I quit my corporate job two years ago to move into self employment; to become a marketing consultant. Hardest decision of my life. Walking away from security, money, professional identity, promise of future growth and God knows what else. It is hard getting laid off, but worse when you lay yourself off. Because in case of the latter, the choice is yours.
The Urge towards Self Employment
So, why did I do it? There are a dozen common reasons people quit their jobs. My set included most of those too. But what drove me strongest towards self employment, was the nagging question — What If? What if I try doing that? What if that works much better for me? What if I walk away from the drudgery I feel right now? What if I don’t take this step at all and regret it later? What if holding on is actually worse than letting go? What if this helps me recognise my purpose better?
These What-Ifs reached a point where they ran in my mind all the time. Conditions in the real world were already like moisture to the What-If fungus breeding inside me. I was beginning to stay in the What-If world more than the real world. So, one day, I made the choice.
Taking a Calculated Risk
Of course, it was not as random as it may sound. The decision was timed, calculated, informed and unambiguous. Hardly a choice there to do otherwise, given our education and experience; that forces us to develop plans and alternate scenarios. I knew then, what I would do and how I would do it. There was room for improvisation too. What I didn’t know was — how my attempt at self employment would turn out?
Well, like every other major step in life, it’s been a mixed bag. I am happier; And I am also complaining! But this piece is not about how I am doing in this phase of life. It is, instead, about what I have learnt in this phase of life with self employment.
For whatever it is worth to each of you in the What-If phase professionally, I am sharing here my List Of Learnings. I call it — LOL!
Learnings from the Self Employment move
1.It is YOUR decision. All the good wishes and proclaimed support from others is in spirit only.
Unless there is mutual benefit or value to be gained, do not expect any largesse from anyone. Sometimes, even basic courtesies will seem like too much to ask, when you are of no obvious benefit to the other person. Such is real life, minus all the trappings of your fancy job and imperial designation.
What I learnt in my self employment endeavour, is the truth about having expectations and fulfilling them. This realisation makes you more self-reliant; and you know your genuine well-wishers from the lip-service providers. Out goes the clutter from your life. Those who do help you, in whatever capacity they can, are the only ones who count; the rest, unfortunately are countless (Couldn’t resist the pun!!). Today, I simply do what needs to be done with whoever it needs to. No strings attached.
2.Over time, in our professional lives, we forget that people were people before they became a designation label.
Like each one of us, the other person too, is something more beyond his job. When I meet people now, I seek to know more about the person behind the professional. Because I know now, that the latter is often a façade. Such encounters reveal to me much quicker now, how likely I am to enjoy my engagement with the other person.
I also think it has to do with the fact that I, now, don’t have a fancy title or organisation name to brandish. I am just Rohit; someone who does ………… for a living. I have held impressive titles too, in the past. So, that doesn’t impress me much now.
I look for people-people connect; not title-title connects.
3.I joked the other day with someone, that I have probably never worked harder in life for lesser money, than I do now.
It is true. In a traditional corporate job, your work is cut out for you. KPIs, AOPs, KRAs and what have you! If you don’t know the meaning of these words, don’t worry about it. You didn’t miss anything. Well, I don’t have any of these in my life right now. I come to work everyday and I choose how I want to cut the day’s fabric out.
Yeah, I do have deliverables too. But I decide how my day plays out. Working on client versus investing in myself.
4.I have become a voracious reader of various subjects.
Not only because I need to read them for my client mandates, but very often because it is enriching to read about something new. It is weird, but I know that most of us actually feel guilty reading (if at all) about a non-work-related subject during office hours! And over time, many professionals actually read nothing more than they have to.
Well, my days now, are filled with conversations (with people and books) on new subjects all the time.
5.Our world is designed pretty much like the one in the Matrix (the movie).
Maybe it isn’t a computer program putting a veil over our eyes and using us as cattle tethered in mucus-filled capsules for sucking energy. But it isn’t very different either.
I watched an interesting video some days back, which claimed that before schooling, 98% of children think differently from each other. By the time, they have undergone secondary education, only 2% now think differently. My guess is the number further drops to one-tenth of that, once they have begun working.
Diversity at work isn’t about just mitigating gender-bias. It is as much about higher acceptance of varied thinking and approaches.
The professional world is a Matrix that defines how each one of us conducts his or her life. Don’t get me wrong. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. All I am saying is, a sabbatical from such life opens your mind. To the music that is truly important to you. And helps you distinguish what is simply noise that you’ve become accustomed to.
6.Structure, Scale, Stability and a Professional approach are important for any kind of work.
When I was a true-blue corporate professional, I had ambitions that channelized my thoughts and actions. All of us imbibe our work ethics at our first jobs. I am no exception. I credit my first organisation’s culture with most of my success so far.
Two years ago, fuelled by conditions in my work environment, I coveted the thought of doing something radically different; And somewhere I presumed the permanence of things I had come to criticise. Like structure, scale and stability. Over the last two years of being a marketing and sales consultant to small and mid-sized businesses, I’ve come to realise the understated importance of these aspects.
Today, I work with these clients, on a myriad set of issues they need help with. Yet, they all are devoid of what good professional corporate environments help to instil. Of course, I attempt to induce the attitude and approach that I have seen over 15 years. But, it is tough. You know, a bit like telling a four-year old what life is like as a teenager. You will sound preachy and they just won’t get you. But I also know it is more ignorance than intent that holds them back.
7.It is not about the hundred things that make life hard at work. It is about the ten good things that work brings to your life.
You have got to focus on those ten. Not the hundred.
You see — annoying seniors, bugging customers, demotivating work, uninspiring routine, stagnancy, exhausting commute, hard deliverables, unrealistic timelines or any of the many other woes that plague the professional world — they happen to everyone. Including those who work under you. My early professional upbringing that put premium on loving your work, has made me seek it at every other organisation.
I feel in hindsight, that I may have placed undue focus and effort in smoothening every wrinkle on my canvas, rather than looking at the larger picture.
Self Employment – brings about a change in personality
I used to think — Would it be a compromise? Must I suffer this? How do I change this? These questions often plague us and focus on how external factors affect us. But try to look within and acknowledge how the external situation, despite all its issues, is working for you. This change in outlook changes everything. It definitely has, for me.
In today’s time more than ever before, each of us is subjected to a plethora of messages daily. Inspirational quotes, unsolicited advice, media blitzkrieg, exaggerated praise, unbridled criticism and more. It is natural to sway from one end to the other emotionally, depending on your current state in life.
The Banyan tree and the Palm tree
I once read an analogy of two common trees, the Banyan and Palm trees, in this regard.
The Banyan tree has a thick trunk, is solidly entrenched in the soil, deep-rooted, wide-branched and unwavering. However, in the event of strong winds, it finds its foundations weakening as it tries to withstand the force attempting to budge it.
The Palm tree, however, is tall and slim with a much narrower span of branches. In the face of opposing weather, it acts flexible, twists and turns, and reorients itself in a manner that keeps it standing firm on the ground. No ego. Just plain survival instinct. And the ability to adapt.
I used to be that Banyan tree. The last two years of self employment have made me into a Palm tree.
Please do leave your comments at the bottom and do share with others if you like this article.