Over the past few months, I have by chance spoken to several people who left the world of entrepreneurship behind in order to fully commit to their craft.
Popular culture says that you must pursue entrepreneurship / start-up life in order to fully realize your dreams. However, three unrelated conversations have done a complete 180 on my opinion towards this topic.
CASE 1: The Lawyer
At a corporate dinner hosted by the telecom industry, I was seated next to a lawyer. In the course of the evening, the lawyer told me that she used to be a partner at a very well known law firm. She resigned from that firm and became the chief legal officer at a large mobile operator.
She said the pay was less, and she has less power in the large 20,000 global organization than when she was one of 15 partners who controlled 500 lawyers.
Yet, she said it was the best decision she ever made in her life. I asked if it had to do with quality of life. Nope. She was still working 12 to 15 hours a day and traveling even more. The difference was that as a partner in the law firm, she had to bring in clients, so half her time was spent on selling and grinding to get the biggest tech companies into the firm. On top of that, she managed 50 employees, had to make sure payroll was met for the firm, had to track each lawyers billable hours, approve new office furniture, etc. You know, all the things that go along with running a business.
Now, as in-house legal at a telecom company, she could focus all her energy on legal matters. Where as before, she was only spending 30% of her time on legal cases and 70% on managing and running the firm.
The one thing she said to me that hit it home:
“I went and paid my way through law school to become a lawyer. I love working in corporate law and dealing with complicated issues that a company like our’s has in the tech sector. I did not go to law school to spend most of my time selling to clients, managing the office, or having to play the political game of thrones that partners at a law firm do most of the time. I wanted to be a lawyer and now I can do that with 100% focus and not have to worry about making payroll, health insurance, leaky plumbing, etc. The company takes care of all that for me, so that I can dedicate all my focus on the legal issues that are most critical to my company.”
CASE 2: The CPA
An accountant I have known for a while decided to sell his very successful practice in order to become the CFO at a mid-sized company in New York. When I asked him why he would go from being his own boss to being a CFO, his answer made sense:
I got tired of the grind of having to service over 500 corporate and personal accounting clients. I started to hate my business and was not happy always arguing with clients on my invoices, their tax returns, fighting a dozen fights with the IRS on behalf of my clients, or having to hire temp staff every tax season that I had to train and re-train, etc. While I was making really good money, I hated what I was doing. I just did not enjoy running an accounting firm.
When one of my clients proposed that I become their full time CFO, within 6 months, I sold my firm and now I actually enjoy accounting again. I can FOCUS all my energy on the thing I was trained to do, accounting!
CASE 3: The Doctor
I ran into a well known doctor in our circle of friends one day and we went out for coffee to catch-up. He had run his own practice for 20 years, so I naturally asked how that was going. He smiled as said he shut it down and now works in the Hospital System that is the largest in our county. I asked how he could make such a move. His answer:
The medical profession is not what it once used to be. In the old days, you can have your own practice, make a good income and serve your patients. Now, at my practice, I had three staff members who did nothing but fight with 20+ insurance companies on claims and payments due to us. In one case, I spent one hour with a patient and when his insurance was processed and everything settled, my practice got $7.00. Yes, $7.00! I could have made more money working at this Starbucks and skipped the 6 years of medical school and post medical schooling after getting my undergrad!
In order to make ends meet, I had to see patients in 15 minute blocks. I could just not give them the quality of care that I expected of myself in this profession. I decided right then and there to shut down the practice. Within 3 weeks, I got a job in this hospital system making $250,000 a year and I can fully dedicate myself again to patient care. No more fighting with insurance, kicking out big pharma reps, managing employees, dealing with broken lab equipment, etc. Now, I just do what I was born to do — help sick people get better. I love it.
We’re all trained in today’s culture to believe that exceptional people are the one’s who start and run their own company. In the past few months, I have come to witness several people who are the top 1% of their profession, being able to make more of a difference by working in a large institution vs going at it alone.
It make sense! If your a talented rocket scientist, your best contribution to society might be working at NASA and developing next generation rocket technology vs trolling away in a garage on another copy-cat startup idea.
The important takeaway I got out of these chance conversations was this simple formula for professional fulfillment (ps — I was going to write a 500 page book on this formula, sell it for $49.95 on Amazon and do a nationwide book tour. However, I realized I would not be good at any of that. So, I am giving the formula away for free):
- Discover what you passion is (the hard part)
- Make sure they are actually good at it (makes no sense to try and play in the NBA if you love basketball but have no skills to even make the high-school team). Once you find something your passionate about and good at, congratulations — you have found your craft!
- Finally, find the arena within which you can excel in that craft. That arena could be doing your own startup, or working in the government sector, or at a big global firm. Whatever it is, make sure you are honest with yourself on finding the arena within which you can excel.