I experienced feeling trapped in the corporate environment when my partner and I sold our first startup and we became employees. I had the soul of an entrepreneur but the job of a full time employee.
My partner, who was the founder of our startup, tried to be excited by the opportunities the corporation offered but he was dying inside. He lasted three years and I lasted nine. We had a three year earn-out and my partner started a new company on the first day after the earn-out. Within seven years he took the company public with a valuation north of $100mm.
I stuck it out for nine years in the corporate world enjoying all I was learning about building enterprises. It was financially and intellectually rewarding and filled with ego gratifying positions and responsibilities. I was making more money than I ever thought possible, living a first class lifestyle, but I was miserable. The corporate environment was rich in opportunity but not for me. My calling as an entrepreneur was being smothered.
Two valuable truths the entrepreneur in me learned:
1. Golden handcuffs are made of fools gold. Corporations pay a lot of money to talented employees. In fact, they paid me so much that I compromised who I was supposed to be, an entrepreneur. I stayed because I had a wife, three kids in private schools headed to college, house, cars, vacations, and things we wanted to buy.
I was worrying about my responsibilities as the provider for the family but my wife was worried about me. She knows who I am. She loves me and she married me for me. She wanted me to do what God made me to do. She did not want me to compromise who I am for the security. She trusted it would all work out.
I saw this happen to a friend of mine, an entrepreneur, who sold his company to a Fortune 500 company. He confessed to me he was less than fulfilled but couldn’t leave the corporation because of the money. We talked and he later left. He is now an active angel investor and leading the life God intended him to lead. He is fulfilled and making a big impact on the entrepreneurial community of Atlanta.
2. You can’t bloom when you’re planted. I was surrounded by people who were in the right environment for them. They were where they were supposed to be. My feelings of discontent made me think there was something wrong with me. So I tried really hard to be happy and fulfilled. At one point I tried to motivate myself by buying a sign from a knick knack shop that read “Bloom Where You Are Planted.” When I bought that sign I should have known it was time to leave.
If you are an entrepreneur trapped in a corporate environment, I encourage you to move on. If you stay too long, you will be there for life. If you continue to suppress who you are long enough it will lead to an unfulfilled life and maybe even depression, drugs and alcohol. It did for me but that is another story.
As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.”
What’s your startup entrepreneurial challenge? Your tweets help me decide what to write about next. @cpaparelli