“The goal – at least the way I think about entrepreneurship – is you realize one day that you can’t really work for anyone else. You have to start your own thing. It almost doesn’t matter what the thing is. We had six different business plan changes, and then the last one was PayPal.
If that one didn’t work out, if we still had the money and the people, obviously we would not have given up. We would have iterated on the business model and done something else. I don’t think there was ever clarity as to who we were until we knew it was working. By then, we’d figured out our PR pitch and told everyone what we do and who we are. But between the founding and the actual PayPal, it was just like this tug-of-war where it was like, “We’re trying this, this week.” Every week you go to investors and say, “We’re doing this, exactly this. We’re really focused. We’re going to be huge.” The next week you’re like, “That was a lie.”
― Jessica Livingston, Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days
Not everyone is Jessica Livingston, and not everyone’s solution to not working for anyone else is going to be as big as PayPal. But the quote above does communicate a flavour of the environment, large concern or small, you have to get comfortable with if you want to run your own show. I’ve had to learn everything I do from scratch, in my own way, in my own time. Even high levels of prep in terms of traditional educational pathways, don’t prepare you for what’s involved. Self-employment is the state of working for oneself rather than an employer, earning income from a trade or business that you operate. As someone self-employed you might operate as a Freelancer or run a small business.
For women particularly, the flexibility in terms of time, work, living, offered by either freelancing or self-employment can make a huge difference to their potential, and their appetite, for career success. Of course, the word success always has to be qualified – for many women just being able to bring off the work/home/life balance and feel good about themselves is enough and yet still difficult to achieve. For others, it’s about the overall rythm of a working lifetime – career breaks shouldn’t have to knock you back down to the ladder to your goals, a temporary high level of focus on your children shouldn’t have to mean brownie points lost at work. Life and work are just better when it’s possible to pursue them side by side, in balance.
Starting out in life, you may well have cherished a day dream informed by your ability to get 10/10, or close to it, at school. You could probably see yourself achieving well at exam time, progressing to a good University and getting 10/10 in most things there. Eventually you‘d evolve seamlessly into a ‘Top Job’ in a Company that wants you and rates your talents. You‘d dress well, travel to interesting places as part of your work and get paid a nice, fat salary for consistently producing work your Company rates 10/10. It’s just a dream and, for a lot of women, reality out there in the employment workplace bites, and bites hard. This particular career dream loses its shine quite quickly and often becomes complicated beyond tolerance once children are in the picture.
Alternatively you may be one of the many, many people who has never felt comfortable at school. You may have done your best and found a way to withstand the negativity of the experience but you have gained no real understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses from your education – in fact, you may have a sneaking suspicion that, for reasons it’s always very hard to understand at the time, you’re capable of so much more than school has ever given you credit for. Some kind of alternative to conventional career ladders is going to be the only thing for you.
As someone who’s gone in that direction though, I do have to stress that running your own show is not a walk in the Park. It involves extreme levels of personal exposure. Dealing with every day-to-day aspect of the business you’re taking forward can leave you raw, and there’s a sense in which an (occasionally) overwhelming sense of precariousness simply goes with the territory. Out here in the real world, nobody actually cares to give you ratings, they’ll struggle to remember your name. All anybody out here wants is ‘results’ and ‘results’, most of the time, are what somebody other than you decides they are. It’s what you can demonstrably do for someone else that counts, not the letters after your name, and you’re only as good as the last good thing you did.
How to start to deal with this? Well this is my blog-tip: concentrate on the aspects of your professional competencies the colleges don’t teach. Not because they don’t do a good job teaching, and not because study is a complete waste of time, but because there are some things college simply can’t teach you.
Concentrate on getting experience, on making the most of your experiences, on leveraging them, on allowing them to take you to places only they can take you. Open yourself fully to the learning offered by experience, don’t expect to be perfect (it isn’t necessary), don’t expect to be right (that’s a blind alley), just learn, learn , learn. What you learn via direct experience can never be ‘wrong’ – it’s always priceless.
“Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who do not. When I see a person beginning to separate themselves from the pack, it’s almost always due to personal growth”. John C. Maxwell