Take A Chance On Yourself

One of the side benefits of blogging is the various inspiring emails I get from readers about different topics.  I got a great one yesterday that I thought addressed the question of “Why am I having so much fun with challenges in my personal life and at the same time am so bored with work.  And – more importantly – what can I do about it?”  This morning, the New York Times had a great article which compliments this titled An Entrepreneur Who Took A Chance on Herself. If you are going to take a chance on something, why not take it on yourself?  The email I received follows with minor edits to anonymize the writer.  I hope it’s as inspiring to you as it was to me.

Fair warning: I have considered emailing you before, but since you are in Homer with some extra time I decided to send you the ‘unabridged’ version of an introductory email.

I have been following your blog for about  month now and I find it to be both informative and entertaining.  I was checking it every couple of days or so until I read your post about swimming.  In the last 11 months I have gone from occasional jogger to triathlete.  Swimming was the part I dreaded the most.  After hyperventilating on my first triathlon swim last fall (1/4 mile) and nearly drowning on my second one (1/2 mile).  I did manage to complete both events without assistance, although during the latter event a canoe was following me out of concern that I wasn’t going to make it.  I really had to question if I should pursue triathlons in the following year.  Fortunately after practicing at my gym over the winter I became comfortable in the water (bilateral breathing, endurance, etc…).  I also worked on running over the winter and completed my first half and full marathon in early spring of this year.  A few months ago I upped the ante and completed a half ironman.

It was shortly before this event that I began to question why I was having so much fun with challenges in my personal life, but opting for the safe and narrow while at work.  I work for a large corporation and managed to go from having no degree to an MBA by completing 7 years of night classes.  After finishing, I considered pursuing my doctorate, but it didn’t work out.  I had been bored at work for the last few years, but really wasn’t sure why.  I assumed that when I got promoted things would work themselves out.  About this time a friend and past co-worker approached me asking if I would be willing to work and eventually lead with him on a software development venture.  Initially I didn’t see myself as a good fit, but decided to help out in any way I could (process development, statistical analysis, survey design, business plan, etc…).  After reading a few books on the topic of entrepreneurship, I began to get excited.  I went back to the partner and we discussed where I would fit into the business and since then I have mostly done strategic planning in my spare time over the last 3 – 4 months.  We are planning to show our first product in mid July to a small company.  If the product is successful I may actually be able to make a job transition over the next 6 – 8 months.

While not my primary motivation, the thought of working without the rules and restrictions of corporate oversight seems like an interesting job perk.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the rules and policies are there, and they serve their purpose of guiding the many at the cost of few.  I suppose that from a utilitarian or Spock-like perspective, they are in the best interest of the company.  In many ways, I have allowed the rules and expectations of my company to limit my creativity and performance.  The blame for this falls solely upon myself as do so many other self imposed excuses for avoiding the idea of following my passions.

I would like to thank you for helping me get some of the basic concepts of starting up and for serving as an example of living with balance (family, work, health).  While I don’t know what changes I can expect to experience in the coming year I have already determined that I am happiest and most productive when I seek to live with balance.  I don’t expect to be wealthy, in fact I am quite certain that my compensation will reduce dramatically even if the transition is successful, but I’ve already determined that I would rather fail at this than succeed at what I’m doing.

  • Inspiring.

    Having made a similar decision to leave corporate life 15 years ago, I can relate to the initial uncertainty about the choice. But I quickly saw that it really was the only way for me.

    To the author: You'll stumble (often, occasionally very hard), but pick yourself up, dust off & try a different angle of attack. When it starts to gel, you'll be amazed & wonder why you didn't take the leap sooner.

    • I remember a conversation w/ a longtime business partner and mentor, where he said, "well, I think you're pretty much ruined now." When I asked what he meant, he said he was referring to my ability to ever go back to "working for the man."

      He was right.

      Sure there are days where you pull your hair out, or fight your fears, or fail miserably — but really, the idea of returning to "an office" is nearly unthinkable.

  • "I would rather fail at this than succeed at what I'm doing." Love it.

    My business partner and I just remarked on this same sentiment an hour ago. He's always one for flair, so we're thinking of looping that part in Braveheart at our office: Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take… OUR FREEDOM!

    …for me, now back to the gym to get where you are now. Good luck!

  • I made the leap April 1st of this year. My job asked if it was an April Fools joke. I just laughed. Especially since I had started that job on April 1st also.

    So far so good. About 2 weeks until I launch my product. In the meantime, I'm with you on loving to blog. Especially since my blog income is funding the launch of my self funded internet startup company.

  • John, did you really only last one day on the job?

    • Nicely done Bill. Actually 5 years, but who's counting?

  • thumbs up!

  • I hate to spoil the party a bit…. but to my entrepreneurial senses, this person does not look to me like a natural-born entrepreneur; or even an entrepreneur. Too much thinking about the risk, motivation, etc.

    Entrepreneurs do not have to stare at their navel and think about why they are doing it; or compare corporate life to the possible "liberating freedom" of entrepreneurship. Quite the contrary; entrepreneurship is a natural-born thing. You either have it in your blood, or not. You don't set around thinking about it, blogging about it, or deliberating it.

    That is one thing i learned in interviewing a bunch of entrepreneurs. They don't have to agonize about what they are, or turn themselves into entrepreneurs. They either are entrepreneurs, or they are not. I don't think many come out of corporate roles, or agonize over their appropriate role in the business ecosystem. Those that do, might become solid employees in a start-up, and end up making some money in the process from their stock options. But only because they remained good employees of a Corporation.

    So let's stop kidding ourselves that anyone can become an entrepreneur; and perhaps, stop worshiping them as well. You either are, or you aren't. Maybe you can join a start-up and make some $ — great, if you can.

    But as you can't draw blood from a turnip, you also can't convert an everyday employee drawing a paycheck into a swashbuckling, bold, risk-taking entrepreneur.

    Common sense?

    • Dan

      I really hate the ideology of entrepreneurs as "swash-buckling, bold, risk-taking". Espousing the view that "careful decision making" <> entrepreneur seems odd to me. I think the entrepreneurs who make it learn from pivots/analysis/data crunching/iterations. That isn't the fly by the seat of my pants decision made by swashbucklers who inevitably fail more and more and starting taking bigger and bigger chances until they implode.

      I also think that "pivots/analysis/data crunching/iterations" and the other tools of a startup can be taught and learned by anybody. I.e. they aren't gifts from my mom and dad.

    • Dan D

      It sounds like you're saying that if you start off in the corporate world you can never transition to being an entrepreneur. There are lots of cases where people have made this transition. Krista Marks of Kerpoof is someone who immediately comes to mind.

      Also, I would argue that the calculated risk takers tend to end up better off than the bold swashbucklers. Although they may be less romantic characters.

  • DaveJ

    There is data contradicting what you are saying. See: http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/27/can-entrepreneur

  • Wow. Inspiring.

  • Enjoying your blog, Brad. Also saw the inspirational NYT article, "Taking a Chance on Yourself." Owning a business is not for everyone, but man . . . very rewarding for many of us!

  • I would love to start my own business but after the year I just had it just doesn't seem possible. I guess I will keep working for the man for now. I love the motivation though.

  • epic

  • thanks for sharing, nice info 🙂

  • Wow.. Great advice dude…

    Thanks a lot 🙂

  • as an aside, the author of the linked New York Times article, Prerna Gupta, gained a lot of notoriety over her referenced social networking site with 2M members for spamming every members' entire email lists and using other questionable strategies. Perhaps the wrong person to spotlight as an entrepreneur. Nice story though if you don't know look beyond the article.