't care about financial reports and marketing plans and corporate entities. I'm full of ideas and I want to self-express. Let's do this idea! It looks good.

Or is it the child, saying things like:

  • Let's just write all day! I love writing! After that, we can go play on Pinterest.

Or, is it the grownup, who realizes that self-expressing and creativity and reaping the rewards of being an entrepreneur are what it's all about, but to get there and stay there, you need to do the grownup things. Things like:

  • Creating a marketing plan
  • Doing financial forecasts
  • Tracking income and expenses
  • Conducting a feasibility study before you launch something
  • Coming up with a strategic plan
  • Dealing with legal issues like trademarks and corporate entities

The problems come up in a business when you aren't letting the grownup, the teenager and the child play the roles they were meant to play.

If you don't allow the child inside to play, you'll burn yourself out.

If you don't allow the teenager in you to exert some independence and self-express, you'll feel trapped and unhappy, and maybe even feel like a fraud.

But if you don't put the grownup in charge, you won't get to reap the rewards of having fun and being independent and self-expressing, because running a business requires grown-up actions in areas like legal decisions, tax planning and finances.

If you neglect your child or teenager, or pretend their needs don't matter, they will wait for an opportunity to take things over, because all the parts of you need to be taken care of and have a voice.

You need to have fun and be playful. You need to self-express and be yourself and exert the independence you longed for when you had a boss. But you also need to be a grownup and follow the rules of good business sense.

This is what being an entrepreneur is all about. And I'm pretty sure if someone told you they were hiring a six-year-old or a teenager to run their business, you'd think that was a pretty funny joke, but you wouldn't expect them to get very far, would you?

When I decided to be a grownup, I made a few changes (some of which just meant doing what I used to do), like:

  • Tracking income on a weekly and monthly basis
  • Tracking income year to year each month
  • Setting financial goals
  • Managing my personal finances better
  • Always asking myself what sounds fun, and honoring that in my marketing plan
  • Focusing on fun for an hour every day
  • Allowing myself the freedom to change course when I feel like it
  • Giving myself permission to be myself and self-express at will

Mostly, being a grownup means being committed, not in the way a child looks at life or a teenager tries something out, but in the way only someone who has enough life experience to know there will be ups and downs can commit.

And who knows that if she does what it takes, there is a really good chance that the commitment piece will bring plenty of rewards later.

Who would you say has been running your business – the child, the teenager or the grownup?


Feel free to leave a comment below. If you think others might benefit from this blog post, I'd sure appreciate it if you'd share it. Thanks. 

Beth A. Grant is a writer, speaker and thought leader based in Chicago. She blogs at www.truthandconsciousness.com

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