Many workers are getting a strong itch to be entrepreneurs

Something is happening to success in America. It’s being redefined. At first it appeared to be only women and Generation X who were moving away from the traditional definition of "making it," but now I see many people beginning to take bold steps to redefine their careers and their lives.

For example, a friend of mine who is a high level executive in one of the most coveted jobs in her field, recently attended an executive leadership course, which brought women from all over the US. Within a few days of working together, the conversation shifted from their companies’ bottom lines to what they really want. They want out. They want to be in control of their schedules. They want more time to be with their friends and family. They want to define their own work in new ways. She has since announced to her employer that she is leaving to start her own business.

Last year, a well-respected Supreme Court Justice opted to step down and begin a dispute resolution consulting practice. Was she unhappy in her job? Not really. She wanted to do what brings her satisfaction, while having more control over her time.

After years of wrestling with herself, another friend recently worked out an arrangement with her employer so that she can work part time while she attends theology school. After many successful years with the company, she decided she wanted to take her career in a different direction.

Are these aberrations? I don’t think so. From the e-mails and letters I receive and the people I work with every day in America’s companies, I’d say it’s a growing trend. The reasons are as varied as the people themselves but there are certainly some trends that are fueling this transformation.

Since the early 80’s, there was a growing awareness that a good job with a good company was no guarantee of job security. Downsizing, mergers, and reorganizing made corporate America a slippery slope. In the 1980’s alone, a total of 230 companies - 46% - disappeared from the "Fortune 500." The explosion of .com companies, with the get rich quick stories that are now legendary, have created a seductive alternative to the tried and true 9 to 5 job. In fact, the best and the brightest graduating seniors are turning up their noses at fat salaries in the big consulting companies (which used to be the job of choice among the elite candidates), and opting instead for stock options at start up, Internet-related companies.

In addition, the longest economic expansion in modern history, notwithstanding Greenspan’s warnings, altered our thinking. As he puts it, we have stopped thinking about this economic boom as an exception and view it as an expectation that will go on indefinitely. It’s easier to start a business, leave a job, work part-time, telecommute or create whatever work scenario we want, when economic times are good. And because times have been so good for so long, people get confident about making a change.

Coupled with the strong economy is the shortage of good workers. This situation deals employees a strong hand, and they are starting to make their own rules about how to play the career game. Companies are loosening long held policies about where and when employees can work. The unspoken message employees have for their companies is, "Treat me right or I’ll walk down the street and get something better." Employees everywhere are experiencing more freedom and more perks than they ever thought possible.

Finally, it’s clear that we are in an entrepreneurial cycle. It reminds me of the Gold Rush of ’49. Even the most dedicated corporate citizens can’t help being tempted when Gold Fever is in the air. Big companies can feel confining if their policies, politics and hierarchy get in the way. Employees see their colleagues heading west, and they start questioning why they shouldn’t head for the hills, too.

So, what about you? Are you restless or bored? Do you dream about more freedom or doing something completely different? Here are some things to consider if you want to make a change:

§      If you are experiencing restlessness, ask yourself, "Is it the job, the company, the work…what?" Before you make a change, it’s important to figure out what needs changing. Perhaps you like your work but feel your advancement potential is stymied. Why not look for a new job in a more aggressive, entrepreneurial company? Or, if you like the company, but yearn for something fresh, start an aggressive campaign to move to another area of the company.

§      Do you get more satisfaction from your avocation than from your job? Consider exploring ways in which you can turn your hobby or volunteer work into a new career. Non-profit organizations, a favorite charity, athletic activity or other passion may offer opportunities to take what you’re doing now and apply it to a new venue. Talk to people who do work in these environments to see if the reality matches your needs.

§      If you want more control over your work, give some thought to exactly what that means. Would you be happier working a day or two from home? Would some meaty projects give you a sense of control and accomplishment? Would you be happier if your boss didn’t breathe down your neck and micromanage you? Maybe it’s time to have a conversation with your manager about what would bring you more satisfaction.

§      Do want more balance between work and your personal life? If so, how much time do you actually need and what would you do with that time, if you actually had it? For instance, a woman I know was prepared to quit her job to get more time with her family. When her employer asked her exactly how much time she really needed, they worked out an arrangement where she could be home when her children returned from school and she volunteers in her child’s classroom two afternoons a month. Employers are more willing than ever before to keep good employees, so why not ask what they can do?

§      Do you dream about becoming an entrepreneur? Before you hang your single shingle, why not go to work for a small or medium-sized company that already is selling the products and services you would offer if you went out on your own? It’s a safer step than going it alone. You won’t have to risk your own capital and you can see if you have the skills and drive to make it on your own.

§      If you do want to start your own business, start it as a side venture while you still are employed. You can use your regular paycheck to fund your start-up costs and you will have a safety net if your new business doesn’t take off.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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