In my last post How I earned my Independence, I talked enthusiastically about my newly found freedom to finally pursue what I wanted to do and expressed immense optimism about the future that beckoned me as I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey. Some of the feedback I got from the readers were on the lines of ‘wow, it seems you have it all figured out, cool!’. And I agreed with them, I had it all figured out – I had a start, some initial traction, plenty of goals to be accomplished, and lots of directions I could pursue!
If only life could be so simple and planned! J
This is not a hope and happily-ever-after story, I don’t think any entrepreneurial journey ever is. This is a dose of realism, somewhat disappointing to a few, definitely cathartic for me, and hopefully useful for a few people out there who believe in their dream and have to slog for it.
4-5 months after embarking on this journey, I found myself in a state that was very hard to make sense of. One week, I was happily developing my website, interacting with students, writing my blogs and Facebook posts, and giving seminar in an MBA college, and the next week, I realized I no longer find pleasure in anything, not even in tweaking my website code. I noticed it first when I found one of my friends jumping to my defense when someone commented that I am doing what I am doing because I am retired now and just having fun (leaving cushy job in US and coming back to India and doing an altruistic sounding work like career coaching can be interpreted as a retirement job J). While I was touched by the episode, I was surprised at the rush of emotions I had at such a simple incident. I started noticing more symptoms: I started losing interest in doing things about my venture which I loved to do earlier; interest in writing disappeared first, followed by interest in tweaking my website, and finally I started losing all desire to meet anyone new. I think this lasted for about 4-5 weeks. A time came when I couldn’t focus on any work (and didn’t want to open my laptop), and quitting and looking for a job crossed my mind several times. This was the most uncomfortable phase, and I was getting embarrassed and frustrated with my own emotions. As Hemingway said, ‘it happened slowly, and then suddenly.’
I spent quite some time talking about it, to myself J. I scribbled a lot too. This allowed me to reflect on last 4-5 months – what I wanted to do, what I did, and what I accomplished. It was interesting – when I looked at what I set out to do at a macro level (experiment with various ways of offering career management services to working professionals, and understanding whether there is a business in it) and how much time I had spent, I thought I had done reasonably well (figured out that people need career services, but don’t see enough value to pay for it, figured out some issues in going through organizations, directly via website, and through colleges, etc.). But when I looked at individual tasks I had set out to do (meet organizations, build my website and social presence, meet colleges, etc.) and the targets I had set for results, I had failed miserably. And it was the latter that was really bogging me down. I think 3 outcomes really bothered me:
- I had 100% rate of failure in meeting targets I had set for my tasks.
- Queries from my website, which I had created with so much effort myself, stood at 0, even 30 days after site launch.
- My experience at delivering a career seminar to an MBA college in Greater Noida had been extremely depressing.
In addition, a fundamental insight had emerged, which I was not acknowledging: Career Management for working professionals may not be a viable business.
Accepting this insight was hard, since it meant I erred in judgment when I picked this as my entrepreneurship area. Oops!
After spending time in solitude (while still surrounded by my family members and friends), it was clear that it was time for some change.
I have come to following realizations:
- Be Patient: This business may not be a viable business at all, at least not in the way I am thinking about it. So I need to stop thinking about monetization, figure out new ways, and get ready for the long haul.
- Be Result-agnostic: I need to stop thinking in terms of results of my actions, I should just be thinking of actions I need to take. This is because I don’t really know the gestation period of this business and I surely don’t know now what will ultimately work. It may sound clichéd, but this is exactly what Bhagvad-Gita says about work, and it really helped to read chapter 2 again after a long time.
- Do what I love: I need to continue to do what I love most (and what prompted me to leave my job and do this): work with people and help them in their career needs. This wasn’t happening too much; # of new people with whom I had career talks had gone down significantly while I was busy doing all these tasks.
- Be easy on myself: I shouldn’t try too hard, it backfires! J
And I also realized that what I am going through is not unique to me, it is very standard process of personal change cycle – I seem to be in the ‘informed pessimism’ state and need to go to ‘informed optimism’ state. This gives some comfort that I am not the only one who thought all is lost! J
All changes go through ups and downs. Even positive changes go through a Positive Change cycle. Entrepreneurship is tricky because while you hope this is a positive change, it might go through the negative change cycle or slip into one.
My next steps to address these realizations and come out of this state to move to the next one:
- Relax: I haven’t done anything for my business for last 30-45 days (no writing, no website updates, no meeting new companies/colleges, etc.) and I intend to relax a few more weeks. New year is when I plan to kick myself into action. I think I deserve this break! J
- Teach: I love coaching, and I love teaching. I am spending more time with Sunstone and doing more teaching activities (teaching free online course on leadership) and I am working on a career webinar that I will offer free on my website in a few weeks.
- Write: I wrote this blog after 4 months! J I have found my desire to write again, and I have bunch of topics that I want to write about. I am also restarting my stalled writing project: a book about careers.
I feel better now, and writing this blog has helped too. The feeling that destination may be much farther than I thought still bothers me, hopefully this feeling will pass away eventually. I definitely feel I have learned something new, though I am not sure how much it helps me in my quest. But maybe that is a moot point.
Maybe these bits of learning are what entrepreneurial journey is all about.
Maybe my dream will be fulfilled by an opportunity I stumble upon while my gaze are fixed on that far-off destination.
Maybe this stumble is really a call to keep my eyes on the ground and enjoy what the path offers.
Maybe I should go where the path takes me and suspend judgment for a while.
Maybe journey is the destination.
Maybe I have arrived. J
Image credit: Positive and Negative Change cycle graph is from http://changingminds.org.