Life after corporate.

You design, or someone else will…

Imagine this scenario: you’re in your mid-to-late 40’s, have built an impressive corporate career in your profession, have the respect of your peers and co-workers. You may have worked directly or indirectly with clients of your employer, but mostly — your day to day work involved emails, meetings, meetings and emails.

Everything is Hunky Dory — gym in the morning, train to work (or gym at work?), Friday drinks — you know, life in corporate!

Then one day, things are starting to change — you’re asked to move your stuff to another desk, in another floor / building. When you do, you immediately see some changes — some new faces, perhaps from another department. People you never knew existed, in a section of the business than has nothing to do with you, or your business unit. You ask around, and no one really knows what’s going on — “this comes from upstairs, we don’t really know” you hear often…

From that moment, you start noticing things. Simple things, like some new signs in the kitchenette, or breakout area. More and more chairs are standing empty, until the person next to you, whom you’ve been working with for the past few years, tells you they’ve got a package. This is becoming real now — the R words are being whispered around: Redundancies, Restructure, Re-org… more corporate acronyms than normal. Oh shit!

For the next few months, things change quickly, it’s chaos and uncertainty is eating into you… You don’t know if you should or shouldn’t be looking for something else, or if your head isn’t on the chopping list, so you’re safe. For now…

The thing is — you know that drill all too well… in your 20+ years in corporate, you go through the same exercise every 2–3 years, if not more often…

But now it’s different. This time isn’t like before — you’re now expensive to hire, and you know there won’t be too many jobs out there to choose from. You hear stories about people you know — good, experienced people — that are out of a job for more than a year, before they settle on something below their rank and level of experience. Oh, and for less pay too!

This uncertainty is stressful… you don’t know what to do, so you try to look around, and see what’s out there, and start sending your CV around, do some “networking”, even though you hate it and find it pointless.

Then one day, that “package” arrives, as you’ve dreaded… You pack up and go home. Now you have more time to be looking for a job, apply online, call people for coffees, do the networking thing…

A few months go by, and no real opportunity on the horizon yet. Then a mate asks you if you can do a project for his company, it’s short term, but it’s good money. You don’t really have anything else on, so you take it on.

Now you have an ABN, so you can send a monthly invoice, and before you know it, someone refers to you as a consultant… Ouch! That was quick! “What the hell just happen to me?” you ask… You realise you’ve moved to the “other side”, and it caught you by surprise. Unprepared.

The next call which comes your way comes from a family friend, who has just started her business. She needs some help, mainly direction, and wants to pick your brain a bit. She can’t pay much now, though. You agree.

This time is different — it’s a young, exciting business. Opportunities abound — so much to do, so little time! Working with a business owner, a visionary, an entrepreneur is so different than your corporate years, you begin to like it, a lot! You get sucked into it, and although there’s no real pay, you sink your teeth into it, because you enjoy it.

A couple of months go by, and the business owner decides it’s time to take the business on, and work on it by herself, or more accurately — without you.

It’s time to find another gig.

More coffees. more networking. More CVs and executive recruiters. More disappointments, and more coffees. Maybe beers? Ok, some beers too…

You find another small business you can help — Great!

This business owner is a friend of a friend, or a stranger. There’s no prior relationship, so you need to send a proposal first. Oh, but you’ve never done a proposal like this before! Sure — you’ve been involved in bids, tender documents, and large scale engagements. But back then, you had templates, and teams, and project managers, and pricing people, and…

Now you don’t. so what do you put on a proposal? Should you make a logo? How detailed must you be in your business description? What about references? How do you even price this? Who will bind this and send to the client? Oh, ok — that’s you… “Ah, I get it now” you say to yourself, “I’m a CEO (Chief EVERYTHING officer)”, with a wry smile on your face…

You send the proposal — 18 pages you’ve worked really hard on, but you get no response. A week goes by, and no call back from the potential client. So out goes an email — “did you get my proposal?”. A day goes by and the response — “sorry mate, been flat out, will look into it over the weekend. Sorry… “

That feeling is called — rejection. And you take it personally. You know it’s not personal, it’s only business, right? But you can’t help that self-doubt from creeping in.

Next career phase

Welcome to the new world! This is the new reality of many nowadays. Too many! The move from a “secure” job, to the world of the freelancer. Not as any of us pictured it, at least not at the beginning. Yes, you have all the time in the world, you can work anytime you want to, and from any place you choose. Grab your laptop in bed, or go to the coffee shop. Move to the kitchen table, (AKA Home Office), or even try a shared workspace. There’s a lot of flexibility, but no stability.

As the months go by, going back to a corporate, secure job, seems like it will never happen. Or if it does, I will be a very, very different experience. What should you do next? Either you fight tooth and nail to get back to that familiar environment (better the devil you know?), or you can slowly come to grips with this new beginning.

One day, or day one — you choose.

Many people I know are currently in this situation, or have been in this situation recently. If that’s your experience (or similar), I’d be curious to know how you deal /dealt with it, and which path did you finally choose.

We can’t sit on the fence for too long, right?