I was a good boy. I did what I was told, and I did what was expected of me.
I knew from day one that I wanted to go into marketing, whatever it is that marketing is. Or was, back in the day.
I knew I needed an masters of business administration to get a good brand management job, so I went to Columbia. I followed a path that was prescribed for me, and it worked. I landed my first marketing gig at consumer giant Johnson & Johnson working on Johnson’s baby products, Reach toothbrush and then Clean & Clear skin care. Marketing heaven.
I was climbing the corporate ladder, smiling on each wrung. My mother was so proud.
Not so long after, though, my life changed. Drastically. I became a dad, just like I had also planned, and my priorities suddenly shifted. Well actually, my life shifted drastically overnight, and I had to reorient my career so that I could take care of the kids.
I jumped! I started my own agency. Overnight, I walked away from the big job and became a small business owner. Being an entrepreneur was never in my sights until that very moment. I’d never even heard the term entrepreneur. I’m not sure it was in the vernacular at the time.
Do you have any idea what it’s like to jump off a planned, safe and predictable career path to go try something completely unknown? Do you know the scrutiny I faced when I abandoned the corporate world to start over on my own, untethered? Do you understand the uncertainty I suddenly faced?
If you’re an entrepreneur, then you do. It comes with the territory.
While it may be more than a bit terrifying, jumping off the tried and true can be exhilarating. There’s something very, I don’t know, American about starting out fresh and carving your own way. There’s something individualistic about not doing what everyone else is doing. There’s something motivating about following your own passion, not just wandering down a path that has been paved by those before you.
Years later (decades even), I’m back at a large multinational, and I still draw upon the skills I learned as an entrepreneur. I still carve my own way. I still try to take a novel approach. I still follow my passion. I work for a big company, but I’m still an entrepreneur. I always will be.
I learned to be myself along the way, the hard way. Sure, I still follow my friends who stayed on the corporate ladder, and I admire them for the accomplishments they’ve made. I respect that they’ve stayed loyal to their companies through the years. Had I stayed at J&J, I’d be over 25 years tenure. Whoa.
Truthfully, though, that’s just not me. I jumped and it made me who I am.
I’m not sure I would have had the same success had I stayed true to the tried-and-true. I certainly wouldn’t have been as happy, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to be with my family when they needed me most.
I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
Don’t get me wrong -- the well-traveled path makes a lot of sense for a lot of people. There is (relative) security and a step-wise career progression if you are so inclined. Although honestly, I’m not sure that it’s entirely true anymore. There’s risk everywhere, and the concept of loyalty has certainly changed over the years.
The key is to do what’s right for you.
No one should feel shame or guilt for jumping off -- or for staying on. It’s a personal decision that requires a lot of soul searching and a thorough understanding of what you personally want out of life.
Me, I jumped!