Taking the leap: my journey from cubicle monkey to creative grasshopper entrepreneur

8-25-14 taking the leapThis story is designed to inspire & give courage to anyone who is on the verge, and feeling called, to quit their job in order to pursue something more meaningful. This is part of the Taking the Leap resource, a database full of real-life stories from people who have successfully gone from job dissatisfaction to career emancipation.

This story includes the truth about what it’s like & what it takes to make the leap — so you can figure out for yourself whether taking the leap is right for you!

So when my dear friend Rebecca Beaton asked me to contribute to her Taking the Leap resource, I jumped at the opportunity. You may have seen Rebecca in our video interview (if you haven’t, go check it out!)

So here’s my story… which some of you may be somewhat familiar with. And some lessons interspersed along the way, for you: so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

I’ve always had authority issues.

When I was a kid, I always insisted on playing my way… even if it meant breaking the toys I was trying to play with. That grew into defiance and rebellion in school (needless to say, I had a lot of bad grades my test scores couldn’t explain…) and continued as procrastination in college and beyond.

When I finished college, I was dismayed that I hadn’t liked a single one of the jobs I had tried (except for tutoring, although even then I had run-ins with the tutoring center administration!) They all just seemed to restrict my freedom and creativity a little too much.

It’s not that I was lazy, or I didn’t want to do work… when given the opportunity I threw myself into anything and committed 110% of my energy into making it amazing, but I needed to not have someone else bossing me around and telling me what I could and couldn’t do.

Unfortunately, as college ended and I was left facing the possibility of returning to my home country of Romania, I had to swallow my pride and return to the company where I did my summer internship the summer before my senior year.

I hated it.

I had a good salary, but no money could make up for being so miserable every day. Soon I fell into the predictable cycle of loving life on Friday and hating it on Sunday. I started developing insomnia because going to sleep meant the next thing that was to happen was getting up super early and going to that place.

It’s not that it was a bad job, or a bad office. The people were reasonably nice, the job had its variety… I just suck as an office monkey. I’m an inherently creative and (most importantly) passionate person. If I’m getting involved in something, I want to know that I can contribute to it in a constructive way… not 5 years down the road after I’ve learned how to do things “your way”, but now, while my perspective is fresh and I’m able to think outside the box.

This is the same reason why I chose to use my experience and passion for psychology to become a coach rather than going to a PhD. I like to think outside the box. It’s what makes me unique and what helps my clients be so successful. I’m not your average coach. I’d hate to be your average anything.

The reality is, I knew all along that I wasn’t going to stay there for long. The test question I encourage everyone to ask themselves is, would you like to have your boss’s job?

I didn’t. So I spent most of my time there hoping to find a way out.

The turning point.

Even though I didn’t enjoy being there at my job, over time things got better. I made some amazing friends in my office. I ended up clicking with an amazing group on the train, and one of them turned into one of my best friends to date. I still miss those hilarious train rides back home (but no, not enough to return there.)

I learned to shut up and take criticism, even when I didn’t agree with it. I learned to smile nicely and agree with their ideas even when I didn’t. As someone who was used to always speaking up and rebelling, this was one of the lessons that made it completely worthwhile for me to be there – and I will always be grateful for the ability I learned – to detach and accept the situation while focusing on my own path.

Lesson #1: Be grateful for every experience you have (even a negative one), especially that day job you hate so much. It’s all there for a reason. Learn from it.

The turning point came when I realized how much I wanted to be at home with my future kids. I’ve always looked forward to being a mother. I’ve always imagined myself taking the time to raise my children, to shape their thinking, to watch them grow into the adults they’re meant to be.

The thought of me spending 10 hours every day slaving away doing something I didn’t enjoy doing and letting someone else raise my child still sends shivers of terror along my spine.

After pleading with my husband over being a stay at home mom, I realized that he wanted to be there just as much as I did – and that’s when we committed to being work at home parents instead and started working to become entrepreneurs.

In March 2013, I started this website.

I had started a psychology blog a few years ago and dropped it (you have no idea how many times I kicked myself for that decision).

Lesson #2: Have a strong reason for wanting to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t in the beginning. It came back to kick me in the butt.

For over 10 years I read various psychology, productivity, and self-help books. I had struggled with and worked through confidence and self-esteem issues, procrastination, and a whole host of other common creative grasshopper struggles. I studied psychology at UPenn, and have always known it was in my cards for the future.

