So, my corporate career officially ended on January 13th 2012. During the time leading up to this date (as well as this first week out at the retail office) I had the opportunity to talk to lots of people about my transition. One of the recurring comments I encountered was how admirable it was to strike out on my own. This was often followed up with a statement surrounding how it must take guts to do it, or how that individual wishes they could take the leap. Because this topic came up on numerous occasions, I figured I would share my thoughts on just how I got to the point of walking out the door.
My corporate career spanned over 12 years, 4 companies, numerous positions and a host of experiences. I enjoyed what I did and I would gladly do it all again. However, I can remember that even when I was young, I always envisioned running my own company. This dream remained squelched for most of my corporate career, but when I hit the 5-10 year mark, the voices in my head started getting louder and louder. If I was going to be true to myself, I owed it to myself to at least evaluate the option.
Wilson Rogers & Company was founded back in 2005 as a side project. It grew over the years, but reached a point at which the growth became inhibited. This was largely due to the fact that the company had no full time operations nor did it have substantial market visibility. If the company was going to move into the next phase of existence, it was going to take full time dedication. Given the desire to move forward, it was decided that someone would need to take a more commanding reign of the helm.
Are You Crazy?
So it was decided that I would be the one to assume the driver’s seat. But just what was I doing? I was going to give up my “secure” corporate job in the midst of a recession to try and make a company work? I was going to “throw away” 12 years of corporate education to run a shop that takes little to no credentials to start? I was going to “waste” the money spent obtaining my BS in Accounting and MBA in Finance to work on a start up? Really? This is what I had spent all these years building my career for? To go and risk it on some unproven, unknown commodity that could potentially fail and leave me and my family in shambles?
If I were to say that I didn’t doubt myself, I’d be lying one of the biggest lies in my life. Of course I doubted myself. Here I was about to strike out into the unknown and I worried if it would work. But through many encounters with people, reading lots of articles and books and just thinking through things, I got to a point where I said that I was the only one who was really standing in my way. But what about all those “are you crazy” questions? Here’s how I worked through them all:
- While we all think our corporate jobs are secure, we all know that the reality is far different. Ask those who worked for Lehman Brothers, General Motors, Tyco, Enron or Arthur Andersen. At any given moment, you can walk into the office one morning and be told your career is over. What I was giving up was not security but predictability. If I showed up to work every day and didn’t do something to get me canned, I could expect a nice direct deposit into my bank account every two weeks. Now, the checks come based on how hard I work and the flow is completely uneven. But if I can work hard for someone else, shouldn’t I be able to do it for myself?
- What about the recession? Being in the finance function of a company allows you to see how business is performing. Yes, the economy has been slow, but plenty of companies are actually GROWING during this time. There were 144 million individual tax returns filed in 2010. With that said, I figured that the market had plenty of space for a small company to come in and try to get just an inkling of the market. I mean, someone out there has to be looking for a new tax preparer or accountant right?
- Was I really throwing away my corporate education? No. It was my corporate education that in actuality prepared me to make this move. Additionally, I had 12+ years of knowledge in my possession. If worse comes to worse, I feel pretty confident that I can go back to counting someone’s money. It might not be the company I want to work for, and it may take a little time to happen, but I’m pretty sure my skills are worth something to someone out there.
- Yeah, anyone can start a tax preparation business. Someone with a High School diploma can start a bookkeeping business. But it takes someone with some skill to start an accounting, tax, consulting and personal finance company. The fear that I really had was what would people think of me (with all my credentials) starting what just about anyone on the street could do as well? In the end, it doesn’t matter what others think. What matters is what you think of yourself, and I figured that all of that education and credentials were just making me better prepared to strike out on this venture (vs. someone who didn’t).
The Fear of Failure
In business we are expected to act in the absence of emotions. However, the reality is that businesses are run by humans and we humans are emotional beings. Fear is a pretty powerful emotion, as it should be. The fear of falling is what keeps most infants from killing themselves. The fear of fire keeps all of us from burning ourselves. These are rational fears; those that are grounded in reality and pretty proven consequences. However, we all must be careful from allowing fear to hinder our possible growth, especially irrational fears.
When most people think of starting a business, the two biggest fears are 1) failing in their endeavor and 2) not being able to provide for themselves. At the onset, these are very rational fears. However, we tend to make the unknown bigger, badder and far scarier than it is in reality. Thus the fear of failing morphs into what will people think if I fail, what if I can never get another job, what if I’m no good? The fear of not being able to provide for yourself becomes what if no one buys our product, what if I run out of money, what if we go bankrupt, what if we wind up homeless?
Irrational fears are those that will keep you parked on the sideline of the best dance in the world. They’ll keep you from experiencing things that you have a passion for. They’ll even cause you to let life pass you by and leave you wondering “what if” in your dying days. But the reality is, irrational fears are just that, irrational. What if no one buys your product? True, this could happen. But how many people get their taxes done again? What if you fail? Tomorrow brings you 24 new hours to redeem yourself. What if you can never get another job? Really? Last time I looked I thought all burger joints were still hiring.
The point is this, yes, the possibility for failure exist in just about everything we do. And while a healthy dose of fear is good (especially to make sure you don’t run off unprepared or living in a vision that isn’t based on reality) we shouldn’t let it paralyze us. So get out there and try something new. Take a stab at following your dreams. Talk to that one person you’ve had your eye on but were too afraid to approach. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail, while the best thing? Who knows, but we owe it to ourselves to find out!
Until next time.