bjwun-job-fairIt’s National Boss’s Day, a day that I celebrate heartily since I have the perfect boss. It took her awhile to figure things out, of course, but lifelong learning is one of the gifts of self-employment.

When I started my first business, I didn’t know another self-employed person who was creating something unique. There was no internet and not many books that were written for someone wanting to start a one-person operation. It was all trial and error…lots of error.

Today there are abundant resources, but some of the most important things I learned still aren’t being acknowledged. Here are eight things I wish I had known sooner.

° The business you start out with is not the business you end up with. By its’ very nature, business is an evolutionary process. As you change and grow—and as the marketplace changes and grows—you’ll make adjustments.

The good news is that you can get started wherever and whenever you want without having to know every detail. Be willing for your business to deliver pleasant surprises and lessons.

° Refuse to take advice from uninformed sources. It’s easy when you’re filled with self-doubt to listen to dream bashers. Don’t do it. And don’t solicit advice from those who have failed.

It’s amazing to me how often I talk to people who have abandoned a great idea because someone who knew nothing about their business (and probably wasn’t even an entrepreneur themselves) talked them out of it.

As the Persian poet Rumi wisely advised, “When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from someone who has never left home.”

° Know the difference between an expense and an investment. Many new self-bossers see any outlay of money as an expense. While your business will have costs associated with running it, spending money now to produce a greater good in the future is an investment.

Your money needs to go to both. Some of the biggest return on investment comes when you invest in yourself.

° What you don’t know can be learned. Learn how to research your ideas and connect with informed sources. If you operate on the assumption that you can acquire the information and skills you need at every stage of development, you’ll always have the pleasure of being a voluntary student.

Equally important is determining which parts of doing business make your heart sing and which make your heart sink. Once you know that, you can farm out the parts you’re not good at. Know what you want to know and know what you don’t care about knowing.

° Personal growth is a daily activity. Paul Hawken says, “Being in business is not about making money. It’s a way to become who you are.” I became an entrepreneur because I was curious about what I could become. Self-employment continues to be my best teacher.

In order for your enterprise to reach its’ fullest potential, you have to reach yours. An occasional seminar or personal growth book or CD isn’t going to have the impact that daily work does, even though those tools are also important.

° Don’t confuse a project with a dream. Your dreams are your ultimate destination. A project is a step along the way. Too many people use a project failure as an excuse to abandon their dreams.

Know the difference and don’t make that mistake.

° Patience is your best friend. There’s a fine line between being patient and being a procrastinator. It seems to me that what many people call failure is simply running out of patience, giving up before their idea had a chance to blossom.

Remind yourself that you can’t possibly know how long it will take to accomplish something you’ve never done before. Be willing to be impatiently patient.

° Know the difference between taking a risk and taking a calculated risk. Timid people who are not self-bossers think that you’re a wild person jeopardizing your family and your finances. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Studies have shown that successful entrepreneurs take risks, but they’re cautious, calculated ones based on research and intuition. Do your homework. Take a step.

Of course, part of the appeal and adventure of being joyfully jobless is not always knowing exactly how things will turn out. Be willing to let things turn out better than you imagined.

Life often seems like an endless series of decisions to be made. Chai latte or decaf Americano? Take a walk or sit at the computer? Plant roses or zinnias? Start a business now or wait until you get fired?

Given the fact that we are called upon to make decision after decision everyday, it would seem reasonable to assume that most of us would have given thought to how we make decisions. We’d have our own decision-making tools that we could employ when needed.

If we l lack such tools, too many decisions are simply based on habit. (Chai latte yesterday, chai latte today, chai latte tomorrow.) That’s not the road to living a creative and inspired life.

Self-doubt—simply not trusting ourselves—is behind much of the indecision we encounter. The sheer abundance of options can make it even more difficult, but living decisively is necessary if we’re to have the richest experience possible.

It may also contribute to our health. According to George Crane, “It is uncertainty or indecision that wears people down and promotes peptic ulcers, high blood pressure and nervous breakdowns.”

Since the decisions we make determine the kind of life that we have, how can we improve our ability to make wise decisions? It may be easier than you think.

My starting point is based on this observation from Stewart Emery: “Nothing in the universe is neutral. It either costs or it contributes.”

