I Feel Like I’ve Sold Out to the Corporate World: Becoming an Entrepreneur

“I feel like I've sold out to the corporate world. I'm good at my job, and the pay is decent, but I feel like something is missing”, began Nick.

I smiled to myself as Nick continued on. I knew exactly how he felt and had heard virtually this same line repeated by many of the people I've coached. Is this all there is to life, to show up each day at a job that doesn't excite you and grind away, working for someone else for what feels like pennies on the dollar?

Stuck in the corporate world - corporate meeting room
Stuck in the Corporate World

The Stability Trap

It's a trap that many of us have found ourselves in. Someone who is cut out to be a small business owner is generally very well paid as an employee compared to the average person due to their work ethic, often with great benefits and a stable income they can depend on. Many employees realize that they are even better paid than the owner of the business at times, and choose to remain employees to keep things stable. If the company has a bad quarter, it's the owners that suffer the most, as employees expect to be paid regardless of the bottom line.

The flip side of that is if the business is doing well, owners stand to make significantly more than the average employee, and they have a great deal of freedom. More millionaires have been made through owning a business than any other route. Eighty-six percent of millionaires are self-made1, with forty-seven percent of all millionaires being business owners, compared to only twenty-three percent of millionaires getting there by being skilled employees or managers.

It's a trade-off, more risk, but more reward if it goes well. I personally know several owners who are bringing home six figures, not every year, but every month, so the rewards can be huge. Beyond just loving what they do, the risk is why successful small business owners are often fanatical with their business, particularly in the beginning. They may have put everything they have financially into making this happen. Everything is on the line, including the house. I also personally know several people who went bankrupt when they tried to go out on their own, so the risks are real.

Sleepless nights wondering how they are going to pay the lease or make payroll, doing everything possible to get new clients, wondering what will happen if they have a medical issue, deciding to hire or fire people, these are common things weighing on the entrepreneur's mind. If you can't handle that, you might not be cut out for being an entrepreneur. I know, it paints a rosy picture, right?

People who want to become an entrepreneur need to fully understand what they are getting themselves into, and I feel like those selling the dream as easy saying things like you'll be able to make six figures six weeks after buying my program are often setting others up for failure. It is entirely possible to make great money as an entrepreneur, but easy and safe it is not. It is also not an unachievable dream, so don't feel like I'm saying that it is impossible, I know many successful business owners.

Then again, being an employee might not be as safe as you think it is either. I've heard many stories of people being let go unexpectedly even after being part of an organization for decades when someone high up changes the numbers on a budget spreadsheet, or when they get complacent and stop putting in the effort every day. Laid off, some have difficulty finding a new job. There really is no safe bet these days, so if that's all that is holding you back and you believe you can take all the other stresses that come from being an owner, you still might want to consider taking the risk.

Entrepreneurs Think Differently

I vividly remember a gym owner in my mastermind group talking about investing $30,000 in a mastermind group to build his business when he didn't know how he was going to pay the lease that month. It was an act of desperation, but for him, it seemed like the only sane path forward. He had put his heart and soul into his business and didn't have much to lose since if this didn't work, he was destroyed financially anyway.

Luckily for him, it paid off big time as the group helped him create a business that is now thriving. Taking those risks will allow him to live a life than many will only dream of. He could have thrown in the towel, but instead, he decided to go even further in and pull in some professional help, and it paid off. It could just as easily have spun out on him had he done nothing or had a business that wasn't a viable one. Those are the sorts of risks that many entrepreneurs take, and these sorts of decisions can make or break them.

Getting feedback from a mastermind group - business professionals in a roundtable meeting
Getting feedback from a mastermind group

Everyone wants the lifestyle that they see from owners who have run a successful business for a decade or more. Vacations to exotic places, nice cars, a beautiful house, the ability to come and go from the office as they please without anyone questioning them. Not many have the drive to put in the work or the stomach to take the risks that it takes to get to that level though.

Shark tank investor Lori Greiner put it this way. “Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.”

“Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week” -Lori Greiner

Entrepreneurs and business owners are a special breed of people, and I knew Nick was that sort of person. One of the first things I do with a client who is looking to find a career path that they can be passionate about is to give them our career and personality test. Nick had a five-star match for becoming an entrepreneur.

Learning to Swim vs. Jumping into the Deep End

Learn to swim before you dive into creating a business - little girl playing in the water
Learn to swim first before jumping off the boat
Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash

Many coaches would have encouraged Nick to quit his job and go all in on his dream, especially if they saw the potential that I did in him. I'm not that kind of coach though, that way of thinking seems reckless to me when there are other much less risky ways to accomplish the same thing. For me, there was an obvious path to get to where Nick wanted to go with minimal risk, and I was a little pleasantly surprised when I shared it with him that he saw the wisdom in that path.

What I shared with Nick was the equivalent of the difference between throwing a five-year-old who doesn't know how to swim off the boat into the ocean hoping she will somehow figure it out, and letting her play in the waves to learn to enjoy the water and giving her some swimming lessons. One way, there's a considerable risk of failure as roughly 50% of small businesses fail in the first five years according to the SBA. The other was a longer route that should lead to a stable business if he decides to pursue it. I know that if Nick puts in the effort and is willing to learn, he'll be swimming in no time. Sometimes you need to test the waters and learn to swim before hopping into the deep end, and that's what I suggested to Nick.

There are risks, and then there are RISKS. Smart entrepreneurs take risks to grow. Wise entrepreneurs take risks as well but minimize their RISKS through careful planning and feedback so that they can live to fight another day if something goes wrong. If you're considering striking out on your own, I highly recommend having someone teach you how to swim and splashing around in the shallow end before diving off the high dive without a life vest.

Sometimes the Corporate World is a Better Fit

There are many rewards for business owners, and many business owners would not dream of going back to a regular job. There are also a lot of stresses that most who have never gone down that road do not consider. Many will pass on taking on that challenge, and will be content to continue being employees.

For the person who would prefer to show up each day, do what is assigned, collect a paycheck, then go home and watch TV, that is probably the best choice. Even for the person who is willing to go above and beyond and feels like they are making a difference, it may be worth it to remain a highly paid employee to not have to worry about all of the stresses that go along with being an owner.

For many, feeling like they are already part of a team doing worthwhile work and getting paid a good wage is reason enough to stay. Why recreate the wheel if you already have people around you helping you succeed and are part of something bigger than yourself? If you go into business for yourself, you'll have to recreate those teams you take for granted from scratch, even things like paying taxes on items you sell or cleaning the bathrooms require you either do them yourself or hire someone to do it.

For Some, Owning Your Business is the Only Way

For some with the right personality though, taking ownership is in their blood. Willing to live like no one else for a few years so that they can LIVE like no one else later and passionate about their work, they will take the plunge and create something new. Some who don't fully realize the sacrifices that this journey will require, don't ask for help when they need it, or aren't able to keep up the pace long enough will fail or decide that being an employee is a better option for them.

Many will learn to swim and create a successful business and eventually will begin reaping the rewards for their efforts. Those brave souls who come out on the other side would never dream of having it any other way and will inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs through the fruits of their labors, and the cycle will continue.

Curious if you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur or wondering what career you would enjoy? Take our career and personality test to find out!

About the Author: Don Smith is the founder of The Personal Growth Channel, a popular personal development community with tens of thousands of participants. A certified life coach, he is passionate about helping others reach their goals. You can learn more about Don and our community by clicking here.
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Don Smith

Don Smith is the founder of The Personal Growth Channel, LLC., and a certified life coach who helps people get results while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Happily married with five children, he lives in Springfield, Illinois. If you would like to work with Don, please click here to visit his coaching page.