This time, I read books to keep me motivated (the one that really got me started was The Education of Millionaires – aff link.) I created a separate e-mail address and signed up to successful coaches and marketers’ mailing lists. Some of those sent me running for the hills with their salesy approach (but not until after I had given it a try and felt truly unauthentic… what can I say, sometimes you just have to make mistakes to learn!)

The other thing that kept me motivated was just going to work every day. For one, every day stuck in that cubicle was a reminder of why I wanted to do this. And secondly, I finally had free time at night – no exams to prepare to or homework to do – so that time was easy to spend on my business every night (or procrastinating for my business, ahem.)

Not so fast!

Over the months, I blogged and blogged and blogged. And when tumbleweeds came rolling through my blog I wondered why there was no one reading anything I had written.

When I first started blogging several years ago, the internet was a different place. After a couple of measly posts I was already getting e-mails and comments. I didn’t have to engage or “hustle” to get my content out there and to get people to pay attention. But the internet has grown exponentially since then, and people’s attention spans and trust has grown smaller over time.

Once I realized that I knew I had to throw myself into learning as much as possible.

Lesson #3: Entrepreneurship is a journey of learning. Prepare to be humbled. Over, and over, and over again.

I learned about how to be authentic. How to connect with other entrepreneurs (hurray for Facebook groups! Also known as terrible time sinks when not managed well.) How to focus on my peeps and actually offer something of value. How to stop worrying so much about showing up as an expert and start just connecting (yep, that made the biggest difference.)

When I finally got my green card in September 2013, I expected the floodgates of clients to open. Not so fast! They stayed closed shut until I learned how to build trust, how to open up and be fully authentic, how to serve and give before expecting to receive anything in return.

Lesson #4: Expect things to go much, much, much slower than you hope or believe they will. Still work just as hard, but don’t get your hopes up – otherwise you’ll be crushed when the wind whistles after all your efforts.

I also had to learn to find my focus and take charge of my productivity. After jumping around from general love-yourself ya-ya coaching to confidence coaching to career coaching to fear coaching, I finally settled on productivity coaching, something I will probably be learning how to do properly for the rest of my life (a very good thing to grow in AND help people with!)

Most importantly though, I finally found an audience focus: creative grasshoppers. A fun term for creative and passionate entrepreneurs who love to get distracted and have brilliant ideas that don’t materialize nearly often enough. That is the first thing that started setting me apart from other coaches and gave me a unique perspective to write from. That’s what gave me an identity.

Going full-time.

After a very long wait (and completely not being ready to give up my full-time income) I got laid off at the end of 2013. (Cue: angels singing and the gates of heaven opening)

I used to tell people that if I just had more time to work on my business, I could get things rolling within a month or two!

Allow me to take a solemn pause and roll on the floor laughing…

When I finally went full-time another huge obstacle came my way: time. And resistance. All of a sudden, I had no idea what to do with all of that time, and there always seemed to be something to get done. The initial burst of excitement and energy turned into several months of leisurely procrastination and denial that nothing was wrong.

Lesson #5: Prepare to have a productivity adjustment period. Being in business for yourself full-time (even if you’re still trying to apply for other jobs, like I was) is so not the same as having a job. Learning how to manage your time in a way that doesn’t frustrate you to tears will be a whole new challenge.

Eventually, I started getting my shit together. I tried to schedule my time – that failed miserably. I tried endless, rigorous to do lists – they collected dust in a corner. I tried all kinds of apps and productivity programs out there – none of them kept my ADD in check.

Things finally changed when I discovered the power of flexible productivity focused on habits. I wish I could say someone introduced me to it, or I read about it in a wonderful book that you can order and have in your hands by tomorrow, but I didn’t. I just made it up out of sheer desperation, and it worked! (cue: angels singing, gates of heaven opening again)

This is how I finally found my focus. By coming up with a unique solution for something that was deeply troubling me.

Lesson #6: You don’t find your niche. That’s a myth. Your niche will find you when you’ve stopped looking for it and started creating something that can actually help people.

Now this has turned into my 3-month coaching program (which – surprise! – almost filled up my schedule long before it even launched) and this 9-day free course I’m launching today that will rock your socks off.