That bit of wisdom has simplified decision-making for me ever since I heard it. However, it’s fairly useless without a sense of priority. You need to be clear about what matters most to you and be determined to set up your life to support that.

If being physically healthy is a high priority, every food choice either costs or it contributes. If finishing your book in the next 90 days is a priority, every time choice you make either costs or it contributes. It all comes down to bringing your activities and actions into alignment with your personal goals.

Some decisions require gathering information in advance, of course. Wise leaders in all walks of life have sounding boards, people whose opinions they trust. The trick for us, whether we’re the leader of the free world or not, is to exercise wisdom in choosing the voices we listen to.

Often that means getting advice from strangers, not from those nearest and dearest to us. Then thoughtfully weighing that advice while keeping in mind your ideal outcome, can make the process smoother.

The more familiar you are with your own intuitive voice, the easier it will be to rely on it when it’s time to make a decision—especially a big important one. Even if that’s not your usual method of deciding, here’s an exercise that can be helpful providing you pay attention while you’re doing it.

How can you tell if you really want to do something? Toss a coin. Literally. It works—not because it settles the question for you, but, as the Danish poet and mathematician Piet Hein said, “While the coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you’re hoping for.”

Success, prosperity, all the good things in life only come to us after we’ve decided to let them in. Minute by minute and hour by hour, decide in favor of your dreams.

Steve Merritt grew up in Iowa dreaming of a life of social activism. When he told his high school counselor that he wanted to find a solution to world hunger, the counselor scoffed and said he needed a more practical career plan.

Following that advice, he ended up in the cable television industry earning lots of money and little personal satisfaction.

Eventually Merritt turned his growing discontent into a life-changing event and today he happily heads up a community garden project in California.

Merritt’s story is a great reminder of the dangers of well-meaning advice.

Here are some things to consider when receiving advice so you can sort the wheat from the chaff.

Rule #1: Consider the Source

The most important thing about receiving advice is that you know your source and trust them. I was once reading a newsletter written by a woman I have watched build a lovely business.

One of the articles really struck me as special and I e-mailed her suggesting that she send it to some other publications. (Okay, I confess that violates my own policy of giving unsolicited advice.)

She wrote back saying that she had thought about submitting some of her newsletter material to other markets, but someone had told her that she couldn’t do that since it was already published.

I was flabbergasted. Who would have given her that erroneous advice?

If it was a professional writer giving the advice, they would have known about resubmitting material. If it wasn’t a professional writer who told her this, why would she have listened?

This isn’t an isolated incident. We’ve all probably allowed inaccurate advice to influence us.

Sometimes it happens because the advice-giver sounds authoritative and so we look no further. At other times, maybe out of laziness, we accept negative or discouraging words as an excuse for not giving something a try.

And sometimes we just don’t know if the advice is accurate. (This is a particularly new and thorny problem caused by the Internet where advice is posted but not edited or verified.)

Rule #2 : Get a Second Opinion

While too many opinions or too much advice can serve to confuse us, if you’re exploring unknown territory, some serious research is in order before setting out.

Get advice from people who know what they’re talking about—and then get a back-up opinion or two.

I once got e-mail from a woman who said that all of her life she’d wanted to be a professional caricaturist, but everyone told her she couldn’t make her living doing that.

I asked her if she was getting advice from other caricaturists.

Having numerous opinions from uninformed sources doesn’t make the information accurate. Having several opinions from experienced sources is another matter altogether.

Rule #3: Make the Most of It

When you ask the advice of another person, your initial role is to be a quiet listener or to ask clarifying questions. Whether or not you act upon the advice is a matter for a later time.

When you’re trying to make a decision or need information so you can proceed with a decision you’ve already made, seeking outside input is just part of the information-gathering process. Sifting comes after you’ve got all the information collected.

When you are the recipient of advice, whether you use it or not, don’t forget to say thank you. I mention that only because I’m stunned by the number of people who don’t bother with this courtesy.

The world is full of teachers, experts and amateur advisors—with varying qualifications. Jess Lair once said, “When I’m working on my life, I want the very best teachers I can find.”

Finding the right ones to help you learn what you need to know so you can move forward in your own life is not to be taken lightly. The experience of others can save us time, add deeper insights, prevent us from making costly mistakes.

Ask those who can help, not hinder, your success.