Entrepreneurship has always held real appeal for Americans. We’re drawn to the idea of hard work, success, and forging our own path. You could even go so far as to say that for some, owning your own business, building it from scratch and watching it soar, is the epitome of the American Dream. But despite nearly 50% of Americans feeling dissatisfied with their jobs, most people will not have the true will or desire to leave the safety of their corporate job.
Before I go into a few reasons why that may be, let me know acknowledge that not everyone should leave their job. Corporate life holds many opportunities and benefits, and if you love your job, want/need the job security, or even the camaraderie that comes with a traditional job, then by all means, stay. This article isn’t for you.
But if you find yourself waking up each morning dreading the work day, have something you’re deeply passionate about pursuing, or want to intentionally design a life and career that is of your own making, then keep reading.
After talking with countless women who’ve made the leap from their corporate 9-5 into entrepreneurship about their fears and hesitations, it became clear that they didn’t fall into traditional buckets like fear of failure, fear of unemployment if the economy declined, or fear of taking a risk, like you might expect.
Here’s are three fears they shared.
Fear about what’s really on the other side
Entrepreneurial life has been heavily glorified by very successful entrepreneurs. The very thing many of us crave when in the corporate grind is freedom. Time freedom. Financial freedom. Location freedom. Purpose and passion freedom. Relationship freedom. Pick a freedom and it’s one of the highlights, but intuitively most of us know that the image of the jet-setting business owner traveling the world with a laptop and phone sitting on a beach with a margarita while running a billion-dollar business is simply not true.
The grass is not always green, and for those who are on the fence, it’s often easier to stick with the devil that you know. This is an important dose of healthy skepticism, and while you can’t know exactly what you’re getting into if you start your business, there are definitely ways to gain insight and clarity before you make the leap.
Fear of starting from square one
You’ve spent years building a career. You’ve got momentum, peer, manager, and industry respect. The security of a big name brand makes you feel credible and confident to walk into any room. You know how to navigate the corporate world, with all its nuances, systems, and politics. And the thought of giving all that up to start all over is daunting, to say the least.
The reality, of course, is that you aren’t starting from scratch. You have loads of transferrable skills, experiences, talents and capabilities, and you have relationships that will move with you. You also have the benefit of knowing what it takes to be successful, how to leverage all that talent and knowledge to get the job done. In fact, one of the first exercises we do with our clients who are thinking of making the leap is something we call the “Treasure Hunt,” a full inventory of what you bring to the table. It’s amazing watching the women we work with stand a little taller in the realization that they do have what it takes and they won’t be forging a new career path like they were barely graduated college seniors.
Fear of failure
But not in the way you expect. We’ve all made mistakes, had a rough patch in our careers, fallen down and then had to pick ourselves up. But in this age of social media and high visibility, this fear takes on a slightly different flavor: fear of exposure.
What if I can’t make it work? What if I have to admit to failure? What if I have to go back to corporate because I couldn’t hack it? What if I just don’t like it?
The list of questions goes on and on, but let me assure you that there is no wrong choice. I know loads of entrepreneurs who made the leap, realized it wasn’t for them, and then took the experiences and expertise gained from all those lessons learned and are applying them powerfully in their new corporate job. There’s no real failure here, only newfound lessons to take advantage of.
Entrepreneurship requires visibility and a willingness to put yourself and your dream on the table for others to see, but that visibility doesn’t have to be tied to “success” or “failure.”
If you’re thinking of making the leap and feel paralyzed by some of these fears mentioned above, I want to assure you you’re not alone. And there are things you can do to dip your toe into entrepreneurship without throwing caution to the wind.
1. Take the time to explore what entrepreneurship really entails.
There are countless books, podcasts, and resources that help paint a solid picture of what this transition looks like and provide considerations for you to think about. 9 Things No One Tells You When You Leave Corporate Life, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, and Entrepreneurial Leap by Gino Wickman are all great places to start.
Talk to entrepreneurs who are few years ahead of you. While big name gurus are great for inspiration and to see what may be possible, people who are still near the beginning and early middle of their journey are both close and far enough into it to give you a healthy dose of the good, bad, and the ugly.
2. Take a hybrid approach
There’s nothing to say that you have to quit your corporate job, give up your safety net, and launch a business. In fact, we strongly recommend against that approach unless you have a very healthy financial cushion or your situation leaves you no other alternative. Try taking on one client on the side, build your portfolio, and see if it’s really something you like doing.
3. Do the hard personal work
Leaving corporate life for the unstructured entrepreneurial space requires you to shift from thinking like an employee to thinking like a business owner. It seems simple, but I can tell you it took me seven years and loads of missed opportunities to wrap my head around this concept. This may mean engaging with a mentor or coach to help you suss out your whys, your fears, uncertainties, and doubts. You are worth the investment. I promise.
4. Make a plan
I can’t stress this enough. While you may not be able to plan for all the eventualities, you can start the process of business building, determine who you want to serve, what problem you solve, and your special sauce before you ever turn in your notice. This includes having hard conversations with the people in your life, building up a support network, and having your finances in order.
Leaving corporate life to start my first business was one of the best decisions I ever made. If you’re on the fence, I encourage you to explore your options, make a real plan, and give it a go! You’ve got this!
Until next time, be present, be strong, be you!