Why is it so scary to go from corporate drone to entrepreneur?

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Caterpillar Many of you are chomping at the bit to leave the suffocating confines of your corporate job.  You loathe the weekly meetings you have to attend, fall asleep at endless hours of boring Powerpoint presentations and feel your lifeblood dripping down your chair as you gaze at a never-ending stream of meaningless emails.  You fantasize about your entrepreneurial adventures, imagining yourself swashbuckling in the marketplace, creating and selling your wares while having time to hang out with your kids or take exotic trips to faraway jungles.

So why haven’t you left yet?

No matter how intriguing your new venture is, there are some big things that you would give up if you left your corporate career:

  1. Status.  I don’t care if you detest every day you enter the office.  If your business card says "Lorraine Sanchez, Vice President of Business Development, IBM" you carry a lot of weight in our society.  Try explaining to your mother why you would give up a six-figure salary with a well-known company to try your hand at starting a faux-finish painting business.  It may feed your soul, but will it impress your neighbors?  So much of what you learn in a corporate setting is that status matters and that your self worth increases as you make your way up the ladder.  In your right mind you know this is ridiculous, since how can a title give you worth?  But if you have any leaks in your confidence tank, your subconscious will believe the hype and make you feel very uneasy at giving it up.
  2. Routine.  You may have a comfortable routine that includes a stop at your favorite cafe to get a latte in the morning, or a workout in the gym next to your office at lunchtime.  Even if you work long hours, your body is accustomed to a familiar routine and will resist any change, regardless if it is good for you or not.  If you are married with kids, you may have a carefully choreographed dance between you and your spouse for who gets the kids ready, drops them at school, drives them to various activities or gets them ready for bed.  When you start your business, you will not have a predictable schedule and this can wreak havoc on your family life.
  3. Recognition for your Expertise.  If you have been working for a good number of years in a corporate setting, most likely you have developed some great skills and have a breadth of experience in your field.  Peers recognize your expertise, and even partners and vendors acknowledge that you know what you are talking about.  If you were to chuck all this for a new, untried venture, you would put yourself back to a beginner stage where you feel incompetent in what you are doing.  A few people enjoy this feeling.  Most people hate it.

Martha Beck equates the personal change process to that of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.  In the cocoon or pupa stage, the caterpillar’s body parts actually turn into a soup-like soft liquid, from which the wings, legs and other parts of the butterfly’s body will form.  When you think of yourself going from solid, established and secure ground into the unknown, can’t you feel your body parts begin to melt?

(Small aside:  Whenever I went through major transitions in my life, my "melting" would be accompanied by extreme clutziness.  At a time when I was leaving a significant relationship, I wiped out at a client site.  I had been having an intense 1:1 career coaching conversation with a manager and my legs were crossed.  After he left my office, I got up to go get some water.  I didn’t realize that one of my feet fell asleep, so as I stepped into the hallway, I ate it and sprawled out face-first on the floor.  In my mortification, I looked around to see if anyone saw me and quickly jumped up.  I know one person flashed out of his cube, but had the decency to pretend he didn’t see me.  I am sure he was laughing hysterically behind his cube wall)

You are capable of making the transition from corporate warrior to thriving entrepreneur.  But you will have to work through your grief at leaving status, routine and recognition for your expertise behind.  Here is the good news:  once you make the leap successfully, you won’t miss them at all.

9 Responses to “Why is it so scary to go from corporate drone to entrepreneur?”

  1. Many thanks for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect way of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

  2. Globalbiz says:

    You are completely right Pam, I dont quite know why its so difficult but these people just can’t let go of status, routine, and the recognition of their expertise.

    They can’t be called failures after all the years spent in developing their name. Remember that employees hate to be called failures while entrepreneurs get excited when they fail -> a step closer to success. The term is called, “Failing Forward”.

    Tx for keeping it Global 🙂

  3. I dunno. I never felt a moment’s ambivalence! I think there are a lot of people making less than a six-figure salary who, on one hand, have less to lose by leaving but who, on the other hand, haven’t been able to accumulate the savings that allow them to leave.

  4. Man, am I late to this comments party. But as my newsletter-creating idol, Michael Katz, chimed in less than a month ago, I’ll dive in…

    SUCH a great post! I left a corner office, business card alphabet juice, big bucks, etc. 15 years ago, and I still find myself thinking “Well, if it doesn’t work out, I could always go back.” To advertising. Yes, really. Even if they’d have me (which I doubt), I’m now completely unsuited to the environment.

    One more thing I’d add to your list, even as a sub-point of #1: the simplicity of stating what it is you do. I found you through your guest post on Marci Alboher’s NYT column, and the ideas do dovetail. It was so easy to say “I write ads” or “I work for x”. Suddenly, my party intro turned into a long, rambling mess. Status is part of it, but just having a clean slot where you fit in is also part of it. Entrepreneurs rarely have those, in my experience.

  5. Michael Katz says:

    Great points, and I totally agree. The funny things is, once we all get over the initial shock, some of the things we think we will lose — status, recognition, friends, and of course, money — are all here and much more abundant on the outside.

  6. So You Are Too Scared Break Away?

    We are all scared and there are justifiable reasons for fearing the unknown. Please go read this and I hope it will begin to appease those fears and help you see things for what they really are.
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  7. Thanks for highlighting three great points. I liked them so much I put a reference in my own blog http://www.balancedlivingjournal.blogspot.com.
    Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, and if status, routine and recognition are high on a person’s list in order to feel satisfied and complete, then I encourage that person to be happy in their cubicle (or corner office!)

  8. Pamela Slim says:

    Kind words from a great coach herself! Thanks Philippa! I figure if we all hold each other’s hand through the fear, virtually and otherwise, we will make it to the other side.

    I sure have spent time in a satin-lined coffin myself. Thank goodness I got out before the first pile of dirt was shoveled on my head!

  9. I applaud you for capturing the deep ambivalence that even the most daring and intrepid aspiring entrepreur feels in the face of change, Pam. For most of us, change = PAIN (even if it is just the discomfort of uncertainty about the outcome) and as humans, we are programmed to avoid pain.
    I liken it to finding a lot of snug comfort in our satin-lined coffins, even when we KNOW where the coffin is headed!
    I believe that is why your work as a coach is so relevant – we do so much better when we can speak our fears aloud and feel the loving support and challenge from someone we know wants the best for us.