Fresh from the trappings of your education, a first job proudly ushers us into the rite of passage known as full-time employment. Your first days were spent checking your phone during some semblance of an orientation. Policies were discussed. Procedures were reviewed. Teammates were met. You quickly found your new three-walls-to-call-home cubicle, and you started contributing your life energy to the power of the economic engine knows as capitalism.
Many of you really enjoyed your first job, and are still racking up today’s most sacred currency—sweet, sweet personal days. Others? Not so much. It probably crept up on you. It was not any one thing, though the research will point a finger directly at your manager. “We do not leave jobs, we only leave managers,” a chorus of business gurus chortle through their books and podcasts. You may very well have liked your manager, but that VP across the isle? The one who has 30 years of experience doing it his way or the highway? That VP pushed you to your limit. Maybe it wasn’t even the people. Maybe, while you stared at an Excel spreadsheet while sitting on you ergonomically approved, non-branded desk chair, you realized your motivation was gone.
And then, there are the crazy ones. The lucky souls, like Steve from accounting or Judith from sales who come up with that idea you saw three months later on Shark Tank. Or maybe it is you. Maybe you have an idea of your own that is just too hard to pass up.
Regardless of your motivations, You, Steven and Judith had to decide to pack your pencils, power down your four-year old laptop, raid the supply closet for personal gain, and walk out the door to start something new. So what can you expect during a career change? Here are a few things to think about as you make a career change into the world of entrepreneurship.
Changing careers and working for a startup can be life-altering: Any career transition is hard. However, leaving a career to work in a startup has its own challenges. It’s a tough call based on a risk equation that only makes sense to you at the time. It changes your life, it changes your relationships, and it might very well change the world. We know that the farther away you move from family, the more stressful it will be on you and that family. We know that any move to a new company or startup will cause a dip in your performance as you adjust to or create the new company culture. You can expect similar impacts to your family and your social life. Pay is often deferred compensation, and retirement is usually on you. Make sure you brush up those budgeting skills and have a plan in place on how to save.
Changing careers impacts relationships with family and friends: The good news is that leaving it all for the startup world is no longer as taboo as it used to be, even five years ago. Previously, many families would express concern or worry that a break in loyalty or tenure was a sign of struggle or poor performance. More recently, with the changing of nature of jobs to a specialized, task-based set of roles, portability of talent has become more common. Startups are viable options with good pay and prospects. Awareness of entrepreneurship and the ecosystem that supports these entities is becoming more widespread. Family and friends realize this, which frees you to focus on doing great work without having to repeatedly explain why you made the move.
You owe it to family and friends that you’re making this transition: For your partner or spouse, you should talk with them as soon as you begin seriously considering a change. In an age where life and work are no longer separated, these decisions should be approached together since the impacts will also be shared together. For your extended family and friends, this is much more variable and dependent on the person. If you are in a supportive extended family, bring them along early, as their support will help everyone with the transition. If you are in a less supportive environment with family and friends or have close family who want you to stay geographically close, then bring them along once you have committed to the decision.
Consider the financial impact: Let’s not candy-coat the money part of the relationship equation. All career changes have financial impacts for all family members. For some, this is a cost-of-living adjustment. For startups, this is a piece of paper promising you later returns for risk on the front end. Even if you find a role that is offering more salary or will relocate you to a place with a lower cost of living, we as adult humans tend to under the underestimate the short-term costs associated with making those changes. Make sure you run the numbers, but do not let them dissuade you. Rather, run the numbers so you can compensate with budgeting, other forms of income or other ways to save from your previous cost of living. Another area of tension is around shifting responsibilities between family members. The startup life is going to take more of your time away from your regular responsibilities, and will most likely place more responsibility on those around you during the transition. Make sure your immediate family understands this is a short-term arrangement, and that you will revisit it together at an agreed-upon frequency.
Supporting others in their transition to entrepreneurship: You may not be making a career change, but maybe your sister is. The best thing you can do is be curious. Learn about their new, exciting opportunity and how they made the decision. They are most likely dealing with an apartment lease or real estate agreement, onboarding, and a load of other items to balance, so take the initiative. Bring over take-out for dinner or help set up the yard sale.
Finally, always keep a perspective of excitement for this next chapter. While moving to the startup life has elements of risk, the rewards can be tremendous. Networks of friends and coworkers have likely just expanded. Loosely coupled relationships are the way most people get their new careers, so there is upside for you and your friends in exploring new career opportunities. Your own career story has just added a new, unique storyline that can read equally well as either a success or a “career learning opportunity.” Most of all, you are about to help bring something new to the world. Whether it’s a product, service, improvement or creation, you have already taken the hardest step in making the decision to move forward into the unknown.