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DECEMBER 1, 1999


The Entrepreneur's Dream: To Get a Real Birthday Gift — Not an Office Upgrade
Life is short. Indulge yourself once in a while to keep the can-do spirit alive

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I recently celebrated my birthday by buying myself something I didn't need for my business. It was the first time I had treated myself to such a luxury since I started my home-based business six years ago. Since most of our money is spoken for, my husband, Stephen, long ago gave up trying to guess what I might like as a present for fear of wasting scarce cash.

Instead, I give him a list of things I need. He selects one and "surprises" me with it. Not very romantic, but sensible. For the last four years, all of my gifts have been upgrades for my office — a Zip drive, CD-ROM — or something practical for the house. This year, I got a generous gift of $250 from family — to spend as I wished. I dutifully turned my thoughts to such practical options as a new surge protector or upgrading my hard-drive capacity. After consultation, my husband determined that he could chip in a hundred dollars (from our joint account) so we could purchase a new fax machine, something that has been on my list for a long time. The decision made, I tried hard to look forward to the new device, but somehow I couldn't get revved up about it. The next morning, I saw an ad in the paper: "Stereo VCR. Easily Programmed. Thirty dollars off. Sale price $170."

Now, we haven't had a new VCR for some years. I did some quick mental calculations: "I can spend my gift money on the VCR and still have $70 left over — enough for a cellular phone." That's what I really wanted for my birthday. I took a deep breath and called my husband at work. "Stephen, am I allowed to spend that $250 I received on anything I want, since it was gift money?"

"Sure," he replied.

"Then cancel the order for a new fax machine. I want a new VCR and a car telephone." It felt out of character for me. It's not like I was demanding a fur coat or a lifetime supply of bon bons. Yet, I had become so accustomed to putting the office and children before everything that it seemed wildly extravagant to declare my wishes. For the first time in a long time, I was getting a real gift for my birthday.

As entrepreneurs, we must be wary of the tendency to always put our needs after those of the business and home. Note: I said "always." Willingness to sacrifice is often what separates successful entrepreneurs from the wannabes. When my husband started his business, his teenage boys got a smaller clothing allowance. When I started my company, we turned to consignment stores for baby clothes. The small stuff adds up.

That said, splurge every once in a while. If you have trouble justifying the purchase of anything that's not essential, think of it this way: An entrepreneur's most important asset is an upbeat spirit. If you don't take care of your spirit, you'll stop enjoying your business and burn out. Sometimes, you have to put yourself first. See yourself as you do your children sometimes. They'll survive without that ice cream cone they're clamoring for. But it will give them a few moments of joy, so you give in. Life is short. Eat dessert first once in a while.

Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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