Do Corporate Postions Prepare You For Entrepreneurship?

Today I reached into the mailbag:

Hey Dan,

What should I be looking for in terms of skills and training that are transferable to being an entrepreneur? Do you think corporates gigs can deliver these skills satisfactorily? 

In general, my opinion is no. If you want to get prepared for entrepreneurship, it’s probably best to work for a small company with less than 15 employees that wants to grow. When you do get that job, try to “own” as much responsibility for the company’s results as you can.

I don’t mean to say corporate jobs are entirely useless– just like liberal arts degrees, they certainly have the potential to help you. You’ll probably learn some broadly applicable lessons, but it’s like jogging everyday to prepare to be a sprinter. It helps a little. It hurts a little. But at the end of the day, it’s a different sport.

Plus, the longer you remain in corporate, the less incentive you’ll have to jump on a different trajectory (see: How to Get Rich).

Seth Godin once said that reading about how to be an entrepreneur is like reading about how to have sex. That makes sense to me. Entrepreneurs read books and then go set fires with the pages.

If it’s true that action is critical to learning entrepreneurship, then in the long term it’s probably worth it to take a significant pay cut in order to work for an entrepreneurial organization.

You can also find ways to be proactive starting today. Even in a corporate setting.

Make a sales call, tomorrow. Don’t wait for an offer from corporate. Give them an offer. Put another offer on the web. Hustle up meetings on your lunch breaks. Find that small business and score the gig.

I said something similar to a friend the other day and he replied, “yes, that’s easy for you to say, but I have no idea what I’m doing!”

I replied “the only difference between me and you is that I’m okay with that, and it isn’t stopping me from moving forward.”

I am close to being offered an attractive opportunity with a big corporation–lots of training and location mobility possible–BUT I can’t help feeling that accepting it would just be a case of taking the easy route, and that after 12 months the glamour will have rubbed off and it will be back to the same old unfulfilling rat race.

It depends what you want out of life. At some point, we all have to start getting on with what we want to get on with. If that’s running your own business, or being an entrepreneur, or playing the guitar, or running a marathon, at some point you have to start doing it. It’s not about going to a school or reading a book or whatever– it’s about going and doing it.

It doesn’t mean you can’t take the job. It means you’ll be putting off becoming an entrepreneur. And you might have good reasons for that. Maybe it’s not that much of a priority. Maybe you’ll save some money. Or see some cool places. Or meet some cool people. But you won’t yet have gotten down to doing it, which is what it will take to learn how to do it.

What was your tah-dah moment, was it linked to a passion or interest, or was it just a by-product of “just doing” things and almost stumbling over it? Was it a conscious process that can be repeated? Or was it something more organic?

When you aren’t on the trajectory of entrepreneurship, determining “what to do” seems like the primordial question. But it’s actually not. You aren’t looking for “an idea” or “an opportunity,” or worse “some things to research”– instead, you are looking for a life trajectory that makes those things regular events.

Like hanging out with and interacting regularly with entrepreneurs. For them, “what to do next” is just part of a process. It’s breakfast talk. The opportunities are everywhere when you hang around with people who deal in them.

I’m on a path to repeating my father– working for a company that will ultimately reflect a safe but unfulfilling approach to life.

A thirst for financial independence has been fueled but also an internal conflict has grown inside me. My parents shaped me into a career person; I can see the drivers why they made these decisions but on reflection this is proving to be unfulfilling. I feel like putty which is forcing its way out of its current mold to fit into a new one, but it is a struggle!

Totally agree it’s not easy. I am not immune to social pressure and it took me a long time to realize the options my parents laid out for me were only “sensible” options– get a good salary, get a good degree, etc., but they weren’t really prepared to give me “great” options. How could they? In their position, as distant advisors, that’s the best they could do. Maybe Frank Zappa said it best:

“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”

Michael Covel said it compellingly on one of our podcast episodes“if you aren’t ready to [make the jump yet], maybe you need to go back and work for that asshole.” And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Entrepreneurship isn’t without it’s risks, and not everyone finds “PASSION AND FULFILLMENT BABY.”

It’s very often the case that running a business can bring new levels of freedom, engagement, creativity, and even wealth.

But there is one thing you can count on– 10 times out of 10 it’s about running a business, which isn’t for everyone.




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