Many who become entrepreneurs are self-starters, others need a little nudge — still others, an ultimatum.
6 min read
Today I am a successful entrepreneur, but I started my business begrudgingly. Two years ago, I was forced to start my own company. Forced?
In 2016, I had a great job handling public relations for a technology company in San Diego, CA. I’d been with the company for about five years and built out the entire PR infrastructure. We were crushing it. We had established ourselves as leaders in our community, and we were winning awards and earning top-tier media attention on a regular basis. Case in point: we made Entrepreneur’s “Top Company Culture” list two years in a row.
I was confident in my value to the organization, and I knew I was good at my job. So my heart didn’t sink when the CRO called me into a meeting. We talked at least 10 times a day. As he explained that the company needed to downsize temporarily and allocate resources to other areas, I felt instantly numb. He understood the value of positive publicity. Where was this conversation going?
He didn’t ask me to pack my things and go. Changes were imminent, but they hadn’t started yet. Instead of sitting back and waiting for the inevitable, he asked if I would consider starting my own business, so I could continue working with the company as an independent contractor.
When success is synonymous with job security.
Before that, starting my own business had never crossed my mind. Growing up, the focus, at home and at school, was on perpetual preparation for entering the workforce. There wasn’t much emphasis in the curriculum on entrepreneurship. I had been programed from the start to work for someone else.
Both of my parents worked 9-to-5 jobs for more than 30 years, and I admired their hard work and loyalty. Company benefits like health insurance, a 401k, and paid time-off have real merit. I revered the “steady paycheck.” To me, success was job security.
A “comfortable” life was a life well-lived.
Starting my own venture felt entirely at odds with how I measured success. Sure, my employer would sign on as my first client, but for how long? One client was in no way going to be enough to pay my bills and sustain somewhat of a comfortable life. The money concerns were real, but I was even more concerned with my ability to deliver. Providing measurable value is important to me. If and when I got more clients, how would I provide them all true value, without giving them 100 percent of my time?
The CRO hadn’t said it outright, but the message was clear: start your own business or you will likely be let go. Should I start scouring Indeed, or searching for a domain name for a company I was being “forced” to start? Both choices felt risky.
A love affair with comfort.
Now it is clear that going out on my own was a massive step forward for my career and my growth. But at the time, I wasn’t sure how to see it, perhaps because it was someone else’s idea and not my own.
“Comfort” and “security” were rewards hard-won. I was results-driven and hardworking — but I was comfortable. Comfort was not something to be taken lightly. I had lived the alternative. I had been uncomfortable.
After college, I worked as the deputy district director for a United States Congressman — the stuff C-SPAN dreams are made of. At first, this role was intense and challenging. The stakes were always high. Because members of Congress are up for reelection every two years, we were in constant campaign mode. It was a 24/7 grind to get out in the community and meet with constituents.
Days began at 6 am with media appearances, followed by meetings all over the district, capped off with after-hour fundraisers that often went until midnight. Then I’d wake up and do it all over again. It took about three years to get used to the craziness. When I did, it was comforting. The days were long, but at least they were predictable. There is solace in routine.
When I accepted the role, I thought I’d stay on for two years. I stayed for seven, lured by the security that comes from staying in your comfort zone. If we hadn’t lost the election in 2012, I would most likely still be in politics today.
As I contemplated my CRO’s proposal, I thought about how losing the election had forced me to make a change that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. Once again, a catalyst was forcing me to grow.
I chose to start my PR agency. I was lucky to have my former employer confirmed as a client from day one, but to me the decision still felt risky, which tells you something about my tolerance for risk. The decision forced me to reflect on how I measured success and what I wanted from a career.
Related: Quitting My $97K Job Saved My Life
I didn’t think I had what it takes to start my own business. “That’s for other people,” I thought. “They build those people in a different factory in some far away land.” But entrepreneurs don’t need to be cavaliers. You can build your business on sound decision-making, and by embracing, and learning from, failure, and taking calculated risks that you can afford to weather.
Two years later, it is hard to identify with that former “me” — the one who was afraid to take the reins and step outside his comfort zone. In doing so, my comfort zone expanded!
It is okay to value security and thrive on routine, but I made room in my definition of success for personal and professional development. I do have what it takes to run my own business and, truth be told, I find comfort in that.