Updated: Mar 14, 2019
Making the decision to give up a great job to jump into entrepreneurship. And tips on how you can think about changing your own career.
"WTF?!" is something I heard several times after I made it public that I decided to step down as CEO of arguably the coolest and fastest-growing entity within my lifelong employer, Aetna. And what was even more crazy? I didn't feel an ounce of regret.
The journey that led to that decision was long and non-linear. Let me share a bit more about the process and thoughts I had as I decided to make "the leap."
The Itchy Phase
It all starts with an itch.
Although I had spent my career "first half" working for one company, the company was so big that there were many different areas, roles and paths. The itch would inevitably arrive every three to four years.
I always said I was a bit of a masochist; just when I hit my stride – when I was seen as the authority, things came easily, and I was well respected – I would desire more. Even after I had experience and knew every time I switched I would inevitably experience a "regret zone," I still couldn't ignore the itch.
As the years passed, I realized this itch was more than an itch. It also marked the absence of inspiration.
I had spent so much time exhaling – breathing as much life as possible into others – that I realized it was time for me now to re-fuel my inspiration air tank. I still loved the people, the mission and the intellectual stimulation it brought every single day.
I had spent so much time exhaling - breathing as much life as possible into others - that I realized it was time for me now to re-fuel my inspiration air tank.
I realized that having a challenge inspires me. I literally crave a challenge like I crave chocolate (and I'm a chocolate addict, I admit it). I crave proving to myself and, admittedly, to others that I can do something I or others thought not possible.
When I get that inspiration, it literally feels like Christmas Eve when I am getting ready to wrap the most exciting present we got for our kids. I know you've felt it, too. Knowing and capitalizing on your own personal inspiration can be the difference between night and day.
Said another way, there are two Erins – Inspired Erin and Uninspired Erin. They are two totally different people.
Once I knew the itch was approaching, I started my standard "discovery" phase, which always includes asking myself two simple questions:
1. Where was my family at and what needs were unmet?
2. What next big thing(s) did I want to learn that would ensure I was approximately 50% uncomfortable?
My children were coming into the age where they (and we) were incredibly busy with activities. My son started hockey the year before, and that alone threw our lives into a new stratosphere of chaos.
I simply didn’t feel like I had any breathing room.
Most mornings, I could barely breathe as I attempted to get them off to school on time. I was inevitable always running late for something – a meeting, getting the kids where they need to be, etc. If one of them got sick, I held my breath as my husband and I played the game of “Whose day is less busy and important?” to figure out who would stay home with them.
At work, I also felt like I had conquered some big mountains. I had been learning exponentially over the last several years. And while I was still learning, it wasn’t at the pace that I subconsciously crave.
Oftentimes, I actually wish I didn’t crave that quite as much.
I yearned for a voice inside me that would say, “Just enjoy things, Erin. Enjoy the easier road you’ve paved. Take some time to just roll forward at a more comfortable pace.” But "The Itch" voice always trumped that "Take-It-Easy" voice.
Around the same time this was running in my head, I was on a business trip, and I sat next to a nice woman on the plane. I learned she had left the corporate world many years ago to start her own company. She beamed happiness and inspiration. I was intrigued and began to ask her all about it.
I told her I was considering my next move, and much to my surprise, I was thinking it might not be at the company I had worked for all my career thus far. I also expressed that I must be crazy, as my reputation was strong and I was essentially considered a "rising star.”
She looked at me, and so quickly, succinctly and matter of factly said, "Who says this is the top?"
I realized then that my definition of the top of my career was largely based off of looking from one mountain range, and I hadn't even contemplated that there may be many other mountain tops I couldn't even see from where I was standing.
'Who says this is the top?' I realized then that my definition of the top was largely based off of looking from one mountain range, and I hadn't even contemplated that there may be many other mountain tops that I couldn't even see from where I was standing.
I identified several options and paths during my discovery phase. Different than the past, though, these were not distinct jobs.
I identified categories and opportunities, and, most importantly, I identified the thing I needed most to scratch my itch, which was 50% ambiguity and 50% space to experiment in that world of ambiguity.
It was an option so unclear to define (including to my poor husband), yet so clear to me at the same time, that it was the perfect scratch to my itch.
When I announced I was leaving my job, I had a semi-defined path. But I also hadn’t set it in stone. The greatest gift I gave to myself was the space and time to experiment and think and pivot until it felt just right.
As I was working through my thoughts and ideas, I was also listening.
And I was overwhelmed by notes and feedback from so many people that they would greatly miss the inspiration they got from my authentic leadership. It was the common thread from nearly everyone I knew and worked with. I thought, “Could it really be that simple?” Yet, I also knew it was rare.
It then all just started coming together.
I realized my own “secret sauce” was leading people in a way that raises the bar and doing it in a way that is uniquely me. I also realized that I had actually been avoiding this path, as I thought there were already too many people and companies in this space. I absolutely loathe doing “normal,” and I had been worried I would just be another coaching and leadership development company.
And then it hit me. I didn’t have to do “normal.”
There were so many things I didn’t like about the traditional solutions. There was a new way to do things. There was a fun way to do things. There was a more effective way to do things.
I also realized there is a ginormous problem to be solved. Corporate America is severely lacking leadership that is authentic, diverse and balanced.
And it isn’t necessarily the diverse workforce that we need to change to get there. We need to change the jobs.
We need to give inspiration, guidance and PERMISSION to a more diverse group of people to take over and change the course of not just the workforce but the results we achieve as a result.
One day it hit me – catalyzed by a few inspiring conversations that put me over the edge – if not me, then who?
And so b Authentic inc was conceived.
It’s not just my next career. It’s now my life’s purpose – to help others have the success I had while also being authentic, diverse and (mostly) balanced. And I now have incredible confidence that this is where I’m supposed to be.
I will never forget the moment when it all just clicked. I was listening to The Goop podcast - an interview that Gwyneth Paltrow did with Oprah. Oprah said something so profound that will be with me forever.
She said we all have our own vibrational frequencies ... That you should want your frequency to be the strongest ... That we all should work to reach the highest, truest version of ourselves as human beings. I truly believe I’ve tuned in to my frequency.
It's important to let you know that I have no idea what the middle or ending of this story will be. I can't fully articulate my five-year plan. I can't provide you a detailed business plan and projections for this business.
I am way more excited about the journey – the learning, the new people I’m meeting, the stories of impact I know we will hear along the way.
I am shocked by the resolve and incredible confidence I have in the path I’m taking. I don’t regret giving up the big job. I don’t fear failure since failure is now inherently part of the equation.
Maybe it's the 300-plus inspiring podcasts I've listened to over the last year. Maybe it's that I don't regret a single career move and risk I've made in the past. And maybe it's that I'm simply crazy.
Stay tuned to find out.