I’m often asked why I left the corporate world. Why I walked away from working with well-known Fortune 500 companies and how I arrived at becoming and operating a business as an entrepreneur. I’m never quite sure why there is so much interest. Possibly because I teach my clients through my actual professional (and personal) experiences and many of those stories involve some of those big brands. With almost thirty years of my career in my rear view mirror, there are plenty of my anecdotes that offer themselves up. Such as the time I was on a three person, all female team who convinced the folks at NASCAR to allow us to conduct an in-line skate race on the INDY 500 track. Halfway through set up, the powers that be wanted us to pull the race because they didn’t realize we had a brake on the skate that could potentially mark up their track. Pull the brake or pull the event. What?! We saved the event and our skaters used their brakes. Whew!
Even though I claim to be a corporate girl at heart, I think if I were being really honest, I’d have to say I was born to be an entrepreneur, but I didn’t know it until later in life. When I graduated from high school, I insisted on having a themed graduation party. Attendees thought it was cool which led to my being asked to plan other people’s parties including weddings. All of a sudden, I found myself with a business, asking my mom to fill out my 1040EZ tax form. I didn’t even know what that was at the time. I enjoyed the creative freedoms of working for myself; however, that venture was short-lived as I struggled with the bridezillas I was working with in planning their weddings, so I pursued corporate and found it was a natural fit. Structure. Process. Rules. Swoon…
And then, I became a mom. I tell people I had one child by design because my career was so important to me. They inevitably chuckle at the joke that was really my truth. Don’t get me wrong; this boy was then and continues to be the most important piece of my life. And it has been because of him that I am doing what I think I was actually born to do. You see, I raised my son alone from the time he was six weeks old. When he was in second grade, I came home from my corporate job to find him crying. I asked him what was wrong and he shared that I had missed something very important at school. When I inquired why he hadn’t told me, he replied, “Because you are never here.” Those words hit me like a ton of bricks and I quit my corporate gig the next day walking away from a big position and a big paycheck. In that moment it became very clear that I had the rest of my life to have the big corporate career, but very little time with my boy. My commitment was to find a way to do both… be a present mom and have the career I desperately felt I needed. The answer was easy, I would dip my toe into entrepreneurship again.
(I took a picture the day I made the decision to walk away from corporate. I framed it and it’s displayed in my office as a continual reminder of my biggest and best career decision ever.)
From that day in 2004 until now, there has been some evolution of how entrepreneurship has taken shape for me. And, it was during the early years that my perspective on how I show up in business shifted… for the better. I found a way to do what I love that offered the flexibility to be there for my son, but also incorporated the structure I required for success and sanity.
I look at business through a very different lens now. I view it from an ownership vantage point. Instead of acting on other’s strategies, I create my own. I decide how many clients to take on during any given time frame. I decide how many employees to add and how quickly I scale my agency. Looking at things from an ownership perspective… I own the decisions. Having skin in the game allows me to show up but on my terms. It wasn’t until I began running my own business that I was truly “all-in”, when the catalyst of leaving my career in 2004 was in an effort to NOT be all-in. What I’ve learned is “all-in” is a relative term. All-in feels very different when you are your own boss; when your goal now is to build your own empire and create your own future… a future that you control.
Leading employees feels different, too. I get to create my own culture – one that fits my vibe and my aesthetic. As challenging as it is sometimes to be solely responsible for mouths to feed, including my own, it is empowering, exhilarating, motivating, and magical. The workload feels different. The effort feels different. The wins (and losses) feel different. It is simply different. And I appreciate each and every piece and part of it.
I also get the luxury of choosing which clients to work with and when to say no when the values and cultures don’t align. In the beginning, I had to take what came my way, but I got an incredible piece of advice early on which was, “Don’t be so busy skinning the squirrel to miss the buffalo walking by.” I get the extreme pleasure of helping businesses express a specific point of view and it thrills me to be a part of their world while engaging on my terms. The balance, opportunities and choice somedays feels surreal and other days in perfect alignment with what I set out to build for myself.
I share my story in part because the explanation for my abrupt exit from my corporate career path many of my colleagues have wondered about, but also because there are many people who have approached me who have also struggled with work/life balance who have asked me for my advice on what to do with the continual tug to focus on family first. It’s such a difficult decision on what’s in the best interest for everyone… the family and self. Each scenario is very different; however, I enjoy being asked how I did it without guilt or sacrifice.
I found a way to be there for my son and feed the side of me that craved a career. I chose an entrepreneurial path, but there are many factors to consider if you decide to go out on your own:
- Are you a self-starter and do you take action?
- Are you organized?
- Do you have a plan and is it in writing?
- Do you have enough financial reserve to get you through a start-up phase until you procure clients and/or sales?
- Have you researched your competition and determined your differentiators?
- Are you good at networking?
- Are you decisive?
- Are you good with risk?
- Do you accept change readily?
- Is your business “big idea” able to solve a problem?
- And finally, are you ready… really ready to take the plunge?
In my experience, you need to be able to answer “yes” to ALL of these questions, not just some of them. Now that my son is in college and my agency is growing and scaling in amazing ways, I find myself preferring the view on this side of the conference room table. Here’s to getting clear on your business perspective and finding a way to have it all.