Once you find the right focus for you, creating things becomes a heck of a lot easier. (There: something for you to look forward to!)

Woah, Nelly! Are you done yet?

Yep, that was a lot. But it was fun to write, and I hope it was fun for you to read.

If you want to take the leap someday, or are already an entrepreneur, and you want to learn how to take charge of your time in a more flexible way, I invite you to sign up for the free course in the box below. It’ll help you whether you’re self-employed or still working at your soul-sucking job.

Now that I shared my story, it’s your turn to share! What convinced you to take the leap to being a full-time entrepreneur?

Also, if you’re on the verge of taking the leap to quit your job, but aren’t quite sure you have what it takes, I invite you to check out more of these inspiring stories by going to the Taking the Leap resource, where you will have access to some other stories just like this one.

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  1. I enjoyed reading this and was quite helpful, thank you for sharing (:

  2. This is such a great post! I’m transitioning to a work-at-home-mama and so many things hit home in your post! Thank you for your openness and honesty!

  3. Thank you for such a real and inspiring story. And for the actionable lessons.

  4. Lesson # 5 really hits home for me. I quit my day job in May of this year without a safety net and launched my freelance writing business. While I love the freedom that freelancing provides, it is also really easy to get stuck in a place where you feel busy but nothing is really getting done. I wrestle with consuming vs. creating on a daily basis and am still experimenting with what kind of productivity systems work for me.

    • That was my biggest struggle too, to be honest. And exactly why I started dedicating myself to it now. I’ve learned so much from dealing with it myself!

  5. Thank you for sharing your journey, Laura! Such great lessons, insight and candid appraisal of the roller coaster onto which so many of us jump. It’s so important to reveal the oops moments and not just the skipping-through-the-poppies ones. So great!

    • Thank you so much, Emily! Yes, I try to be as honest as possible about the ups AND the downs (most especially the downs) because those are the ones that took me by surprise because no one ever told me about them beforehand!

  6. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of your journey. I can SO relate to everything! So many thoughts were mine, too, and I’m also still struggling with being full-time self employed and full-time productive πŸ™‚

    • Ooooh Gabriela I love the way you said “full-time self-employed and full-time productive”! Would you mind if I steal it? πŸ˜‰

  7. Nice post! I love #6. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in this we forget to create value from an authentic place and then as we say…”they will come”. Thanks for sharing your story πŸ˜‰

    • Thank you, Anna! You’re absolutely right. And over time we keep falling in that trap and have to pick ourselves out of it and remember that money is like a cat – it only comes when you ignore it and focus on creating value instead πŸ˜‰

  8. Always insightful Laura. Love all your tips.

    Good question to ask yourself: Would you like to have your boss’s job?

    Being grateful and seeing what you gained from the experience is valuable. We all take away lessons even from negative situations (or maybe especially from). I learned from my admin job at an employment counselling centre (where I was thinking I could move up to being a counsellor and finally use my BA in Psychology that I’d invested in) that I need to contribute and be shown that my ideas are valuable, which as an admin assistant, people didn’t respect my opinions. I also learned that being analytical, sometimes critical (my husband often comments that I seem to think I’m a food critic at every meal), being assertive and telling people what to do (in a firm but nice way) is part of what I do every day as a coach.

    I got laid off from that job, and qualified for a govt support initiative that helps entrepreneurs, which we funnelled people into at my admin job, so I had an inside track on what the requirements were to qualify ;0)

    • Thank you, Angelique! That is awesome that you managed to get into a government support initiative for entrepreneurs. And yes, learning from negative situations is so important! Whenever I go through a tough time I now remind myself of how much I learned from that experience. It completely changes my outlook and attitude!

  9. Lesson #5 hit home for me, too. I start freelancing part-time from home next week (the rest of the time is dedicated to my kids), and I’m sure it will be easy to feel like I’m being productive without actually accomplishing anything (thinking of social media). Signed up for your free course!

    • Thanks, Beth! I hope my course will help you take charge of your time and be more productive in a flexible way. Social media is such a huge time sink! It’s too bad it is so essential to growing your business too.

