In my career as a lawyer, I had an unpredictable schedule. I didn’t know how late into the night I would be working at the office, or whether I’d work on the weekend.
I dreamed of the freedom to create my own schedule and make my own hours.
Be careful what you wish for.
A little over a decade ago, I left law and started my real estate practice. As a real estate agent, I’m an independent contractor; it’s the functional equivalent of freelancing. I was excited that I would get to choose the clients I work with and set my own hours.
I was eager to experience total freedom.
When Freedom Doesn’t Set You Free
In the beginning, I relished the flexibility that came from being self-employed. But soon enough, all that flexibility didn’t feel so free.
Driven to succeed and conditioned to work hard, I worked all the time. The real estate industry trains agents that it is necessary to respond to emails and calls immediately; I developed this habit as a lawyer.
Fear that I would lose potential business if I didn’t respond fast enough kept me glued to my phone. Out of a desire to be available to my clients, I didn’t plan vacations and I hesitated to commit to personal plans. I often responded to email from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed.
I didn’t feel like I had any more control over my schedule than I did as a corporate lawyer. The only difference was who was controlling my time. Instead of law firm partners, my clients now controlled my time.
The Essential Difference Between Slavery and Freedom
The first activity in the Passover Seder is the Kiddush, the blessing over the wine that begins the meal on the Sabbath and other festivals. Kiddush is the act of sanctifying the day, and it is a ritual of freedom.
Rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks cites an explanation from Rabbi Abraham Pam about the difference between slavery and freedom:
The difference between a slave and free human being does not lie in how long or hard each works. Free people often work long hours doing arduous tasks. The difference lies in who controls time. A slave works until he or she is allowed to stop. A free person decides when to begin and end. Control over time is the essential difference between slavery and freedom. — The Jonathan Sacks Haggada, p. 15
The first command given to the Israelites, before they left Egypt, was to establish the calendar. This command gave them authority over time, and was an essential prelude to their freedom before they even left Egypt.
Who Controls Your Time?
Rather than giving me the freedom I desired, my business turned me into a slave. External forces controlled my time. Whether I was busy responding to existing clients or leaving space in my calendar for the ideal clients I desired, the result was the same: I was not creating time for my personal needs.
This led to stagnation in my life and business.
The Path to Freedom Begins With Questions
I found freedom when I said YES to myself first and began to set better boundaries around my time.
My first step to freedom was to ask better questions.
Specifically, I decided to question the the B.S. — Belief Systems — promulgated by industry trainers.
Was it really true that I would lose out on business if I didn’t respond to emails within 5 minutes?
Could I grow only by giving in to the trend for “showings on demand?”
Was real estate really a 24/7 business?
It turned out none of this is true. By saying YES to myself first and blocking time for the activities most important to nourish me, I attracted better quality clients: clients who respected my boundaries and the value of my time.
A Ritual to Sanctify the Day
Just as the Kiddush is a ritual to sanctify the Jewish festivals and Sabbath, I perform my morning ritual to “sanctify” my day. My morning routine is a reminder that I control my time.
My agenda is not dictated by my inbox, my newsfeed or my emotions. I choose where to direct my focus and attention based on what’s most important to my outcomes.
Are you feeling trapped by the freedom of running your own business? Who is in control of your time?