Solopreneurship: 3 Awesome Insights From Building My Own Desk

When I left the corporate workforce to start my consulting firm my first steps was to build my desk. I repurposed wood discarded from a coffee shop build out and old pallets. I combined the wood with galvanized pipes typically used for plumbing. I certainly had the means to buy a desk, but that defeated the purpose. I’m building a constant reminder of my foundation and my journey.

I was starting out as a solopreneur. I was building a company. But first, I needed to build my desk.

Throughout my career I’ve jumped around a little. I've moved from sales to marketing to commercial operations and strategy. I’ve held operational and consultative roles. I’ve stretched myself through taking on more than I could chew. I found my limits, and then pushed beyond them. I went through a little bit of “crazy,” but it was all in the name of learning and growing.

Because of this, I had the opportunity to work on some of GE’s most difficult global commercial challenges. My mentors and colleagues were some of the best leaders in the world. I developed a solid foundation of cross-functional skill sets. These skill sets will prove invaluable for the rest of my life.  

1. Build a solid foundation

I built my desk with a solid foundation as well. Your desk is the central point of business operations. You get shit done here. It’s here where you crush out that work product that beats your client or boss’s expectations. 

The galvanized piping is connected through various types of fittings. Each individual pipe represents a skill set. The fittings embody my network of contacts and life-experience. The whole symbolizes my learnings, training, and cross-functional experience. When combined, it comes together as a solid foundation. When I sit at my desk, it’s a constant reminder of the business foundation I’ve built. 

  • If you’re not where you want to be, focus on your foundation
  • Stop worrying about wanting that huge paycheck RIGHT NOW
  • Develop a plan to find roles & experience that builds the skill sets you need
  • Once you develop your skill sets, everything else will start falling into place. Plus, all sorts of options will open up for your career as well.

2. Bumps and bruises in your career are a valuable asset

So far, I’ve had a good career and adventurous life. But this didn’t happen without hard work and failure too. I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve made mistakes, plus received a few bumps and bruises along the way. But, I’ve learned from each bump, bruise, and failure.  

If I am to succeed at building my consulting practice, everything has to come together. I have to take everything I’ve learned, refine it, and then use it to strengthen my skill sets. My good, bad, and ugly learnings come together to create a cohesive product for my clients and partners.

To create the top of my desk I used 3 different pallets and old wood discarded from a coffee shop build out. Each source of wood had a different grain, length, and width. The wear and tear was different as well.

First, I had to create a vision. From that vision, I developed a plan. When something wouldn’t fit properly, I adapted the plan. Then, I had to refine the wood by sanding, cutting, and staining each piece. Since I’m not a skilled carpenter, this process took a lot of sweat equity.

  • The different sources of wood, plus the wear and tear is a constant reminder of learnings from all my assets – The good, the bad, and the ugly.
  • Always reflect and refine. Use the good, bad, and ugly in your career to develop into a better businessperson.
  • Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. It will take a lot of sweat equity, but pay-off in the end. 

3. You don’t have to do it all alone

The last step to finish my desk was to put it all together. Piece by piece I started building the top and connecting it to the foundation. At one point in the process, I realized I couldn’t it do alone. I needed a partner. I brought in an expert to help me finish up the rest of my desk. This person was more skilled in this particular area. We finished the rest of my desk in no time at all.  But, most importantly, I watched and learned. Next time, I’ll have a better idea on how to do it myself or be able to forecast the need for help.

If I want to continue to succeed, I need to work with partners or hire people from areas outside my expertise. This isn’t a reflection of my intelligence; it’s a good business decision. 

To wrap this all up:

  • Build a solid foundation
  • Don’t be afraid to fail
  • Always learn from the good, bad, and ugly     
  • Plan ahead and work hard
  • Understand your strengths and limitations
  • Surround yourself with people outside your area of expertise, use them to support your projects, but always learn from them as well

I’d enjoy hearing from you. What did you learn from your biggest failure?

- Stewart Swayze