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Adventures in Entrepreneurship

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Enablelink website, http://www.enablelink.org/employment/emp_articles.html?showemployment=1&page=2&id=1675

Let's listen in...

"I really love my work, but I feel a change growing in the back of my head," Deborah mused half-aloud.

"Oh?" Jim looked warily over his reading spectacles, a line of apprehension tracing his forehead.

"It's time to expand, to be my own boss, to have my successes and failures be my own. Maybe start a business. I can do just about anything!" Her voice lifted, ending in a crescendo with arms pointed upward in an "I-am-woman" victory V.

"What kind of a business?" Jim tried to bring the level down a notch.

"Well, I'm good at wearing a lot of hats and enjoy the challenge of pulling things off."

"That's true," he draws the two words out while contemplating what might come next.

"I am a good writer, a talented teacher and an excellent cook. And I can tap dance and weave and snowshoe!"

Jim struggled to hang on, but the excitement was contagious. "And don't forget your travels and your passion for telling other people what to do -- er, telling good stories."

"Mmm, how to turn all this into a living?" Deborah was coming back to earth.

Even though the ideas waffled about, the seeds of a dream were germinating.

"Let's do it," Jim offered triumphantly, having no idea what "it" might be.

"What do you mean 'let's'?" Deborah perked at the idea.

"I don't want to miss the trip. Sounds exciting." Jim pretended to settle back into his reading, but his mind was racing, too.

What began as an ordinary fireside conversation over a glass of wine turned into a grand adventure. Like all good expeditioners, we started with good maps, good outfitters, good equipment and the high hopes for a good time.

From many conversations with successful small-business owners and much reading, I have identified a pattern of personality traits and decision-making processes. Even though most of the folks I met have vision disabilities, people of all abilities will identify their own traits and benefit from the various questions to consider.

Oh, yes, the end of the story? I live high in the Rockies. In a forest. On a creek. In addition to writing freelance articles and publishing cookbooks, I serve as a guide to creative expression at our retreat for writers, artists, gourmet cooks and international travellers.

Jim is right there with generous support and enthusiastic offers to try new recipes. I craft my own schedule of projects, work really hard, and absolutely love it.

Packing your bag of tools and tricks for the journey? Winning entrepreneurs with disabilities offer this guidance to help you on your way.

On naming your passion:

Do what you love and the money will follow. Identifying what gives you joy gets you that much closer to finding your right livelihood. List the things you like to do and the things you love in life. You will start to see patterns, congregations of similarities. Do you see a union emerging that is natural and close to you?

Sometimes, the path ends up leading you to quite a different place from what you originally envisioned. My own personal example: my inventory revealed that I loved to cook, was a talented teacher and had a passion for writing. The logical path seemed to be a cooking school.

But, with careful thought, I realized that it was not merely the cooking that I loved, but cooking for other people, sharing a table with rowdy friends and breaking bread over stories.

My efforts eventually settled on directing a retreat where meals play a special role. The collection of stories, activities and recipes has resulted in a series of published books. Quite a different direction from a cooking school, wouldn't you say?

On taking your personal inventory:

Ready to uncover hidden treasure?

The revealing (sometimes surprising) personal inventory relies on an "honesty" factor that occasionally shows an effect that a personality trait or skill might have in the long run. For example, a strong work ethic might eventually present itself as an inability to set effective boundaries between work and private life with its ultimate effect on family and friends.

Do you like to solve puzzles, and stick to the tough ones till you do? Can you talk on the phone, cook dinner and listen for the clothes dryer to buzz, all at the same time?

The small-business owners I interviewed identified talents, skills and traits in themselves and their colleagues that led to their success. No one person could possibly have all the traits they mention. In fact, you might even sense some contradictions. Do you see yourself here?

The successful entrepreneur:

        - understands her own skills and wants to use them fully; 

        - desires creative freedom and wants to be her own boss; 

        - seeks financial independence; 

        - makes strong commitments; 

        - is a self-starter; 

        - is able to make strong decisions for others; 

        - has stamina for the long run; 

        - plans well; 

        - has a positive attitude; 

        - has a strong drive to see a project through; 

        - is patient and persistent; 

        - recognizes support of family and friends; 

        - can focus intensely; 

        - likes working independently, from outline to final report; 

        - is self-disciplined and self-motivated; 

        - uses common sense; 

        - has an inquisitive spirit; 

        - likes to network to find answers; 

        - solves problems creatively; 

        - likes to work step by step; 

        - organizes tasks well; 

        - is willing to start small; 

        - enjoys working with people; 

        - is able to roll with the changes; 

        - likes to match up people with what they need; 

        - works well under pressure; 

        - likes to operate independently; 

        - is comfortable doing a variety of tasks and wearing lots of hats; 

        - prioritizes tasks according to need; 

        - is flexible in approach; 

        - likes to have control, but is willing to give it up occasionally; 

        - follows through on details; 

        - shows honesty and integrity; 

        - is willing to travel the extra mile; 

        - enjoys seeing other people excited about the service or product; and 

        - finds personal rewards as important as financial ones. 

On serving the community:

When asked to describe the rewards of operating a small business, owners often point to the satisfaction of contributing something worthwhile to the community. After salaries are counted and profits are measured, it's often the benefit provided to the community that is the real prize.

The community might be invisible and the service intangible. Find a way to describe this benefit, since it is difficult to quantify. It will become one of your greatest rewards and assets.

On making a living while doing what you love:

Don't forget that little word "business" in the phrase "small-business owner."

Start-up kits found through government agencies and non-profit organizations include exhaustive lists of important questions that entrepreneurs should consider, such as "What is my competition?" and "How will I finance my efforts?"

The helpful advice on marketing and shaking the money tree, however, usually fails to include discussion that interests our group: "What effect will my disability have on starting and maintaining my business?"

One useful beginning to this prickly task is to voice your own philosophy on the subject. Then identify daily life tasks that you find challenging. Finally, imagine future difficulties, from the annoying hindrance to the impenetrable blockade. Your attitude and approach determine not only how you meet these difficulties, but also the challenges you perceive in the first place.

Whether I am lecturing in Yugoslavia or cooking for the encampment on Arapahoe glacier, I have always thought of myself not as a blind teacher or a blind cook, but as a teacher or cook who happens not to see. I do not ignore my limitations (they still won't let me drive). Instead, I ferret them out, break them into small pieces and identify the parts that are a difficulty because I can't see, as opposed to knowledge or a skill that I lack. Addressing those problems becomes much easier.

Eventually, I must release my vice-like grip on details and let the project take flight. Fiercely independent, I try to do it on my own.

Having said that, I'm quick to sign up for the blind ski program or apply for the adaptive technology grant.

Defining your dream will lead you to exciting places, often different from the original destination. In making your personal treasure maps your very own, you can mark your milestones of progress, honour your successes along the way and celebrate your arrival.

In the end, whether or not you decide to start a small business, the decision-making process is a valuable one. Name your passion and pursue it.

(Deborah DeBord, Ph.D., is the proprietor of Expression, a creative retreat in Colorado. She can be reached at deborah@indra.com.)

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