Time to Quit Your Day Job : The Story of Steve Darden

Ten years ago, Steve Darden headed a great organization in Gallup, N.M., that fights substance abuse in Steve’s native Navajo nation. His wife, Rose Darden, was staying at home with their three sons and also pursuing a master’s degree.  “I was making the highest income I ever had in my life,” Steve recalls. But his long hours in the office and weekends full of speaking engagements were taking a toll on his family.

Steve’s Moment of Truth

Steve’s moment of reckoning came through his youngest son, Seth. The boy woke up from a nightmare one weeknight saying, “Where is my Dad? I want my Dad!” Steve, who had lost his father in the Korean War when he was just three months old, didn’t want his sons missing out on time with their father like he had: “I was being a father, not a daddy. I was being a provider, not a husband.”

Steve decided that he had to leave his job. “My wife asked me ‘What are we going to do?’ I honestly did not have a response. I just knew that I had to change my life.”

Open for Business

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Combining their talents and skills, Steve and Rose created a four-part business called Success and Directions Enterprises. The various parts of the business involve a wide variety of sometimes unrelated products and services, including consulting, real estate investment, public speaking, creating art, and multi-level marketing. 

Steve and Rose credit planning with their ability to balance so many business activities without being overwhelmed. “Every year I sit down with my wife and we discuss which business we want to put energy into,” he says. “This past year, it has been our rental properties. Next year, we plan to focus on the consulting business."

“We have fears like anyone else, and have had our share of business failures, but we have faith that things will work out. Because we are spiritual people, we always base our business in prayer.”

And the best part of his entrepreneurial journey? “I spend a lot of time with my family,” he says. “I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life, have no physical pains, or sadness at having to go to work. I believe that I received a message through my son Seth to resign my position and move home. I am glad I paid attention!”

Lessons Learned

Even if you’re not planning to start a four-pronged business like Steve, there’s still plenty to learn from his approach to taking the plunge into entrepreneurship:

Start with a life plan

Steve realized that his career choices didn’t fit with his desired lifestyle.  Once he defined what was important (staying home with his family), he gained clarity into the type of business that would support his Life Plan.

Develop multiple streams of income

Cash flow is king in small business, and for some businesses, seasonality is an issue.  So it’s important to project your cash flow in advance, and have a plan for supporting yourself year-round.  One of the nice aspects of Steve’s business is that he has ways to earn income during dry spells in his consulting business.  He sells his artwork at a number of art shows during the year. His rental properties provide a steady stream of income to pay for the essentials.  If renters are late or his properties are vacant, he can crank up his speaking business and bring in supplemental income.

Make business decisions with your family

Steve is lucky to have a very smart and supportive spouse.  Because they make decisions about the business together, they have clarity about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.  This leads to peace and joy at home, which certainly helps when you’re first starting out as an entrepreneur and need the moral support of your family and friends.

Do what you love

Anyone who has ever heard Steve speak walks away inspired.  He is incredibly passionate about utilizing the great beauty and wisdom in his Navajo heritage to heal wounds and uplift people. Clients are inspired by his work and consequently refer him to other people in their network.  Doing something you love makes it that much easier to throw your heart and soul into building you business, and your potential customers take notice when they see how engaged you are in your business.

Pamela Slim is a StartupNation guest expert and an entrepreneur coach who helps people in corporate jobs break out and start their own businesses through her Escape From Cubicle Nation blog.

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