The grass is always greener on the other side. It seems that everyone I know who works in a corporate environment dreams of escaping to become an entrepreneur, and every entrepreneur wishes he or she had the security of a regular paycheck.
As someone who has experience on both sides of this fence, I’m convinced that the move from employee to entrepreneur is far more risky.
Many good entrepreneurs I know have found that corporate roles are “recovery and recharge” positions between startups, since experienced entrepreneurs usually have a broad range of skills, and the flexibility and confidence to adapt. On the other hand, employees who have lived in highly structured and narrow corporate roles often don’t have a realistic view of the world outside:
- A lack of focus on the business side of an idea. Technical professionals, in particular, often forget that an innovative product is necessary, but not sufficient, to make a business. Their prior narrow focus in a corporate job gives little insight into the challenges of a winning business model, cash flow and marketing. Customers can be very tough bosses.
- Pay from a startup takes longer than you expect. Startup-marketing guru Seth Godin once said “it takes about six years of hard work to become an overnight success,” and he is an optimist. Professionals who leave corporate roles for more money are usually disappointed. Startups cost money for a long time before they pay.
- Startup challenges can be more painful then corporate frustrations. Professionals who are currently unfulfilled at a corporate job may not be ready for the startup roller coaster. Entrepreneurs consider vacations, training classes and administrative staff a luxury they rarely see. Make sure your passion is running to a startup, not away from corporate.
- A self-centered view of performance. In your corporate role, success is often measured by personal performance, independent of business growth. In a startup, a customer-centric view is required, and business success or failure overrides all personal measurements. There is no room in a startup for the egotistical Lone Ranger.
- Unprepared for the loneliness at the top of a startup. Running a startup is tough, since you are really on your own, with no peer support. If your personality already leans toward narcissism, being the boss can bring out the worst in you, leading to intimidation, deception and the use of coercive power. Of course, that leads to further isolation.
- Thinking that a startup is a job vs. a lifestyle. A corporate business role may be a short-term job, but the entrepreneur role is a lifestyle commitment. It’s not a job promotion to the next level, nor an escape from too much stress or responsibility. A lifestyle requires a passion for the journey, more than the destination.
Every employee needs to understand these challenges, since the days are gone when people commit early to a lifetime career with one company, or a lifetime of entrepreneurship. Even the average baby boomer today will have switched jobs more than 10 times, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Gen-Yers are already switching much more frequently.
If you are planning a corporate escape as your next move, it pays to think hard about a plan B, just in case this one doesn’t work out. Don’t blow up your bridges as you exit, just in case you want to return. Jumping randomly from one bad situation to another is not very smart. Maintaining good connections and good relationships in both worlds is always valuable.
Many corporate employees seem to think all jobs are a necessary evil, and are always looking to minimize the pain. Successful entrepreneurs don’t think of their roles as work, and tend to approach it with passion and excitement. Making that mental transition is the key to any escape, and it needs to happen before you make the move, not after.
Remember, we all spend most of our lives at work contributing something to others, and getting something in return. It’s up to you to make it a satisfying and productive experience, rather than a prison that you dream of escaping from. Maybe it’s time to reset your mindset before hoping that a career change will do it for you.
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