On My Own

Self-employment "in her own way"

One of the articles in Living Business (IC#11)
Originally published in Autumn 1985 on page 11
Copyright (c)1985, 1997 by Context Institute

One of the most direct ways to re-invent business is to create your own one person self-employment. Tina Tessina is a marriage, family and child therapist in private practice in Long Beach, California. She is co-author of the book HOW TO BE A COUPLE AND STILL BE FREE (Newcastle, 1980), and can be reached via 213/438-8077.

COMING FROM PARENTS WHO OWNED their own small, barely surviving business, and who worked day and night to scrape by, I had always viewed the prospect of entrepreneurship with mild horror. Not me!

Yet, after 15 years of being employed in a business, I found myself dissatisfied. At 30, I began to think in terms of ethics and philosophy of living – and whether my work energy was promoting the social and world views I professed to believe. In short, I felt hypocritical supporting big businesses who were reinforcing social styles such as competition, dishonesty, coercion, etc.

I decided to switch businesses – to a "helping profession": psychology. After going back to school and becoming licensed, the only option I saw was to work for an agency: a counseling center, hospital, etc. Through several amazing "coincidences" I wound up working for a counseling center which operated on values consistent with my ethics. Ah . . . relief! For a year, I worked in an atmosphere of human esteem, where we were all striving for cooperation, autonomy, unconditional positive regard, effectiveness, and quality. Then, the director began to experience personal stresses, and suddenly (and unilaterally) decided to move the center to a location too far away for me. Two similar experiences later, I finally realized I was no longer willing to be subject to whims and others’ stress. It was time to decide to move on alone!

The year of that decision was perhaps the most challenging of my life to date. I was faced with all my insecurities regarding money, success and personal power. I was also faced with the fact that I didn’t know HOW to build a practice.

In searching for information, I consulted several experts, all of whom told me how. The shock was that I was willing to do very little of what they recommended. They all seemed to have those old dog-eat-dog values I had rejected already.

What to do? Reinvent the wheel. Start from scratch, do what I DID feel willing to do, and analyze the results. I went back to some free-lance bookkeeping to subsidize myself, so I wouldn’t be willing to compromise my new practice for financial reasons. Amazingly enough, I only needed to do bookkeeping for six months, and my practice became self- supporting.

Against all professional advice, I offered a free initial session, based on my belief that clients should be able to "shop" for a compatible therapist without incurring costs until they make a choice. To keep overhead low, I turned an extra room in my home into an office – another "wrong" move, but it worked perfectly for me.

With my talent for public speaking, I felt lectures for organizations would be a good source of potential clients, and I began contacting local clubs and groups. Speaking engagements were quite easy to find. Because I had completed my internship in a church program, I felt comfortable with ministers and churches, so I started there. I wrote an introductory letter, followed with a phone call and set up interviews with ministers, gave them copies of my book, and offered to handle counseling that was more extensive than their busy schedules permitted.

Most important, I did only what was ethically and personally comfortable for me. I did push my limits and try new things, always evaluating the results in relationship to my inner "guide": Does this feel like me? Am I promoting myself honestly? And most important, Am I creating a workstyle compatible with my lifestyle and personality?

Three years later, I am successful, my income is very comfortable and growing, and my work and my lifestyle are totally integrated. My clients have 24-hour access to me by phone (and no one abuses it). I can walk into my office and write or work on paperwork at 3:00 AM if I wish. I work out creative financial/work exchange solutions for clients with money limitations (always with the provision that my income increases as theirs does). There are no rules, only mutual courtesy and respect. My clients treat me as they wish to be treated. If that is not mutually comfortable, we negotiate.

I feel no stress or burnout. This workstyle emerged from my personality, and was created "to order." It suits me. I believe I can happily work this way for the rest of my life – and if not, I know how to make necessary changes. It’s a wonderfully secure feeling.

I am sure there are many others out there who have accomplished similar things. The problem is, we have not been "counted." All the business development courses and advisors I have found to date imply that there is only one road to success, and that road left me uninspired. I am glad I decided to do it on my own, in my own way.

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