An Amish America Q-and-A with Dan Miller

Dan Miller is a top careers and business consultant, bestselling author, and founder of 48 Days, where he helps people from all walks of life discover fulfilling vocations.  He is also a long-time successful businessperson and runs an online community for entrepreneurs at a second site, 48Days.net.

Dan has Amish roots, which I first learned a few years ago after reading an article he wrote on Amish business.  Dan has kindly shared some observations on the Amish as well as some thoughts about jobs, the economy, and what he does.  I found his answers very interesting and I hope you do too.

Could you share a little bit about your background, and your connection to the Amish?

Sure – My grandparents on both sides were horse and buggy Amish.  My parents became conservative Mennonite when I was young.  We slowly became more “liberal.”  We got running water in our house when I was in the 8th grade.  We had cars – but always totally black.  We never had TV or radio in the house.  We did have a radio in the barn so Dad could listen to the weather as we were farmers.  He was bi-vocational – also being the pastor of the tiny Mennonite church in Johnsville, Ohio.

You’ve written on your blog and website about visits to Holmes County, Ohio and your observations on Amish businesses.  From your standpoint as a consultant and a businessperson, what are they doing well?

I love visiting Holmes County and seeing the landscape dotted with microenterprises.  It always amazes me to be driving down a little gravel road and meet a couple of 18-wheelers.  I know they are going to someone’s successful business to make a delivery or pick-up.   I admire the way the Amish businesses keep overhead low, starting businesses on personal property and using family members as employees.  They understand the true value of apprenticeships.  Teach someone a trade while young.  Even if they don’t continue in that exact business, the principles learned about keeping your word, inventory control, quality products and service, will stay with them forever.  And those are life lessons that are often never learned by those who are raised in the “English” cities.

You’ve authored two bestselling books on work and life contentment, 48 Days to the Work You Love, and No More Mondays.  Could you share a few key ideas on how to find satisfaction at work?

The first thing to do is look inward.  We typically get the cart before the horse – to use a good Amish metaphor.  We look at what the business trends are, who’s hiring or what the hottest business opportunities or franchises are – missing the essential element of having an authentic fit with who we are.  The best way to find satisfaction at work is to first look at ones’ (1) Skills & Abilities, (2) Personality Traits, and (3) Values, Dreams & Passions.  That’s 85% of the process of having the confidence of being on the right track with our work.  From those we should see clear patterns emerge – knowing those we can then ask what kind of work would integrate and embrace what we know about ourselves (15% of the process).

One thing that stood out while interviewing Amish entrepreneurs for my book was the important role of faith in business.  What kind of a role do you see faith or spirituality playing in having a fruitful, rewarding career?

I think we often an artificial dichotomy in which we divide what is spiritual and what is “secular.”  Personally, I think if we are spiritual beings, then everything in our lives is spiritual.  I’m not a person of faith for 58 minutes on Sunday morning and then just a worker bee the rest of the week.  My work ought to be an expression of my faith.  And trust me, what I’m doing on Thursday morning tells people more about what I believe and value than looking at the back of my head for a few minutes on Sunday.   Our work is our best opportunity to live out our “calling.”  It’s where we should get a sense of peace, accomplishment and joy.  And it’s definitely our greatest opportunity for true “ministry.”  We should accept the challenge to use our strongest skills and talents in our daily work.  We will experience that sweet spot we all crave – and we will find financial rewards that show up in unexpected ways.

What are some of the typical challenges you see people encountering in today’s economy?

Too many people are waiting until “the economy gets better.”  We have to realize that the word “recession” is something they throw around in Washington DC and on Wall Street but it has little impact on what I do daily.  Your chances for success are not dependent on what happens in the White House but on what happens in your house.  We still have amazing opportunities all around us – if we understand our areas of competence and highest contribution.

People may assume now is a terrible time to start a business but they’re wrong.  Many great companies were started in recessions.  The competition is less and with today’s technology it’s never been easier to start your own venture.

With the demise of many big, monolithic companies we are seeing an explosion of small, streamlined, entrepreneurial businesses – exactly the kind of businesses that our country was founded on.  I think there is a lot of healthy correction taking place.  We had allowed artificial business structures to creep in.  Paying people for results rather than time is a healthy business transition.

What are some common mistakes people make, career-wise?

They choose college majors with less thought than deciding where to go on spring break. And thus carve out a life direction for the next 20 years.  Too often family or peer expectations, while well-meaning, misdirect people from finding an authentic path.  Having great academic ability can actually work against a person in opening doors based on ability, but not matching one’s passion.  Having a lower GPA often closes the doors to predictable paths and yet forces that person to find a great personalized fit in work.

What kind of advice would you give someone seeking a fulfilling career?

Thank God you’re living in 2010.  The opportunities are limitless.  Each one of us can look inward, find that clear focus and then either find, or create, work that is fulfilling, meaningful, purposeful – and profitable.

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    1. Michelle Quillin

      Fascinating interview. I stumbled upon this blog while looking for more information about the Amish and their success in business. What a find!

      There was an article in CNNMoney.com earlier this week that stated the Amish have a 95% success rate in business, compared to 50% for the rest of us. After reading the article, I wasn’t surprised at all.

      I wrote a blog post called “What Can We Learn About Business From the Amish?” asking people about the principles we live and work by. I so agree with Dan about our “calling,” and living it out 7 days a week. Life is too short to spend trapped in a job you hate, and there’s no time like the present to do what you were gifted for!

      Michelle Quillin for New England Multimedia & Q Web Consulting

    2. Hi Michelle! Glad you found me here, and glad you like the interview with Dan. I really appreciated his refreshingly straight answers.

      And I actually came across your post already a bit earlier–thanks for taking an interest in the topic!

    3. Fascinating interview! I totally agree with everything Dan says here. I was raised Mennonite, my parents were raised Amish, and many of my relatives are either Amish or Mennonite, so I guess the values rubbed off.

      I launched my own small business, Sheaf House Publishers, with the same feeling that anything is possible with today’s technology. I’m running it out of my home office, and although we started just before the current recession began and have consequently had some struggles, working from home and using freelancers has made a huge difference in our survival. We’re now snaring some great projects and I feel really good about our chances for success. So to anyone who’s thinking about starting their own business endevour, I say go for it!

    4. Joan I think what you are doing is fantastic and sounds like you are taking a very sensible approach to the business. I wish you the best!