Letting Go of the Corporate Agenda; "Finding Yourself" in Small Business

by Robert E. Reuter

We frequently work with clients from the corporate world whose goals are to continue their careers independently, in their own small businesses. These clients may go through significant internal struggles relative to their former lives as members of large organizations. These struggles, in turn, have equally significant impacts on how they view their experiences in going through this transition and the changes they may need to make in their personal and professional lives.

The experiences clients may find most challenging usually will not become fully apparent until they have taken the first steps and committed to getting their new businesses started. Until then, the corporate environment continues to provide a familiar backdrop of support, even as one plans to leave it behind.

Dealing With the Feelings

A client in this transitional mode may unwittingly revert to the feeling that the real need is simply to get another job like the one just left behind. No matter how much thought and planning may have gone into making a substantive change, it is no small undertaking to break the habitual response to go back to what was working before. This is particularly true, of course, where family obligations and financial survival is at stake. It is not unlikely that there are feelings of guilt to overcome as well.

Clients trained and having succeeded in corporate positions will regularly be haunted by "gremlins", reminding them that whatever they ARE doing is not what they SHOULD be doing. This is where a career development professional/practitioner can provide great value in helping clients build confidence in what they ARE doing. Pursuing what one is passionate about is not necessarily self-indulgence, though that may well be what many of us have been taught to believe by parents and/or grandparents who grew up during the Great Depression and the World Wars.

Another "not unusual" feeling is seeming to be at loose ends for substantial periods of time--continually, perhaps. The new sense of freedom that comes with an independent business life leaves our clients unfettered to move about and, generally, to derive more productive, enjoyable use of their time. Again this can seem like self-indulgence, stirring up guilt and slowing down the momentum needed to succeed. To maintain their perspective and productivity, clients need to know and be reminded frequently that this is the permanent background they will be living with as they proceed toward their new objectives, and that it isn't "wrong."

One of the largest risks of leaving a "corporate family" is falling into a pattern of isolation and loneliness. Fortunately, the networking and overall level of interpersonal activity necessary for business development itself helps one to overcome isolation and loneliness. Building relationships with other members of the professional business community, particularly with prospective clients and/or customers, acts as a "vaccine" against the isolation, loneliness, and depression they might otherwise feel.

Steps to Consider

Most important is to help our clients find convincing answers to the question "What do you do?" These answers must be as convincing to the clients as they are to the people they tell. Clients really CAN identify what they most like about themselves, what they feel are their best accomplishments, what they do best and, in general, what they are most proud of and most capable of replicating. Having these facts at their fingertips, they will derive the confidence they need in their ability to go forward in their new work, as previously experienced in their prior positions.

Retraining assistance, if available, is an excellent way for a client to broaden the range of information and skills for finalizing a decision as to an ultimate professional direction. It is also an excellent way to add know-how in areas where hands-on experience has been limited. This contributes further to strengthening clients' believing in themselves and the confidence with which they will begin to view their evolving sense of expertise in the fields they are entering.

Professional organizations and local or regional business organizations are also helpful in clarifying specific areas in which our clients have particular interest. These organizations meet both clients' interpersonal and business development needs by providing in-depth understanding through networking activity as well as a range of formal business communications.

What is Right for the Client

As our clients become comfortable with the lack of imposed structure and the complete freedom they have to determine their own agendas, their evolution into personal and professional interests that keep them stimulated and productive becomes self-sustaining. They gain momentum. This is not to say that family, economic, and other constraints may not exist that must be taken into account. Our goal as career development professionals and practitioners is to provide a beacon on which our clients can set their own compasses and navigate toward independent destinations that best meet their individual requirements.

Robert E. Reuter recently launched an independent consulting practice after 25+ years of corporate management experience with IBM, Xerox, Ogden Services, Pan Am World Services, and Bausch & Lomb. His consulting and coaching focuses on personal, professional, and career development and planning, business and organizational strategy, and communications. To contact Bob, visit:
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