I’ve been wanting to write this post for almost a year. I promise to tie it into going solo on a shoestring budget shortly.
Last summer, while on Facebook, one of my acquaintances posted a video of her daughter receiving a brand new $42,000 car for her sweet sixteen. I immediately started having flashbacks. Flashbacks to my days when I worked for Saab-Scania of America in the Overseas Delivery Program and parents would order their 16 year old kids Saab convertibles as gifts and then order another one two weeks after delivery because the new driver had crashed it into a tree. I remember thinking back then, ‘if one of the largest purchases of their lives, one of their biggest financial responsibilities, is just handed to them on a silver platter at age 16, what have they to aspire?’
My parents came from nothing, worked very, very hard and reached an extraordinary period of success when I was in my teens that provided tremendous comfort to the family going forward. I vividly recounted the day when I was 13 and my Mom sat me on the front porch and said the following:
If I want to, I can buy you everything your heart desires because we have the money now to do just that. But we won’t. You know why? If we did, you’d really have no values. You’d never know what it feels like to ‘earn’ something. And we won’t do that to you even though it’s killing us not to buy you whatever you want because it would give us pleasure to do it.
I respected them for this. I started working at 13 and haven’t stopped.
And then I flashed forward to when I was sixteen. I was never prouder than when I took my money, hard earned from ages 13 – 16 (illegally waitressing at Yale’s dining halls because I pretended I was older and working the cotton candy truck at fairs 17 hours a day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) to plunk down $500 for an old powder blue retired state trooper’s car. That was my first car. I was never prouder to show it off and I loved that I earned it on my own. More importantly, the experience shaped me because I knew I could earn what I needed and wanted if I just planned and worked hard. And one day I’d earn a nicer car.
I’m not here to judge parents who buy their kids big ticket items because I don’t know the story behind the why of the purchase or the circumstances of the purchase. And it’s really none of my business. What I do know from my own experience is that working hard and paying for important purchases or experiences on my own instead of having them handed to me has shaped my life in a very, very positive way. I don’t feel entitled to simply have whatever I want. My entitlement is knowing that I have the ability to earn whatever I want to have in my life.
So, how does this tie into bootstrapping as a solo? You’ve graduated with not the entitlement to have a career handed to you. You’ve graduated entitled to work hard to build your career with the degree you have worked tirelessly to obtain. You are not entitled to graduate right into a plush office at a big firm or be handed the keys to a brand new shiny office complete with a client list. You are entitled to capitalize upon your degree to create a $500 office with furniture you’ve picked up at tag sales until such a day where you’ve earned enough income that you choose to move your office to something more upscale as appropriate, or buy an office building. And from the moment you earn your first client retainer and feel the satisfaction of a job well done, no one will be able to take that feeling away from you because you earned it.
I’ve never forgotten my first car. Most people don’t. It’s a milestone because with it comes both serious responsibility and freedom to explore the world. It’s a major stepping stone to growing up. So, is bootstrapping your solo/small firm practice. Walking into a cushy job may sound great. But if your goal is to go solo/small firm, building a practice from the ground up is life-changing, providing an experience and earned bragging rights that will stay with you forever and wherever the road leads.