Employee or Entrepreneur – Celebrating choice

I pour my coffee and I sit down in front of my computer. It’s Monday morning. Late morning, some would say. People are still on holiday therefore the street in front of my home office is less crowded than usual. I can literally hear the birds chirping and my neighbor’s kid throwing a tantrum in the backyard, 3 houses from mine on the opposite sidewalk. The best time for reflection.

In a few months I’ll be celebrating 6 years of being an entrepreneur. And, man, it has been a ride! I chose to become an entrepreneur in reaction to being an employee.

It all began with a break-down

I used to work for big corporates in the telecom industry and as much as the money was there, the fun was not. After having been diagnosed with a burnout episode in the fall of 2013 it became obvious that my body and my life required something different. I had been taking on a level of stress which was not mine which was now threatening to do great damage.

I remember the shame that I felt at the end of my temporary contract for having chosen to become unemployed. I recall judging myself to the bone for not having been capable of having a job and keeping it for longer than 6 months. It seemed that being unemployed was the biggest disgrace I could be for myself and for my family. I would wake up in the morning and feel useless and unimportant, incapable and undesired. So much with my dreams of contributing my spark to the world, to be an active game changer in the world.

The sheer truth was that I was unemployed. I was a burden. After the initial shock and disappointment I started to put myself into gear, look for other opportunities, find a different job. Yet, I was so exhausted mentally that anything that would be appealing to me was followed by a contraction of my whole body. I had been employed enough in the HR departments to know that behind every job advertisement was showing only one side of the urgent need for someone to solve unsolvable problems which have been postponed long enough until the company was forced into hiring someone to soothe the situation.

I soon realized I didn’t want to be an employee any longer. It felt like I was allergic to any kind of constraint or hierarchy coming from outside that would require me to be responsible for things or people who were not willing to be responsible for themselves. I didn’t want to stay unemployed forever either.

One interview that changed everything

My general state of mind was keeping me from making a choice that would open up my horizons. Until one day when I applied for an HR assistant job. I was invited for an interview one month later. There was a panel of 6 people taking the 9 candidates through different stages of assessment. All interviews appeared like ‘ordinary’ conversations between people. The potential employees were tested on language skills, communication, abstract thinking, problem solving, interpersonal skills… and in the very last position on acquired knowledge and job skills.

The interviewers were genuinely interested in what made every one of us shine, what made us joyful, what made us sing when it came to a job environment. When I reached the last stage of testing, I was given two colored pens, a sheet of flip chart paper and 4 minutes to present a ‘case’ which I had been assigned a week before the interview. I had diligently done my research in a domain that was completely foreign to me, I had asked questions, I had inquired my friends, I was prepared.

I had hardly opened my mouth when someone from the panel stopped me in an annoyed tone: “Please stop this nonsense, I don’t get anything you’re saying. This is going nowhere.” For a fraction of a second I froze. “I am so stupid. I ruined it.” Then I looked the person straight in the eye, I took a deep breath and I asked in my head “Ok, so if I were a man, what would I like to hear?” The clock was ticking, the tension was rising. My cheeks were on fire. “Girl, you’ve got nothing to lose. Go for it.”

When I finished talking, 3 minutes later, my heart was racing. I felt like in a bubble, my hearing was muffled, my lips were salty from the salty drops above my upper lip. Nobody was saying anything, nobody was moving. “I screwed royally” I concluded in my head.

At exactly the same moment the panel stood up and started clapping their hands. A standing ovation. We shook hands and we agreed that I would be called when they reached a decision. When I walked out that door I knew beyond any shadow of doubt that the job wasn’t mine. It took them 3 months to call me back and tell me: “You were our favorite candidate. We chose someone else.”

I was devastated. I was furious. I cried. Oh, I cried rivers, though… if you ask me I’m not sure why. Maybe my ego shouted and pouted for not having had its way. Yet, when I stopped making a fuss I kept going back to that interview: it was for the first time in months that someone had taken the time and the trouble, that someone had been curious to learn who I was and to not point out what I was still missing in order to diminish my value on the market.

It had been for the first time in years that someone had seen me. That I was starting to perceive me. It had been the first time in ages that I had taken the time to acknowledge sets of skills that I took for granted, which I thought everybody had, which I was convinced had no value on the work market.

Trying to fit in never works in your favor

That interview was not about a job, it was about me healing and recovering from a long self-devaluing process for not fitting in a mold in which I was desperately trying to convince and prove I would fit. That interview was a turning point in my career.

It showed me that I would never fit in a structure but that I could come up with a system that would allow me to be what I would have always loved to be: a contribution to the world. That I could bounce back from the ground at any moment if I was willing to know and trust myself. I took a leap of faith.

6 years further down the road I am grateful for me. For having had the guts, the stubbornness, the vulnerability to start. Raw, unknowing and willing to take steps, building my wings on the way up. There isn’t a right way or a wrong way. There’s excitement or not. There are futures to be actualized. There are dreams to be brought into reality which require me to be all I can be at all times.

I still don’t have the formula for success and this allows me to explore what is out there, what is fun for me, what drives people, what could make this world a kind universe to live in and where I could contribute with my energies, business and money and receive the beauty of it all.

If you could create anything you desired, what would you create with your business? Hundreds of hours and clients down the road, with exciting projects up in front of me, I wonder what else is possible? What adventure am I about to embark every morning when…I pour my coffee and sit at my desktop. If you could create anything you desired, what would you create with your business?