It’s 2016, and I’m told the company I am leading would be closed and that my role as General manager is to be made redundant. I’ve been part of the company for 14 years and love it. I have a great team, I am passionate about what we do and how we do it and I am so embedded in the culture I feel part of the furniture! I am gutted, anxious and afraid of what lies ahead. Fortunately, I am lucky, the company has brilliant values, so I am being treated well throughout the process. That was the easy part. The hard part was being forced into making a major decision about my future – what the hell was I going to do for work, what would be my new purpose?
Fast forward to this week and I’m sat working at my garden table (one of my many offices these days, which is being used a lot thanks to the summer that keeps on giving), watching the butterflies and thinking about how my journey from corporate life to now being self-employed as an independent consultant, relates to their metamorphosis. Robin Sharma’s quote (the author of The monk who sold his Ferrari) pretty much sums up the butterfly’s life and my recent experience:
“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”
The hard bit
Like the butterfly eggs being laid on plants, my situation was laid on me, the change process began and it was not in my control. I had been in regular full time employment for the past 20 year and had pretty much driven the direction of my career at my own pace. I faced a period not knowing what was ahead and what would come next.
The messy bit
The Caterpillar phase is about feeding and in my case, ideas on what job I should do consumed my thoughts. My head was full of worries, doubts, crazy business ideas and I was confused about what I really wanted from my work life. My natural instinct was to go and find another job, but I knew I had options to do something different and part of me had always considered working for myself. Being self-employed, having variety of work, applying my skills and knowledge to help other companies grow, why not? I chewed over the possibilities, took time to weigh up the options, risks, opportunities and gathered input and perspectives from others.
Coming out of the “cocoon” was a struggle. I knew had to make a decision and that I could also make a change for the better. It wasn’t easy but I finally decided to embark upon a new life as an independent consultant. Part of me honestly felt like staying in the cocoon, it was cosy not to take that step and the risks associated with it, but my gut told me it was time for me to face my fears of the unknown and do it anyway (plus my sensible self, had considered all the financial and practical stuff). Decision made. I felt like a Badass that day!
The Gorgeous bit
I’m now a butterfly. I know, all sounds a bit twee but you get the gist. Although my regeneration was definitely not at all that graceful, I was more like a moth flapping around the light bulb in the early days, self- doubts on whether I made the right decision, and adjusting from corporate structure, guaranteed pay slips, the feeling of belonging to a company and a team, to self-motivation, being my own boss, having the freedom to decide how and when I wanted to work. It does take some adjusting to but it’s been the best decision I could have made. I’m now getting used to my wings, moving from one project to another, enjoying the variety of people, places, and projects, and my network and curiosity in other businesses is blooming.
So what have I learnt during my metamorphosis:
Facing your fear – Deciding to change career through a forced or unforced decision is tough. There is a lot to fear about going into something new, especially where you have to re-learn, re-set you purpose, reset how others see you, and re-set your relationship with how you work. You will be out of your comfort zone, but focussing on the reasons you took this decision and not the fear in your head helps to remind you of why you did this. You have to embrace it, there will always be an element of fear in new experiences.
Keep the Faith – Keep the faith in yourself and your decision. Don’t listen to cynics and don’t worry about what others think. I was often asked “why have you decided not to continue with your career?” just because I didn’t jump to another corporate leadership role or move “up the ladder”. Don’t’ stop your journey just because of the need to conform. Having family, fabulous friends, a coach, other supporters around you at this time helps, they will be your fan club through the moments of doubt. Find like-minded professionals and collaborate, it can be lonely being out on your own. I found mine through the Positive Momentum community, and friends who had already been on the journey. Listening to their stories and their experiences have been invaluable.
Embrace the flexibility – This is the most liberating aspect of choosing this way of life. Don’t be afraid to define the work life pattern you want to achieve alongside your business plan. Get your old self out of the way in terms of what a working week looks like and don’t feel guilty about taking a Wednesday off to watch the tennis, or spending a day reading/watching ted-talks and learning! After being fast and full paced in my last role, this took me a while. It’s a case of re-wiring yourself and realising that not spending a 50 hr week being present in an office doesn’t mean you aren’t working hard. You are working differently.