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Ask Dave

Your Vocation Should Be A Vacation

Tiffany wants to know if her husband should cash out his 401(k) to open a franchise and get out of his dead-end job. Dave says no way.

QUESTION: Tiffany in Indianapolis wants to know if her husband should cash out his 401(k) to open a franchise and get out of his dead-end job. Dave says no way.

ANSWER: You do want to live your dream, but don’t set your dream up in such a way that it becomes a nightmare. Here’s one definition of nightmare: You never, in business—especially small business—ever go “all in.” All in means you bet everything on one hand of poker. You never go all in. Only James Bond does that in the movies. No one else goes all in. “How can he live his dream without us going all in?” That is the right question.

This is not an opportunity; it’s a trap. If it doesn’t work, you’re bankrupt. That’s not a play, kiddo. It’s a really bad idea to open a business just because you want to own a business. We need to find something he loves doing because let me just tell you, the worst, toughest, meanest, nastiest boss you’ll ever have is when you’re self-employed. And you better love what you’re doing because you’re going to eat it for breakfast, eat it for lunch, and eat it for dinner. And it’s your midnight snack too. You better love this stuff. And if you’re doing it just because you want to be in business for yourself or just for money, it’s going to get old really, really fast.

What I want him to start doing is to start thinking about what he could do every day that would make him smile, because if you do what you love with your life, your vocation becomes a vacation. Now we’ve found something that we can figure out how to open a business with. Once we’ve done that, then we start saying, “How can we start this small with the money we have and start it on the side?” In other words, instead of borrowing $250,000 on an SBA loan and cashing out your retirement and putting your home at risk to open a franchised restaurant because you thought you wanted to be in the restaurant business—but if it doesn’t work, you go bankrupt—why don’t we start catering out of the kitchen on the weekends? Let’s start making a little money with these pies. You think you know how to make pies. Let’s see if you really do. Let’s start selling some on the side and have a great booth at the flea market that turns into the pie-making deal that ate your basement. Then we start renting it on the side, and eventually it becomes big enough that we can quit our full-time job and do this on the side. Then maybe we rent a building for it. We grow a little step at a time organically.

If you have some cash other than your emergency fund and your retirement that you want to use and you’re not bankrupt if that money goes away, then we can use some of that money. But we’re not going into debt to buy business in a box, and we’re not going to open a business just because we want to be in business and you hate your job. We’re not going to take every dime we have and pledge it to something that could be a total screw-up.

Do not accept the premise that it’s an either/or. Either he stays in a job he hates or he pledges everything the family has to risk this thing to live his dream. Those aren’t the only two options. I go with C, none of the above. Let’s find another way to live our dream. Let’s identify what our freaking dream is first. But I think he needs to get about that business, and I think you need to encourage him to take that risk—the reasonable, calculated risk to do something that causes him to smile just when he talks about it. You’ve got to have that kind of a thing because business is just too hard. There’s just too much of it. It’s too much garbage you wade through to do this stuff.

Do live the dream. Don’t let the excuse of living the dream become a nightmare and how you go about living the dream.