Work The System Academy
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you will benefit from what I am about to share with you, because I was just like you not too many years ago. But, due to what seemed like sheer dumb-luck at the time, I discovered a way to turn it all around.
On December 1, 1984, at the age of thirty-five, I bought Girl Friday Telephone Answering Service, an ailing telecom business in my hometown of Bend, Oregon. The total purchase price was $21,000; the down payment, $5,000, which I borrowed. There were seven employees, 140 small clients ($40 per month each), and 400 square feet of office space.
I changed the name to Centratel to reflect the changing times and then set out to blaze new trails as any new business owner does. But it didn’t happen.
Despite growing volume, our profits weren’t increasing. The business was a disorganized nightmare, always on the brink of disaster, and my personal life, what there was of it, devolved into shambles. Within a year, I went through a divorce and then proceeded to do my best to bring up my two children as a single, custodial parent. Things were bad.
For a decade and a half, I endured moment-to-moment turmoil, working long, long hours—often in excess of a hundred hours a week—always just scratching by financially.
I got sick from the pressure, but powered on anyway. The only thing that would stop me would be if I dropped over unconscious from stress and sheer fatigue (and after fifteen years of relentless pressure, this became more than a possibility).
If things were so bad, why didn’t I just throw in the towel and get a regular job? Frankly, I was terrified of rejoining the workforce as someone else’s employee. The thought of having a traditional job sent shivers down my spine. After all those years of being on my own, working for someone else would be a nightmare for me and for my employer. I rationalized, if I am in Hell, at least it’s my Hell.
One night around 3:00 a.m… I found myself awake yet again, exhausted, with an unfunded payroll less than a week away, when suddenly I stopped thinking about work details, business philosophies, elaborate theories, or some last-minute divine intervention.
Without coaxing, and for no apparent reason, two simple, pragmatic questions charged out of the blackness: What have I been doing wrong all these years? And, since the end IS coming, what is there to lose if I abandon past assumptions and look at things from a completely different angle?
Work The System Academy 4
All I did was kill fires, unaware that they were the products of unseen, dysfunctional systems. These systems had lives of their own and were acting out their 1-2-3 sequences without direction, producing results that were unpredictable at the least, and debilitating at the worst.
My business was out of control because I had been coping with the random results of unmanaged systems. My life was chaos – not because I was some kind of loser or unfortunate victim of circumstance, but because most of the systems of my life were not being managed. Out of control, these inefficient secondary systems composed the dysfunctional primary systems of my life: business, health, and relationships.
But now I had the solution. I would disassemble Centratel, fix the pieces one by one, and put them back together again. If I did that, it seemed sensible that the finished product would be superior.