Are you restless in your current job? Or, if you haven't been working outside the home, are you feeling like it might be time to do something else? You certainly wouldn't be the only one. According to numbers just recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of women-owned businesses grew 20 percent between 1997 and 2002—twice as much as other businesses. (The number of businesses owned by women of color are growing five times as fast as the national average!) All told, women own 6.5 million businesses, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all the businesses in the United States and generating $950 billion in revenue. Are you thinking you might like to join their numbers? I've outlined some key steps for you to follow.
In Serendipity, one of those movies I can't help watching every time it reruns on cable, Jeremy Piven has one really great line. His best friend, John Cusack, has just spent the past hour and a half completely upsetting his romantic life—including calling off his wedding to a beautiful woman right before walking down the aisle—because he can't stop thinking (and chasing down) another woman he spent a single, remarkable evening with seven years before. He knows he's acting crazy...he just can't help himself. And Piven tries to tell him that he did the right thing by reminding him: "The ancient Greeks asked only one thing about a man when he died, 'Did he have passion?'" Piven was talking to Cusack about love, but he could have just as easily been talking about work.
And the answer, in the case of most Americans, would be "no." Only about half of us are satisfied with what we do every day. And whether you're considering dropping out of corporate life or giving up your time as a stay-at-home-parent (or making some other kind of big switch) to start your own business, I'm guessing you're among them.
The good news: today—more than ever before—it's possible to start your own business. And we'll get to that in a minute...but first let's concentrate on figuring out what you love. That's right, love. Why? Because people who are happy with their jobs are four times more likely to be very happy with their lives. Four times! In fact when you look at all the factors that figure big in a person's happiness, their jobs or careers (in other words, what they do every day) weigh very high on the list—after marriages and self-esteem, but before health, finances, children, friendships and appearance. Being happy with your work life also makes you more likely to feel useful, confident and content—and less likely to feel stressed, restless and hopeless. Clearly, it makes sense to find an occupation that satisfies your soul as well as your wallet.
Understand that there are three different ways to look at work. There's work for hire, otherwise known as a job—if they didn't have to pay you to show up, you'd quit. There's a career—that's when you're on a track and you feel a personal drive to move from point A to point B to accomplish some of your goals. And there's a passion—that's something you'd do even if you weren't getting paid. Getting paid for their passion is, for many people, the ultimate goal. For others, who have come to terms with the fact that no one is going to pay them to fly-fish (or whatever), the goal is finding a job that pays a livable wage but leaves enough free time to pursue their passion. The career—in the middle—is where most of us end up.
Aristotle called the ultimate satisfaction "eudaemonia: a state characterized by engagement flow and immersion in life activities." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, former chairman of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago, simplified it and called it "flow."
Flow is when you're so caught up in what you're doing that you stop watching the clock. You're not overwhelmed. You're absorbed. Time sails by. You look up only when something finally distracts you and you realize that it's three-and-a-half hours later. You skipped your midmorning cup of coffee. You haven't bothered to check your e-mail. You even forgot to go to the bathroom. In other words, you're involved. And being involved in something you enjoy doing—where you can use your skills to accomplish a task you feel is meaningful and important—makes for a satisfying work experience.
Chances are you find yourself in flow only occasionally. Csikszentmihalyi's research has shown that 15 percent of people say they've never experienced flow and 15 to 20 percent of people experience it every day (some several times). And the rest are in between. The more often you can get to this place while you're working, the happier you'll be. Why? Again, workplace happiness is a big contributor to lifetime happiness.
Unfortunately, I can't describe the scenario—the new business, career or passion—that's best for you. Rob, a creative director at an advertising agency, knows his passion is throwing pots, and he's trying to come up with a business idea sound enough to allow him to transition. My brother Dave, who works in accounting for a mutual fund family—a job he likes—would eventually like to support himself with his music. But I can tell you a little bit about the characteristics that next phase of your life should have.