The climax to my own story of becoming a spare room tycoon took place in a parking lot in a restaurant near Disney World in Florida. That's where I decided, seemingly on impulse, to leave my job and go into business independently. Yet I had the feeling then, as I do now, that this apparently rash and unexpected act was one for which I had long been preparing. It was a moment when the shape of my life was suddenly clearer than it had been before.
Going independent is a leap into the unknown. It is striking to me how many spare room tycoons recall this leap not so much as an act of bold risk taking, but rather as a moment when they suddenly understood something about themselves. This insight provides the confidence to jump into the risky, often rewarding, life of the independent.
Here's my story: I was a manager at a subsidiary of a large company that was about to move from Manhattan to Florida. I wasn't sure I wanted to make the move. I was working for a vice-president who hadn't wanted to hire me, and didn't hesitate to let me know that. The man who had hired me originally was heading up the Canadian division and couldn't offer much help. I felt it would be far worse to be fired or forced out of the company once I had uprooted myself and was away from my friends and contacts. Besides, I had a friend I didn't want to leave.
Nevertheless, I accepted the company's offer of a one-week, all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando. For the first six days I wandered in Disney World, and drove around pondering whether to trade the mean streets of New York for a humid, alligator-fringed suburb. I even went to a park and looked at some alligators. The big city felt far friendlier.
Then I thought about continuing to work with people I held in contempt, and who didn't like me much either. I wanted to tell myself that I should be a good company boy; I was much younger then. I must learn to be a good soldier. And one day I might even become vice-president. I didn't like that future, but I couldn't see an alternative. Despite all I was feeling, I was ready by the end of my one-week sojourn to say yes to the company and accept their offer for me to work in Florida.
Night came. I felt restless in the motel room. I hopped into the car and drove aimlessly. Then I saw the large, green road sign pointing toward Disney Village. I followed it. All was dark. The only light I saw was a restaurant, quite an expensive one, in Disney Village. I got out of the car, looked at the menu and said to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice to eat at expensive restaurants and not have to worry about the price?"
Immediately I realized how impoverished this fantasy was. I was going to move to a place I didn't like to work for a boss I didn't respect, devoting my energies to office politics for which I had little talent. I would make all of this sacrifice so that I could afford the surf and turf at an elaborately mediocre restaurant on the outskirts of nowhere. I was going to continue to do something I didn't want to do so that I could afford things I didn't want very much either. This was my life, and I was getting set to waste it.
I decided instead to take control of that life, to start a business, to live where I like, and to change the world. I didn't even think about looking for another job. That would just be moving to another part of the swamp. Never again did I want to place my career at the mercy of a fool. I would become a self-employed, independent consultant. The only fool I'd be beholden to would be myself.
I got back in my car and drove to my motel. I called my friend and announced that I was going to quit my job and become an independent consultant. That was my original scene. I made the leap of faith by the restaurant glow, alone in the dark Disney Village. I've never looked back. I've never regretted leaving the corporate life.
It has been 17 years since that night. I am free. I feel free. I own myself. I don't feel that any one person can tell me that he or she feeds me; I feed myself. This is what I want. And this is what I am.
Excerpt from Spare Room Tycoon, pages 30 to 32.
James Chan, Ph.D., President Asia Marketing and Management (AMM) 2014 Naudain Street