If you’re sitting in your cubicle right now, fantasizing about marching into your boss’s office, handing over your two-week notice and hopping on a one-way ticket to Costa Rica … you’re definitely not alone. As more and more professionals embrace the trendy gig economy and Millennials choose to lead their careers differently, entrepreneurism is at an all-time high.
But here’s the fine print that many forget: your stress levels won’t exactly disappear when you start a company. In fact, many overworked professionals consider the freedom of working to be the magical solution to make life easier — but the opposite is usually true.
If you’re tempted to hit the road — take a cue from these five entrepreneurs who made the jump from super-stressful gigs. Their insights just might surprise you.
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“Entrepreneurism is a 24/7 job.”
After he graduated, Nelson Lee spent a few years at J.P. Morgan Investment Bank and Tencent Technologies before he was recruited to join a financial advisory firm. It was backed by another national life insurer, Guardian Life. He labels the experience as ‘intense’ since he was constantly dealing with various investment strategies and tasked with hitting distribution goals.
What pushed him to leave: “I felt that the insurance industry was too archaic in its methods, client experience, in general, was poor and the industry as a whole had way too many under-qualified people handling someone’s financial future, and really needed a revolutionary disruption in terms of technology, client experiences, and industry standards.
The company he started: Pacific Wealth Solutions, where he’s now the managing partner.
What stress is like now: Lee says stress definitely doesn’t go away when you become your own boss — but it definitely changes. Because you’re in charge of every aspect of your company, the responsibilities pile on, non-stop. “It truly is a 24/7 job and is the exact opposite of what a ‘regular” 9-5 job would be like, but it is so intensely satisfying with a lot more freedom to express your talents and realize your visions,” he explains.
His tip on making the entrepreneurial jump: “Have realistic expectations on work-life balance, and also, shorten your expectations on short-term earnings. Nobody should found a startup solely for the reason of earning higher short-term income, or escaping stress of the current job, because they’re going to get the exact opposite. Rather, the right reasons to become a founder would be reasons to solve problems and change the world for the better, and the determination to be willing to sacrifice short-term income and work-life-balance, in exchange for a much higher long-term payout, as well as feelings of accomplishment and freedom.”
“Start with a side hustle.”
For 10 years, Lauren Wilson-Policke working in public relations and marketing for corporate fashion, accessory and lifestyle brands in New York City. Though she’s never been one to shy away from hard work and dedication, there were other aspects that didn’t sit well with her. From the long hours and the internal politics to the instability, lack of support and unrealistic expectations, it took a major role in her personal and professional confidence.
What pushed her to leave: Truth be told, Wilson-Policke says she’s always had the entrepreneurial itch but was terrified of diving into the deep end. She was worried that if she left an executive-level role and then didn’t manage to build her own company successfully, coming back would be that much more difficult. But when her previous employer started restructuring, she took it as the green light to go for it. Two years later, she’s grateful for her bravery.
The company she started: LWP Public Relations.
What stress is like now: She definitely has plenty of it — but it’s much more manageable than when she was listening to someone else bark orders. “Since you are the person calling the shots, deciding what to do/not to do can be very stressful, especially when you don’t have a team of people that you can brainstorm and bounce ideas off of. You just have to trust your gut and experience,” she explains. “You have to wear so many hats when you are an entrepreneur which means being able to seamlessly transition from one role to the next. It can be overwhelming as I usually have to learn these new roles as I go by investing a ton of time into research but since I’m the one reaping the rewards, it makes it all worthwhile. I’m in control of my own destiny and that is really empowering.”
His tip on making the entrepreneurial jump: “Try out a small side hustle while you’re still employed full-time. I was always networking and taking on small projects while working in my corporate roles because it kept me inspired and challenged me creatively – plus the extra cash was great for my savings account. Ultimately, when I decided to start LWP PR, those were the people who hired me first or referred me to my first clients. I’d also start putting away some money in a savings account because there are bound to be many unexpected expenses for you to get your new gig off the ground.”
Before he branched out on his own, Eric Solis had a demanding gig that left him overworked and always on edge. As a chairman’s council retail stockbroker at a major Wall Street firm, he worked in a commission-only position. This means every single month, he’d start at zero income.
What pushed him to leave: Part of being a stockbroker is taking someone’s entire life’s savings and investing it on their behalf into bonds and stocks. Since the market price fluctuates wildly, it wasn’t always easy to be beneficial to many people. “The industry was great with regard to the markets and the economy — but the scale was too small. I could only help a certain number of people and I want to make an impact on the world for the better,” he shared.
