About a year ago, I stepped into the rewarding, challenging, and sometimes terrifying world of running my own business.
I had been working the last few years as an associate attorney at a law firm, but, excited to forge my own path, I launched a content writing business serving lawyers and business owners. I’d decided that there was no time like the present—after all, there really is no ideal time to make a colossal career change. From finances to family life to our own fear of failure, there will always be something holding us back from pivoting.
But nearly one year in, it has proven to be the best career decision I’ve made thus far. No, it hasn’t been easy, and yes, it is going to take another year (or the rest of my professional life) to continue to hone and refine my skills, my business model, and my savvy as a small business owner. Nonetheless, if I had to do it all over again, I would—not just because it is exhilarating to forge your own path, challenge yourself, and develop skills, but because of the invaluable lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Here are the top five.
01. Personal and professional growth demands departing from security.
I had a good job with a competitive salary, bonus incentives, benefits, an office with windows, and colleagues I liked and respected. It was comfortable. I knew what I would have if I stayed—continued financial security, the opportunity for promotions, and valuable connections to the broader community.
These are all good things. Very good, in fact. But had I stayed, I would not have learned half of what I have in the last year. I wouldn’t have met any of the fantastic people, attended any of the engaging conferences or events, completed any of the exciting projects, or faced any of the unique challenges that have since impacted my life.
Yet most importantly, I never would have learned that yes, I can do this. Two years ago, I would have balked at the prospect of leaving a good job; I didn’t believe it possible to make a living doing what I love. And while the path has been far from easy, it has also been doable. I never would have known that had I not resolved to step into the daunting unknown.
02. Own your story.
Before I left my job, I had an easy answer to the cocktail party question, “So, what do you do?” My answer required no further explanation or justification. But when I left, my answer to that question invited quizzical looks. People couldn’t seem to understand why I had voluntarily left a good job to start a content writing business.
At first, my explanation was almost apologetic, especially around other attorneys. I took about fifteen minutes to get to the point, making sure to drop in that the decision was voluntary.
Why did I do this?
Frankly, I felt almost ashamed of my choice. Even though I knew that it was the right move, I feared judgment from others. Questions. Confusion. Assumptions.
Making the decision to forge a nontraditional, entrepreneurial career path taught me just how irrelevant the opinions of others are when it comes to doing work we enjoy. But more importantly, it taught me to own my story. I read a great observation in a career book that has stuck with me: Being able to tell people what you do for a living is not the same as living it out day to day. I learned that, after I decided what I wanted to do day in and day out, I had to confidently take ownership of that decision.
03. Working from home is not as glamorous as it seems.
Working from home has its share of perks. You can set your own schedule, wear yoga pants, control the temperature in your workspace, hog the coffee supply as much as you want, and take breaks when you need them. But I know now that working from home isn’t all about pretty Instagram pictures of cute home offices—it is a good old-fashioned grind, just like any office job.
And even for the introverts among us, it can be lonely. Even though my days are increasingly filled with meetings and calls, it is simply not the same as showing up to an office daily, seeing the same faces, sharing stories, collaborating over a boardroom table. Not to mention, home is brimming with tempting distractions, whether a gloriously sunny day or a growing pile of laundry.
While I’ve learned to love and embrace the freedom of setting my own schedule, working from home has also made me realize that the grass is truly not always greener. It takes discipline—not only to put your head down and do your work when no one is holding you accountable, but also to get out of the house and nurture relationships whenever you can.
04. Nurture a grand vision, but be prepared to take small, unglamorous steps to get there.
Someone once told me to “think big, but act small.” Since then, this has governed the way I approach my business, and I am working toward improving my execution of this mantra every single day.
When I started my business, I had a huge vision for what I wanted it to become, but I grew frustrated when I did not see immediate results in that direction. I also overwhelmed myself with colossal tasks that seemed unattainable—frankly, because they were, at least at that juncture. I started to see true growth in my business about five months in, when I finally embraced the daily challenge of doing “the duty of the moment”—what is important right now. The small stuff. The stuff that isn’t glamorous, but is necessary to getting things done.
Tackling my work day by day led to more opportunities, more clarity in my vision, and of course, more confidence in my ability to do my job well. While I still have a big vision for my business, I try to stay focused each day on the simple tasks ahead of me, doing the very best work I can and trusting that yes, in time it will bear fruit.
05. Relationships are the most valuable asset to your career.
People have been my lifeblood throughout this process. Not only have almost all of my client relationships stemmed from personal or professional connections, but the ideas, support, expertise, and encouragement I’ve gleaned from others have made me substantially better at what I do. Every time I meet someone new, I learn something that I can apply to my business and to my life.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that no relationship is unimportant. In school, we are often taught to “network,” and sometimes the institutional career center wisdom teaches us to view people as opportunities to get into a particular field or company. Not only is this an ineffective approach to forming authentic relationships, it dehumanizes the people we meet and interact with. I’ve learned that it is critical to value people for who they are, not for what they can do for you. You may spend three hours over coffee with someone with whom no business relationship is fostered, but both of your lives will be the richer for it. And that alone is enough.
If you are considering starting a business, or if you simply want to pivot in your career, I wholeheartedly support you. There is so much to learn, and the process is thrilling. Remember to embrace the unknown, own your story, value others, and prepare to take small steps with big vision. I will be cheering you on from my gloriously unglamorous home office.