When I graduated from college I was lucky enough to be in a position of privilege regarding the number of choices I was able to make. Scary as it was, I decided to follow my passion for horsemanship. I wanted to cultivate my creative process as much as possible, so I chose to become self-employed, rather than trying to balance my passion with a full-time job. How? I moved to a new state to start my own equine business from the ground up, at just twenty-one years old.
I committed to five years with my business plan, for better or for worse, resolving that I would go down with the ship if it came to that. At the end of that five years, I planned to regroup, reflect on what I had learned and figure out what would come next.
Here is what I learned about living a happy life during those five years of starting to run my own business, pursue my passion, and go along with the parts of life that I didn't plan.
1. We can teach ourselves more than anyone else in the world can.
One of the major realizations I had in the first couple years of running my business was the exponential learning curve that is possible simply by doing something all day, every day. Most of our lives (particularly as students) are spent on a schedule with an agenda or syllabus, a start and an end, a date and time, and the presence of an authority figure.
My business is in rural Montana, so there was literally no one around to guide, discipline or support me during these years. Even when it was scary, I could feel myself improving faster than I had ever felt before.
This realization gave me more confidence in my ability to sort through things on my own and take risks when trying to solve a problem. The more confidence I gained, the more creative risks I took, and the happier and more fulfilled I felt.
2. It's more difficult to be one thing than many (but it's oh-so worth IT).
When I started my business I certainly wanted to work at my craft, but I also wanted to eat. I knew I needed to make money. So I advertised myself using words that reflected back what I wanted to say, and what I thought others would want to hear about me and my business, and got calls from potential clients of all types. I tried to please them all and was pretty successful from a business standpoint, yet it felt a little like the easy way out. I was never forced to really be vulnerable about who I was. This was safe but exhausting.
At the end of my five year experiment, I really felt the need to consolidate and rebrand both myself and my business for the next chapter. It was so liberating to present myself clearly and honestly based on an unapologetic (yet work-in-progress) sense of self. Feeling so present, and self-accepting, was an essential ingredient in my happiness.
3. Success in one area doesn't require you to sacrifice everything else, especially happiness.
I left college and jumped into a passion project with singular focus with the belief that the true creative masters suffered for their art, whether that was horsemanship, painting or science. This mindset made for a successful business and a huge improvement in my skill.
However, in that five years, I had many ups and downs — from getting married to dealing with serious chronic illness. As a result, I learned that being a passionate and innovative person in your field and being a happy, whole person do not have to be mutually exclusive.
I didn't — and still don't — want to sacrifice so much for a craft, a profession or a lifestyle that it becomes a burden rather than a passion, and that doesn't make me any less serious of a participant.
4. Authentic human connection is your most valuable asset in being happy.
I started a business assuming that my greatest asset would be what I could offer my client with their horse. They were hiring a horse trainer, after all!
But over the years I have discovered that the people who become my best paying clients are also the ones that feel a connection to me not only as a horse trainer but as a person. So many people out there are trying to be experts, whether it is at their job or in their family, that connecting on a level that goes beyond the obvious is a rare commodity, and if you are the sort of authentic person that can cultivate this, people will want to support you in return.