The company he started: MovoCash, Inc.
What stress is like now: Though Solis says he’s far more stressed now than he was when he worked for someone else, he now feels he has an incredible purpose. Though many founders believe once you raise millions of dollars, your anxiety levels will lower, Solis says it’s actually the opposite. “Everything speeds up by multiples once you have a real business that is scaling. Now it’s time to execute. Your mind races across multiple strategies and potential outcomes,” he continues. “The weight of having investors relying on you for a 10x return on millions of dollars invested in you may cause you to lose a little sleep.”
His tip on making the entrepreneurial jump: “Be intentional. Make sure that your partner and family are onboard because it will affect them as well. Be prepared for the worst. Have at least a year’s worth of overhead in the bank to support yourself. Talk with industry people that you trust for insights and advice about your business concept. Have your team, strategic and operating partners identified.”
“Success takes time.”
For many years, Violette de Ayala was working in a senior-level position in local government — and well, she wasn’t happy. She grew frustrated with the number of hours required for results — and all of the hoops she had to jump through. In an effort to find content, she started her own side hustle — and never imagined it would lead her in a different direction.
What pushed her to leave: Along with her hectic, chaotic and unpredictable role, de Ayala was also raising three kids and nurturing a part-time business. She started to suffer from anxiety, high blood pressure and was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. The road she needed to take was scary — but also clear. “The push to leave came down to making a choice and releasing activities in order to gain control of my life again. I could no longer balance between two roles of working a job and growing a side hustle. It came down to do I want to be sane again or live in a state of frantic insanity,” she shares.
The company she started: FemCity.
What stress is like now: It’s there — but it’s under control. Mostly because she’s able to contribute in a way that brings her joy and schedule her life on her own terms. “When I start to feel the high level of stress again, I remind myself that I chose this route in order to find balance and freedom of being an entrepreneur. I take off most Friday’s and have more flexibility to achieve a more healthy lifestyle while working on my businesses,” she explains.
Her tip on making the entrepreneurial jump: “The journey of becoming an entrepreneur will entail long hours, high levels of stress, demands of consistency and accountability but the rewards will be worth every moment. It does take time and most success stories don’t happen overnight. Society unrealistically shares the successes of many as happening with little stress or in a short amount of time. It may take years and you have to be in it for the very turbulent ride. The good news is that everyone has the ability to leave their stressful gig to be an entrepreneur. Change your mindset from ‘working a job’ to ‘successful entrepreneur’ and you’re on your way.”
Before he started his own company, Scott Petinga worked for an ad agency that basically required at 24/7 commitment. Because he was young and eager, he didn’t mind and believed he was paving a solid career path toward mega success. He says the pressure is intense since ‘you’re only as good as your last success’, and any hiccup could not only cost you an account but your job.
What pushed him to leave: A few things, according to Petinga. Even though he met all of his KPIs and was entitled to a bonus, he was snubbed due to financial issues within the company. This was frustrating, especially since senior management still received their bonus, without consideration for the rest of the staff. The biggest turning point was when Petinga was diagnosed with cancer. His bosses promised to be supportive but as he went through recovery and treatment, it became evident they expected the same level of performance, even at the expense of his health.
The company he started: The Scott Petinga Group.
What stress is like now: On a daily level, Petinga says he’s less stressed. However, as an entrepreneur, he assumes a sense of responsibility for his employees and their families, which brings a different type of pressure. Because he’s doing what he loves though, it is all worth any turbulence that comes his way. He’s also able to contribute to a cause that’s very near-and-dear to his values. “Each of the start-ups I’ve launched since leaving that agency has been designed with a giving-back to society component. Particularly concerned about how inadequately victims of testicular cancer are currently treated in this country, I’ve directed much of my focus, and a steady stream of proceeds, to funding programs that will make a difference in this area,” he shares. “The work is rewarding and leaves me feeling great at the end of each day.”
His tip on making the entrepreneurial jump: “Too often, we are complacent, taking comfort in going with the situation at hand, even if that situation is slowly but surely killing us and making our lives miserable. Be bold and start making steps towards freeing yourself from a stressful and unfulfilling career. I’d point you towards following your passions. When you’re passionate about your work, stress becomes a temporary symptom of a challenge you’re sure to conquer. Once you’ve done so, you can bask in all the good feelings that come with doing what you love.”
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