Here’s an example. Back in 1998, bored to tears in a programming job that was likely going to be eliminated anyway, I quit my job to start a training and support company called—in a flash of brilliant inspiration—The Help Desk.
Through some serious soul searching I had decided I really wanted to be a professor, but lacking a PhD—and the time and funds to get one anytime soon, especially with baby number two on the way—I figured teaching adults was really the key element that I craved.
I started by looking for jobs at the local community colleges and training centers, with no luck. No surprise, since I had a couple of years of programming under my belt, and several years heavy experience with Windows and Office, but no actual teaching experience. And at this point, I hadn’t even started Toastmasters.
But in my heart I knew I could teach if given a chance, and The Engineer, as usual, was willing to let me try. (Have I told you that man is the absolute best?)
And being my own boss sounded really, really good.
So I dug deeper into the Microsoft Office programs, bought a cell phone, printed out some business cards, put an ad in the local business newspaper.
I actually got some work too. Several one-on-one training sessions, some Outlook and Word classes, and even a live, televised PowerPoint training with a reporter asking questions.
A couple of non-training projects came my way as well, the most important one through a personal property appraiser I met through the chamber of commerce. She hired me to write a database to catalog items for her clients and create the final reports.
It took me over a year to complete, forcing me to learn Microsoft Access to levels I’d never dreamed of, including integration with Word, and lots and lots of Visual Basic for Applications to make it all seamless.
I also learned the definition of project creep, and the importance of a good contract.
Despite all that, by the time we left Oklahoma for Ohio 18 months after starting The Help Desk, I was feeling like the grand experiment was a failure. I had learned some good—and hard—lessons along the way, and maybe earned a little beyond my investment, but I wasn’t making enough money to justify starting over in Dayton.
If nothing else, the experience taught us that we could live on a much tighter budget. We could live with only one car. We didn’t have to eat out every week. And I learned how much I loved being home with my kids. I figured I’d enjoy my babies, and start saving up to go back to school for my Master’s.
And then it happened. Two weeks after the move, I saw an ad for an Access instructor at a local business college. Turned out they needed someone who knew Access well enough to pass the Microsoft Office User Specialist exam.
That's the beauty of the universe, right there.
Two years earlier I wouldn’t have been qualified for the job, but after all the grueling months of working on that appraisal database, I was an expert. I passed the test, got the job, and spent the next four years teaching software and business classes at private colleges and a computer training center.
No PhD necessary.
Looks like that failed business wasn’t such a failure after all.
Photo credit: By Mr. Matté [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons