When I left corporate I had no intention of going back. But, as one of my coworkers once said, “the corporate world is a necessary evil.” (I'm still not sure exactly how he meant that, so it's up for interpretation!)
A few years ago I found myself in need of funds to continue working my freelance writing gig.
Things had been going okay until the big financial meltdown happened, then things went downhill pretty quickly. Paying for writing probably seemed more of a luxury to some people. And the rise of online sites filled with freelancers bidding for jobs didn’t help.
So when I had the opportunity to take on a full-time contracting job, I said, why not? It’ll only be for 3 months or so. Well, what I didn’t realize was being out of the workplace for so long had changed my perceptions. I was no longer satisfied with sitting at a desk from 9-to-5 and doing mindless work.
Not only that, but I had become used to having a voice and making decisions. So when I started my tech writing job and found that I wasn’t supposed to have any input, I was frustrated.
The assignment went from 3 months to a full year of total misery. When we were told one day to document everything for the system, and the next day were yelled at by the director for…wait for it…creating too much documentation, I was ready to scream.
During my corporate tenure, I’d become used to working this way. In fact, I’d learned how to get my work done with one hand while holding the wolves at bay with the other. But over time, the stress, endless politics and lack of purpose turned me from an eager employee to a stressed-out escapee.
Once I’d been away from that environment, I forgot how horrible it was. So when I went back after being away for 5 years, it was like breaking back into Shawshank Prison. Sure, I got paid and that money sustained me, but what I didn’t realize was going back wasn’t going to be easy. That’s when I decided if I ever made that choice again, I‘d have to keep my eyes on the prize.
There’s always the chance you’ll get offered a job that you’ll actually like. Not to say every position will be the worst thing ever. But if you are used to calling the shots and managing your own time, going from entrepreneur to employee will be a big leap. Get your mind right before you clock in.
Which brings me to the 3 things:
1. Don’t forget why you’re there. You have skills that can help your employer, and so you’re trading those skills for dollars. Do your thing and focus on making a difference while you’re there. No matter how mundane the job may seem to you compared to your entrepreneurial life. Focus on delivering value, and don’t spend too much time thinking about how you’d run things if you were in charge.
When I returned to the workplace to do another writing assignment 2 years later, I focused on doing the best I could with a relatively boring assignment. It wasn’t my life’s work. Just a short-term thing.
2. Accept the things you can change–and the things you can’t. Maybe your manager is a micro-manager who won’t let you do anything without his express approval. Maybe the project is a seriously hot mess. Or maybe the corporate hierarchy is just a real-life version of Game of Thrones. You’re there to do a job. Do it and don’t stress over the stuff that you can’t fix.
If you can introduce an idea or concept that will be a help (and you’re listened to) that’s great. But if not, carry on. If the system is broken, you’ve got to do the best you can to function within it. As an entrepreneur, that probably goes against how you would run your business. but when you walk into an established structure, you’ve got to pick your battles.
3. Have an end date in mind. If you’re on a short term project, that’s easier to do. But even if it’s open-ended, have a plan in place. Decide what the money will go for, how much you’ll need, and what your next steps will be. That way you don’t lose sight of the big picture.
When I was an employee, going along to get along became a way of life because speaking up could kill a career. But if this job is a stepping stone, make sure you treat it that way. Do your work to the best of your ability, but don’t lose sight of your personal timeline.
Entrepreneurs have certain traits, including a strong desire for freedom. Going back into a corporate setting where you aren’t holding the reins might be a big blow to the ego.
But in the real world, there are ups and downs to business ownership. Rolling with them is part of the game. If you’ve got to get a job to make some coin, stay focused and keep the end result in mind.
Copyright © 2015 - 2016 Deborah A. Bailey
*Check out my discussion with Kerry Heaps on the Women Entrepreneurs Radio show: "What Happens When Entrepreneurs Become Employees" http://dbcoach.podomatic.com/entry/2015-10-05T19_14_30-07_00
Deborah A. Bailey is the author of several non-fiction books, novels and a short story collection. She's the creator and host of Women Entrepreneurs Radio™ , a weekly podcast featured on iTunes and Podomatic. For more information visit http://DeborahABailey.com and http://www.BrightStreetBooks.com.