“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu
You hear stories of the people who always knew they would become an entrepreneur. They ran lemonade stands since the age they could count and developed several enterprising businesses before they graduated high school.
That was not me. I was more of a work within the system type of gal, a real rule follower. It’s true that I had been earning money since the age of 12. I convinced my mom that I was old enough to babysit by putting together a compelling PowerPoint presentation and leveraging a babysitting certification course offered by the local fire department – my lead argument was: “They wouldn’t certify me if I wasn’t ready Mom!”. But other than my babysitting career, I had always worked for someone else. My Dad was a corporate man and so I figured by association I was probably a corporate woman. Later in his career my Dad became an entrepreneur, but by then he had 25 years of experience behind him, strong relationships with banks and he launched his entrepreneurial venture through a fairly large acquisition. His version of the entrepreneurial path didn’t feel very accessible to me in my early 30’s.
For over 12 years I focused on building my corporate career, thinking that was where I belonged. I did several summer internships, a 4-year stint on Wall Street, 2 years in Business School and another 6 years at two Fortune 500 companies. I worked hard, 80 hours per week hard at times, and kept advancing. But I was never really satisfied. I was often frustrated by working within a corporate structure that was hard to change and it made me resentful. I kept wanting the system to change and then I realized…maybe it’s me? Maybe this corporate thing isn’t a fit for me. Maybe I don’t want any of those job descriptions I keep searching through because I really just want to write my own.
But if I wanted to write my own job description that meant I had to become an entrepreneur and that wasn’t how I saw myself. I spent a lot of time reflecting. The business stories and books that I was obsessed with were all about entrepreneurial ventures. I loved learning about how Danny Meyer built a world class hospitality company or how Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler hustled their way to building an incredible fitness empire with Soul Cycle. These weren’t corporate stories – they were stories about individuals who had worked hard to build businesses from the bottom up, creating incredible cultures and crafting lasting legacies through their companies. I had even written in my business school admissions essay that I was going to spend my career in the corporate world and then one day (I was thinking more at 50 not 35) leverage my knowledge and skills to help female entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses. But I didn’t just want to help female entrepreneurs, I wanted to be one of them. You see the desire was always there, I had just never given it a voice because I was scared. I was scared that I didn’t fit the profile of the “risk taking” entrepreneur. I was scared of failing. I was scared of stepping off the path and living a life without rules.
But I faced the fear and I did it anyways. 19 months ago I stepped out of my job without a plan (GASP – for anyone who knows me they know this is quite out of character, I create plans for everything). I decided to bet on myself and create a new path, one that would allow me to capitalize on my strengths, to give me flexibility in deciding when and how I work and to give me the opportunity to be creative and work on solving problems I care deeply about. I am still figuring out this new path I am on. I don’t have all of the answers yet, but I know that taking this chance to create something meaningful was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
If you are thinking of making a change or pursuing a path that is different than the one you have been on, just know that it’s okay to be scared. As one of my favorite quotes of all time reminds me: “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty. (L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
If you aren’t ready to take the leap yet, no problem – start small. Take the time to explore what another path might look like. Have conversations. Learn. Be curious. Get Inspired. Then just know if you are still afraid, that’s normal. Have courage friend, you have got this.