  10. Love this, Laura! You and I have a lot in common – especially the passion for psychology. I worked for a researcher for a while and thought about going the PhD route, but it never truly excited me. That path seemed to be all about conforming to someone else’s idea of success (namely, your adviser’s). Plus, it seemed to be so rare that your research actually HELPED people. I love to see that transformation. πŸ™‚

    I also love your advice to be grateful for every experience, even the negative ones. I was just talking with a friend tonight about how grateful I am for the “bad” experiences I’ve had – they’ve made me a better person.

    Also totally agree that your niche finds you, not the other way around. I’ve always said that if people would just stop asking, “What’s my passion?” and start asking “How can I support other people?” they’d actually get the answers to both questions. πŸ™‚

    Keep up the great work!

    • Wow, we do have a lot in common, Eleanore! I decided I didn’t want to do a PhD pretty early on, despite my advisor’s encouragements, so I never really looked very much into it. I just knew that I needed to create my own system of helping people instead of being taught a method (same reason I didn’t go to coaching school). But while I was at work my colleague who was in a PhD program told me she couldn’t really study something that interested her because no one on her panel had an interest in it. I started laughing and thanked her for confirming to me that I made the right decision. πŸ™‚

  11. connie curtis says:

    alot of this sounds like me. I knew I wasnt going back to work and I havent for the last 3 yrs. I am taking charge of my inbox and I am finding i relate to some and not other. Same thing for business coaches. I find them out of the blue which I dont think is correct because its something I have been creating. Some I like and then didnt because of the sales y thing and well didnt connect to them. I can relate to you and you give good advice and recreate alot of stuff I got out of landmark education but starting a business well its puts you in a whole another place. The big one for me is i have found my niche its what I am all about and now I own it. The other is that I am a expert. I just need to be that and it will come through online with what I do.

    • Thank you, Connie, I very much appreciate your sweet comments. It’s wonderful to hear that you have found your niche and are owning it. That has played a huge role in my growth as an entrepreneur as well. Something that has helped me a lot has been not thinking that I’m putting something out but allowing God to work through me. It just frees me up to create instead of worrying about whether I’m enough of an expert to do it. Best of luck to you!

  12. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  13. I really enjoyed this post, Laura and hearing your opinions!
    Just three years ago, I left my teaching position as foreign language instructor. I didn’t enjoy working so many dissipate groups, from ele
    mentary to high school and second language students. I wasn’t getting paid properly for my education because of a lack of money within the school system. In my second year, shortly after the school term began I decided to terminate my contract. Life is too short to stay in a job you don’t like. I then set out to become a freelance writer. This month, my first book debuts!
    Thanks for sharing your experience and story,

    • Woo hoo! Congratulations on your first book, Amy! That must be so exciting πŸ™‚ It’s wonderful to see that you have taken a big leap and it is paying off for you.

  14. Thanks for sharing your journey! As soon as you mentioned ” flexible productivity focused on habits” I started looking around for a resource link. So when are you writing the book? πŸ™‚

    I took the entrepreneurial plunge about 17 years ago, and have never looked back. At the time it was because I didn’t want to get a “real job” after university, and now I don’t think I could punch a clock for someone else unless my back was really up against the wall.

    • Thank you, Helena πŸ™‚ I’m loving just working 1:1 with my clients so far and chiseling away at the flexible productivity system. I do have plans for a book someday! That’s so awesome to hear that you took this leap so early on. You’re an inspiration!

  15. Excellent post, Laura! I truly spoke to me. I’ve toyed with the idea of starting my own biz and this post was quite helpful!

  16. Laura,
    Found you through a guest post on endingthegrind.com today. Just read this entire post and LOVED it. Sounds ALOT like what I’ve been going through so it’s a good feeling to know that it’s “normal” πŸ™‚
    When I finally do take the leap, I’ll let you know promptly.
    Thanks for your wisdom, inspiration, and brilliance!

    • Thank you, William πŸ™‚ I had a lot of fun writing that post. Yep, I know what you feel like… I’ve been there too. It IS totally normal! Do be sure to let me know when you take the leap, I’ll be cheering you on!

  17. I’m so glad you mentioned that your niche will find you, Laura! So often when clients hire me, they talk so much about “finding their niche” and I feel like a bit of a killjoy to give this advice again and again, but the truth is: you don’t know what you want to focus on (and what your people want to pay you for) right out of the gate, and that’s okay. Of course, you need a general idea (and an expertise!). But you don’t have to have it completely nailed down before you *begin*. Congrats on coming so far since your launch!

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