It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I realised that I could go into business. I feel like I wasted more than 10 years prevaricating over whether this was the right decision – I now realise I should have just started small and learnt as I went along,” says Gina, the founder of a successful branding business.
She was speaking on her journey as an entrepreneur at a recent forum, and says she was thrown into self-employment when the bank she worked for restructured and let go of a quarter of the workforce.
As she explained why she hadn’t taken the leap into business sooner, I started to see patterns in how we manage our careers, especially when we become mid-career professionals.
These same patterns were confirmed by conversations I’ve had in the last few years with friends when we get to a place when we feel ‘stuck’.
Getting stuck in a comfort zone
This is my top regret. I started working at a relatively young age – in my early 20s.
The minute people, from your family to your peers, begin to label you the ‘stable, responsible one’, you wear it like a badge of honour.
Anything that could rock the boat, whether it’s a career change or a business (whether a side hustle or quitting your job altogether) is best left to ‘other people’ who are more comfortable with risk.
Where does this fear of leaving the comfort zone stem from?
In part, it’s our upbringing. Remember the old adage – work hard in school so you can get a good job? The minute we get the good job, our work is done and we will do anything and everything to protect our new status as a responsible, respected, productive member of society.
The idea of taking risks leaves many of us in hives, but you need to acknowledge that this is a normal response.
Your brain is designed to keep you safe, even when the dangers are not as real and immediate as they may feel.
What you can do is identify your personal brand of risk-taking. For me, it is collaborating with other people who share my values so that we can diversify and share the risk. For others, it’s starting small and using the confidence that comes from small wins to build resilience for big wins.
Listening to everyone but yourself
I’m not sure who sold us the idea that it was a good strategy to listen to everyone but ourselves.
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Yes, there’s a place for mentors, sponsors and our personal advisory boards – people who have our best interests at heart and who understand the impact we want to make. But somewhere along the way, we also assumed that if someone is older than us (relatives, parents, bosses, peers) they know what’s best for us and we should follow their advice without question.
Insights are great to seek – they give us some ideas we may not have thought of. But we must keep in mind that people come into life’s situations as a sum of their experiences, their biases, their conditioning and their fears.
Therefore, you must look at their advice through this lens. Most people don’t caution us to avoid risks because they’re being malicious – in fact, a lot of the time they’re well meaning – but they sometimes project their fears onto us in a bid to keep us safe.
We all have some of these in our lives – friends who leave us feeling depleted every time we interact with them, toxic bosses, or situations that leave us exhausted and washed out.
Even if you’re not able to tie toxicity to the exact moment it occurs, you will know from the kind of energy (or lack of it) that you carry around the rest of your day.
Sometimes, the toxicity is internal. Have you heard of the young man or woman who grew up in a physically abusive home, is determined to never create this kind of environment when grown, but then goes on to engage in abusive behaviour?
We can’t control everything and everyone around us, therefore we can’t expel all toxicity. However, we can and should remove ourselves from toxic relationships or situations, and set boundaries for who we let into our lives and who we don’t. You can’t go on to do amazing, creative things if your energy is continuously drained.
Remember, crafting a rewarding life and career means living life on your own terms, taking risks and sometimes failing.
It also means being brave enough to learn from those failures and using them as learning experiences because it’s the only way you’ll find success – and success as you define it, not as it’s defined by the world around you.