4 lessons learned: making the switch from corporate leader to a creative start up
A little over a year ago, I made the decision to take a leap of faith and jump blindly into the entrepreneurial life. After spending the majority of my career in the corporate world, this was a huge risk. And to be very honest – it was really freaking scary!
Not only did I go from climbing the corporate ladder to starting my own business, but I also decided to drastically change careers. I had this itch to tap more into my creative side, so I went from helping orchestrate large scale changes inside an organization to creating branding strategies and implementing marketing plans for start ups.
Can you say tremendous learning curve?! Wow even with great leadership experience and a deep understanding of the psychology of people, there was so much to learn on the creative side. Between all the creative tools, a new style of communication, finding the ability to trust my instincts, discovering a new type of success and learning how to be okay with chaos; it was a year of adventure, challenges, frustrations and self doubt!
Oh and did I mention that on top of all this, I became a mother, for the first time? As if one big change isn’t enough to shake your identity, then you push a tiny human out of your vagina - a massive emotional experience by itself!
So, what did I learn? There are four powerful things I learned along this journey that I would like to share with you.
It’s not personal
Funny after so many years of coaching creative executives I never understood, before now, why they would get so emotional and defensive about their ideas.
But this past year I became one of them! I would spend so much time coming up with what I thought was an amazing idea, just to have someone immediately find flaws or come up with a completely different idea! I now see how easy it is to feel like you are getting attacked personally and become a defensive, angry “teenager”.
But the truth is, no one is attacking you or your idea if they don’t see it your way or if they don’t like it at all! It is all part of the creative process. Ideas very rarely ever take shape the exact way it was initially brought to the table.
Learning to accept this fact is difficult but important if you want to work in the creative field. You will almost always have to build upon or see your ideas evolve.
So how do you stop taking it so personally? The best way I am learning to do this is to take a step back from the idea early on and ask a lot of people how they see it and what they would change or add. The sooner you get more feedback the easier it is to separate yourself from “your ideas!” And this collaboration can actually energize you and the team to stand behind the idea (which isn't so far off from how you lead and manage large scale changes through an organization)!
Communication is not linear and decisions are often not fact based
After spending so many years honing my problem solving skills and becoming an expert project manager, I was used to seeing things in a very linear, pragmatic and fact based manner. Basically, I mastered my left brain.
As I entered the creative world, a battle began between my left and right brain! My left brain wanted to take over and I would find myself getting frustrated, angry and stressed! Why wasn’t anyone listening to my reasoning? After all, I had the statistics, the metrics and the logical steps laid out in a fancy power point presentation!
Truth - the majority of the people in the creative start up world spend more time “feeling” their way through business ideas and solutions.
So what did I learn about communicating in the creative field? Learn to listen, ask the right questions and in the end understand how to follow your gut! Sure it is good to have the skills to find the statistics and facts since there will be moments where this is important. However, the majority of start ups are running so quickly that the most successful entrepreneurs learn to trust their intuition and make decisions on the fly.
And by the way – this is actually quite liberating! In corporate there is so much red tape before you can actually implement an idea that it is exhausting and time consuming! Analysis paralysis happens way too often! That is why it can be exciting to work in the entrepreneurial world where you have more freedom to act fast and make gut decisions.
Bottom line – let go, trust the process and be okay with a non linear approach! There is a time and place for both sides of our brains.
Experience doesn’t happen over night
You cannot rush the process of learning something new. Period, the end! No matter how many hours you spend trying to learn a new skill or how many projects you take on in a short period of time. You will make mistakes. You will fail. You will experience fear, self doubt, insecurity and much worse! If learning new things were easy, everyone could become whatever they wanted over night!
Relax! There is a reason for clichés like “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” Experience just takes time. Embrace the journey and recognize that the only thing that will get you where you want to be is persistence, consistency, and the right mind set.
Is this easy? Hell no! I would be lying if I said there weren’t days where I felt like throwing my hands up and quitting!
So what are my tricks? Talking to people who have been there done that but have overcome! As soon as I find others who have been in my shoes and see that they have found a way to success, it helps me get through the dark times. You are never alone, even when it seems like it! And although it can sometimes be easier to crawl into a hole and have a self pity party, the better thing to do is get out there. In fact, there is a saying in the diving world that really fits well here: go places, do things, and meet people!
success is all in your mind
In the corporate world, success was determined by goal setting, accomplishments and rewards. Most of which was externally driven. Meaning the organization and your boss.
As a coach to executives, I would have a lot of discussions about recognition and expressing gratitude for the people that work for them. As I reflect on this, in a way we are brain washed to give and expect recognition no matter what! Even when I facilitated training sessions on leadership, I was given a manual that would provide instructions on how to effectively give employees constructive feedback: finding a balance of discussing strengths and weaknesses. As a result, you are constantly receiving feedback on your performance and guidance on how to effectively move forward.
Transitioning into the the start up world, everything changed as it pertains to success! Who is there giving you feedback? Who is setting your goals? Who is there to coach you when things go wrong and mistakes are made? Who is there to reward you when something goes well? Basically, it is all up to you!
Having the right mind set is key! Of course, this is a lot harder than it sounds. Especially during times of failure or when it is unclear on what steps to take and how to move forward.
So how do you define success as an entrepreneur? I have learned that success will be different at various stages of your start up. In the beginning it may be as simple as knowing what you are selling and finding that there are people who are interested in this, even if you don't actually sell anything! This may seem small but it is not! Reward yourself, for even what feels like baby steps! Just like our children, we must learn to crawl before we walk!
Which brings me to my next point about rewards in a start up environment! I have learned not to expect recognition from anyone else. You must find a way to reward yourself. It may sound silly, but remembering to recognize your accomplishments or even your failures is huge for your confidence, sanity and success in the start up world!
So there you have it! My four biggest lessons learned after jumping from corporate life to a creative start up. What do you think? Are you ready to make the jump? What is holding you back? Or have you already made the change? If so, what did you learn? I would love to hear from you!
Thanks for letting me share my story. Hopefully it inspires you to follow your dreams and enjoy all the tastes life has to offer, including the bitter and sour!