This Is What Wasted Potential Looks Like
These are all real people I’ve known, but I changed their names to protect their privacy and illustrate how their potential was wasted.
They all had the skills and opportunities to start their own business and change their life, but they didn’t.
Emily is a florist.
She makes gorgeous floral arrangements.. at the local supermarket. She’s been an hourly employee in the floral department for ages. Her talent is beyond compare, and she really takes the time to communicate with shoppers ordering custom arrangements. She is super helpful, nice and very knowledgeable.
She wanted to buy a storefront at one point to open her own business but it fell through. She’s in her 50s, but her ability to create masterful flower arrangements isn’t slowing down.
Whenever I think of her, I shake my head. Not only could she dump the shifts, but she could make SO MUCH MORE MONEY by working for herself. She has a clientele at the supermarket and all she would have to do is share her new information. People would follow her, especially because she has a great reputation and has been there for years. She talks and talks about starting her own business, but hasn't done anything to pursue it.
I don’t want to presume to know everything about her situation, but it’s sad and wasteful to me that she hasn’t pursued something of her own.
Jane is a manicurist.
She is 26. She’s been a manicurist for 5 years and has worked at several salons. Her commute is an hour and a half in a van the salon owner drives each way. She’s picked up early in the morning and then dropped off late at night. Her days are 10+ hours long, and she’s always tired. She has a lot of new expenses, like a car and insurance. Because of her schedule, she doesn’t get to use her car as much as she wants so it sits on the street all week.
She is friendly, speaks perfect English and is top notch in nail care. Her manicures and pedicures are flawless, and she is attentive to her clients' needs. She files their nails into the perfect shape, cuts cuticles without being harsh and has hands of steel for intense massages that get all the knots out with a resounding “Ahh.”
Up until recently, she was living at home with no overhead. She didn’t pay rent or buy food. Her expenses were low. She always talked about how she wanted her own business. She wanted to sleep late, work her own hours and make more money.
Her opportunity was right there! With little risk involved since her level of financial responsibility was low, she could have started offering her services to people informally and slowly figured out a niche.
But she’s stuck in this cycle of wanting to be free but doing nothing about it.
People pay for manicures, pedicures and massages every single day. If she finds the right market, she can put a spin on her talent to provide a solution people will pay for. It’s sitting right in front of her but she’s too scared to try.
Bobby is a controller.
He’s in his 50s and has many years of experience under his belt. His level of responsibility at his last job was beyond most CEOs. He took care of everything, even and especially things not in his job description. His boss didn’t know how to run the company, so it all came down to Bobby. His father retired many years ago, but still does people’s taxes and accounting in his spare time. His father has a following, which Bobby can tap into. Bobby has done some big-ticket financial projects on the side of his job and has a large built-in professional network.
His job never treated him well, disrespecting him by placing further demands on him without compensating him for it.
Recently, because the CEO can’t manage his company, another employee from a different branch of the company in a similar position decided to fire Bobby. He had a personal agenda against Bobby. This employee fired him while the CEO watched and said nothing. All these years of hard work, dedication and loyalty meant nothing. He was discarded like yesterday’s news.
He could have started his own business several years ago which would have set him up to be independent. The writing was on the wall at this job and it was only a matter of time before he had to move on. Why should he or anyone wait until it’s so unbearable and you have no other choice? Starting a solo business on the side gives you security when that day finally does come.
He has what most people spend years building up- an existing network. He has contacts from all over and it would have been easy to re-educate them on his new business.
Now, he’s scrambling to find a new job even though he is tired of working for other people. But change is scary and so in his mind, it’s easier to stay with something known (although unsavory) instead of exploring unchartered territory.
Sara is a social media manager.
We went to school together. She’s in her 20s. She struggled to find a job after graduation (it is very hard, especially entry-level positions in NYC!) and was supporting herself with a combination of dog walking and freelancing. She was mainly doing social media for this one steady client. After months of applying, interviewing, test assignments and running around the city she got a full-time job.
When I was freelance web designing and working with clients, a few asked me if I also did social media management. I don’t, so around the time she got her job I asked her if I could refer my clients to her.
She said NO.
I was stunned. She didn’t want any additional work beyond her 9-5.
Even though she was living with 6 other people in an apartment. Even though she really needed the money.
It was an opportunity thrown her way and she spit all over it. She had enough experience to start her own business on the side but chose to have a job and a social life over a little more effort for financial freedom.
I wouldn’t call her lazy because she really worked hard to get everything she has. But she wasn’t too bright in that moment, where she turned down an opportunity for potentially long-term success that only took up a relatively small amount of time.
Maybe these people aren’t ready yet.
Maybe they will strike up the courage to take just the first step towards a solo business. Maybe they want it, but know they don’t want to put the work in so they stay complacent.
Most people only want to do what’s absolutely necessary even if they can see the riches on the other side of the fence. They can't see beyond the box they put themselves in.
This doesn’t have to be you.
Having a solo business isn’t for everyone. There is no getting around that. I wish I could say everyone can start a business if they wanted to but I would be lying. It takes courage, awareness and foresight to even begin.
As Henry Ford said:
Whether you think you can, or you think you can't -you're right.