Lately risk has been in my mind a lot. On the business sites I visit, there’s one topic that comes up a lot.
“I want to start a business but I’m too scared to quit my job.”
It’s something I completely understand because I was that person for years. I had the kind of parents who were continually like, “Don’t go high up the climbing frame, you’ll fall,” “Don’t do a forward roll, you’ll break your neck,” and that combined with some other life events made me super risk averse.
(I am the kind of weird person who will be terrified of a chair lift but totally excited about booking a trip to a contaminated nuclear disaster zone or being solely responsible for six huskies and a bit of old wood pretending to be a sleigh, in the mountains. Basically I’m not scared of anything I wasn’t taught to be scared of as a child).
I changed my mindset towards the gamble of going self-employed when I realised that risk is always present regardless. It’s an unavoidable part of being a living being. Being at the top of the food chain doesn’t solve the issue (see also: dinosaurs; the human obsession with destruction). I also realised that all the failures and rollercoasters of people going self-employed were their stories. That shouldn’t put me off, because that didn’t mean they were mine.
There’s also the necessary distinction of likely risk. Obviously trying to climb Mount Everest is riskier than sitting in my house all day. Preparing to climb Mount Everest is obviously less risky than not doing any preparation.
There is a very real risk you won’t make it in business.
There is also a very real risk you’ll regret not trying.
The 2016 turnaround
2016 was a really, really hard year with several family and friend deaths very close together. It sounds like a cliche but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that had affected my decision making too.
I didn’t want to wake up one day and regret that I’d just spent my life working 10-12 hour days without making any tangible difference to myself or anyone else. Sure, I’ve been on nice holidays and had nice experiences and I enjoyed them all, but was it really worth giving up all my time and freedom for those few days?
On top of that, I realised that I’d come to the point where my career wasn’t going any further. The only way to grow was to work for a bigger company and be some kind of team manager. That works for a lot of people, and that’s great, but I’m not that kind of person. I love to be doing things, not managing other people doing things. I’m in my element writing, planning, scheduling, researching, learning, creating, designing, photographing. All the ings. That’s why startup life suited me well in that respect; it meant getting to do a lot of different things.
2015 to early 2017 we went on a lot of trips. Vegas, Paris, Kiev, Chernobyl, Tromso, Amsterdam, Kundle, and Innsbruck. From mid 2016 onwards, they were all chances to escape. It was a coping mechanism to be planning the next holiday or researching places to go and what we could do there.
I get overpeopled quite easily, especially in face to face situations. I work at my best when I’m told what my goal is and then left to get on with it, with occasional check-ins as needed. I’m good at making decisions *with* people, but I hate being told what to do. In theory I could be a great asset for a company because I just get on and get results (look ma, no hands!), but the reality is that a lot of people who start or do well in companies like to control everything (I’m the same tbh), and stick relentlessly to that even when the stats and data clearly show something else. Opinion over data is always a dangerous way to make decisions.
A lot of people mitigate the risk of going self-employed by starting a side business and building it up, and/or saving up a lot of cash. I did neither of those things, partly because it would have been conflict of interest, and partly because I was treading water just trying to keep everything together as it was. Looking back now, I’m not surprised I was grumpy and resentful so much. I was continuously sleep deprived from 5am starts, eating tons of sugar just to stay awake, resentful that my free time when I did get home was finishing my 10k steps for the day, and resenting missing out on so much of my evening social life and events. It meant having a hot chocolate at the pub and then leaving early anyway…and that was on a good night. I’d given up so much already that it didn’t feel like there was much left to lose.
Wanting more is human nature. Feeling a loss twice as much as a gain is also human nature.
When you’re in the tech industry, in whatever capacity, you don’t really worry too much about where your next job will come from. There’s a lot of money thrown around all the time. The tradeoff is providing your soul to the highest bidder. In that sense, the risk was pretty low. A lot of the skills I have can be done remotely or in a freelance capacity.
Even after I finished my notice period, I was still second-guessing myself and wondering if I should get another job. I applied for a couple of things but my heart wasn’t in it at all. Even the thought of thinking about what to wear for an interview was draining (my last couple of jobs I was headhunted by CEOs who already knew me, and I wore jeans).
Looking back now, I was clearly physically and emotionally exhausted in every possible way. After a few weeks off, and some sleep, and getting back into a normal sleeping pattern, I probably would have been much better. Would I be feeling as good as I am now? Probably not.
Where we are now
Trusting other people more than I trust myself wasn’t a good position to be in. So in spring 2017, it was time to back myself for once.
As it was, it worked out. We may not have had an existing business in its current form, but Joe had been self-employed as a freelancer/contractor for years, and I had a lot of experience in the hosting industry. The final piece of the puzzle was figuring out how to get customers, and once I had a strategy for that, we were ready to take the plunge.
Now I think of money in a whole new way. I’m far more conscious about what we spend, who our money goes to, whether we really need things for us that could be things for the business instead. I have the freedom to get out of bed when I want (cats willing), I’ve made so many new friends from our customers, and I can look after myself. I can eat properly, because we have time to cook. I can have a lunchtime swim three times a week, which is amazing in this heat. I can sit outside on the deck and just enjoy the sunshine and the butterflies without my mind racing through a million things. I’ve even finished up all the bath and shower stuff I’ve been given as presents over the last few years (!)
We have crazy busy times, we have quieter times, but I’m incredibly grateful and humbled by how many people have put their faith in us and trusted us with something that means so much to them. And it’s the reason I work my butt off every day, because every day I’m conscious that these people deserve the best we can give them. Show up, shine on.