I wouldn’t say I question my decision to break off from my former career and become an entrepreneur, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to sometimes wondering where the “path more traveled” would have led me.
At the age of 23 I left my job with the Pennsylvania Governor’s Administration to launch my own PR Firm, Bennis Public Relations Inc, which I grew from a freelance side business I began my senior year at Penn State. No amount of planning could have prepared me for this transition, and in retrospect I’m grateful I did it young and blind. Had I allowed myself to stare too long into the ocean of the vast unknown, I don’t think I would have ever made the jump.
In the months since sailing off on this crazy journey called entrepreneurship, I’ve made a lot of friends who have also given up their budding careers for a shot at creating something much bigger and I have been inspired by their unique stories.
In this circle of entrepreneurs, I often find myself to be the youngest with the least prior career experience under my belt. This has become one of my biggest challenges, but also one of my biggest points of differentiation. My youth gives me a fresh perspective, high energy and an openness to trying new strategies for my clients. My career path before becoming an entrepreneur may be short if measured in years, but when measured in hours worked and the variety of skills learned, I am just as experienced as many professionals twice my age.
In talking to other young entrepreneurial friends, I’ve found that each of our experiences with starting our own businesses have been very unique, but we do share one thing: not one of us wish we would have waited longer to go full-time with our businesses. More often than not, we regret not doing it sooner.
At first, this was a radical sentiment to rationalize. Who wouldn’t want to keep a good paying, stable job as you slowly build your business on the side? Once you’re ready to step over, it would seem to be a smooth and painless transition. In hindsight, I’m so glad that I didn’t fall into this trap. Unless you take that leap of faith, you’ll never have the same intense drive to make your business succeed. Your other career will always act as a safety net and protect you from the uncomfortable but necessary feeling of going into survival mode. Once your business is your only means of income, you no longer have that safety net—only the option to sink or swim.
So here I am, a young entrepreneur paddling like mad. I have no safety net, only a small life jacket of built up savings that could quickly deflate if I’m not careful. But each month as I gain a client, lose a client and breakdown my budget, I know I only have one choice—to make my business a success. I am in entrepreneurial survival mode. The 2 years I maintained Bennis Inc as a side business, I never experienced the same drive and acute business sense as I do now. I was just enjoying the extra income as I sailed wherever the breeze took me. Now that this is my only means of survival, I actively pursue new business and put more time into creating a professional image and learning new skills and tactics to position myself as an expert in my field. There have been months when my head has been barely above water and there have been months where I felt like an Olympic swimmer. It’s not easy, but if it were, everyone would be doing it.
For all the other young and hopeful entrepreneurs out there, I’ll tell you this: take the leap, and take it sooner rather than later. It’s scary and overwhelming, but isn’t that the adrenaline people like us live for? One of my favorite quotes says it the best…
“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”