Running a business is a pathway to happiness for some and bondage for others.

Two hundred and thirty-four years ago, the most potent document ever written by man was penned and ratified, beginning the labor for the birth of the most powerful nation ever conceived. The most potent phrase of the Declaration of Independence is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is difficult for us to imagine life without these fundamental rights, yet there are still places in the world where these truths are denied. This month’s column focuses on using your business in the pursuit of happiness.

It’s likely that your pursuit of happiness played a role in leading you to your profession. For most of us, food and shelter are very important to our happiness. Somewhere along the way, our pursuit led us to the PHC profession, where we found an income that helped us obtain some of the trappings of happiness.

But happiness is more of a pursuit than a destination. As a result, we’re continually seeking that elusive goal, which leads many of us out of the field and into the business of running a business. Running a business has the potential to further our pursuit of happiness. However, before we can put happiness into the context of the business world, let’s try to establish what happiness looks like. Here’s a list of “happy” events you might relate to:

• Your first boat.

• Moving into a new home.

• Your first child.

• The last payment on his or her college degree.

• Paying off a mortgage.

• Selling your boat.

• Finding a restroom when the Imodium isn’t getting the job done.

These events certainly represent happy moments, but are happy moments the same as happiness? The list above represents at least two types of happiness. One is created by the hope and anticipation of a new venture. The other is that of freedom - freedom from payments, freedom from hassles and freedom from responsibility.

It’s easy to see how our businesses fulfill the “hope and anticipation” part of happiness. For some contractors, however, running a business is the opposite of freedom from hassles and responsibility. Perhaps these contractors should never have gone into business. Or perhaps they simply haven’t gone about it the right way. Let’s explore a few rudimentary comparisons to see why business is a pathway to happiness for some and bondage for others:

• When putting your signature on a bit of fine workmanship, does it signify “me” or “we”?

• Are you irritated when others don’t do something the way you would do it or do you appreciate different paths to the same destination?

• Do you enjoy teamwork or do others just get in your way?

• When you teach something to someone, do you enjoy seeing them succeed or do they become a threat to your superiority?

How you answer these questions will give you insight into whether business is the best pathway for the great pursuit. Although there’s no right or wrong answer, introspection may help you modify your preferences so that your pursuit will be more enjoyable. Let’s analyze the questions:

Is It About Me Or We?

There are times when “me” is the best. Paintings by Pablo Picasso fetch millions of dollars in the art world. Although the art of dead artists tends to sell for more, Picasso was famous while still alive. He would sometimes draw sketches on the backs of checks he wrote, knowing that the check wouldn’t get cashed. Would you stamp a check endorsement on top of a genuine Picasso?

Picasso had pupils and imitators who could probably create art just as interesting as his, but it would not be the real thing. A student of Picasso would likely be lost in the shadow of the master. For Picasso, success - and presumably happiness - was a result of “me,” not “we.”

The plumbing and heating market doesn’t care much about mechanical prowess. Our market desires function. It doesn’t matter if we have the craftsmanship and style of Picasso. When our customers flip a switch or turn a knob, they need to feel comfortable. If you crave to create beautiful piping systems, your friends may encourage you to fulfill your great love for your profession by going into business. And they will be wrong.

If you desire to run your own business, then channel that love for the beautiful piping job into a love for a beautiful business. Determine what it is that you love about excellent workmanship. Can that affinity be channeled from pipe to something else, such as a business structure or recruiting? If you had never been handed a pipe wrench, you would still have the mindset that fuels your desire for a ship-shape boiler room, so learn to leverage your vocational training as a way to craft a ship-shape business.

If you don’t, then pursuing happiness by way of owning your own shop will likely be a trail of frustration.

My Way Or The Highway

A variation on artistic craftsmanship is the attitude of a micromanager. If you feel you must tell your people what to do and how to do it, then your pursuit of happiness is going to be a rough ride. It’s difficult to be happy when tearing others down because they don’t measure up to an arbitrary standard.

For a micromanager, success, if it comes at all, will come at the expense of growth, profits and satisfaction. This doesn’t mean you don’t need standards in your shop. But your quest for happiness in business will be much smoother if you learn to let your employees handle the details while you work on the big picture.

Look At What I Did!

If you like monuments to your accomplishments, then your pursuit of happiness by building a business might make perfect sense. Or not. Pride in workmanship is crucial to our self-respect but if we focus too much on the monument, we do so at the expense of happiness. You know you can’t build a huge monument all by yourself but if you teach and train people to perform monument-building tasks, then they may become a threat to your reason for building that monument.

How can you gain bragging rights for piping 16-inch stainless to a chilled water tower if all you did was a plan take-off and job bid? There are many steps involved in getting a job done but if you’re in business, you have to accept that it’s the workforce that did the monument-building. All you did was provide a showcase for the monument.

To achieve happiness, therefore, you must adjust your focus from marvelous construction feats to marvelous team-building feats. Perhaps you can be just as satisfied with building up an organization of highly trained professionals who are also pursuing happiness. Building such a business can still satisfy your need for monuments - and if you train your people properly, your company can still build monumental projects. That should make you very happy!

Have you noticed the common denominators through these examples? If you’re going to be in business, and you want to pursue happiness, you may need to tweak your desires a bit. Instead of enjoying a well-executed piping installation, learn to enjoy a smoothly functioning team of craftsmen. If you seek a monument, develop a monumental staff and crew. If you need to have it your way, learn to define it in a manner that accommodates and maximizes the talents of people you hire.

Which segues to another common denominator: If you’re going to pursue happiness through your business, then you’re going to do it with people. If you can’t enjoy investing in people, then you’re probably better off on someone’s payroll. Hiring people brings responsibilities, no doubt, but the whole idea is to delegate those responsibilities to others, freeing you for more time to enjoy whatever it is that makes you happy.

Remember: The pursuit of happiness is your right but you still have to learn how to do it.