“If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well that’s all nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury
It was the spring of ‘97 and I was working as a recruiter for a small staffing agency. I was leading the group in placements, and felt like I had found a position that would fit me and where I would be a success.
But change was in the air. A competitor tried to recruit me away. At the same time the agency I was already at was being sold and it was likely that the owner (and my teacher and mentor) would likely be retiring. This produced a fair amount of confusion in me; trying to decide if I should stay or start over with the other agency.
It happened that one of my favorite personal growth writers Alan Cohen was holding a workshop in a nearby state. I went to that workshop and came away with a great revelation; that I had more than two choices.
This is where one of my favorite quotes came in. I had always been introverted and somewhat quiet. Most of my work life I had been a software engineer. I was not one to take big risks. The quote inspired me. It made me both excited and nervous. Keeping the quote in mind I decided to make the jump. I decided to open my own business.
I turned in my resignation. I started to write a business plan. To my dismay my employer did not walk me out the door when I resigned (as happens in most staffing agencies). In my spare time I continued to make plans. I found an office subletting from a local web host provider. I bought office furniture and a new computer with Office and contact management software.
In retrospect the scary thing is that I did this without any savings. I had been careful enough with money and had a great credit rating with lots of credit cards. I bought everything on credit and even used credit card checks to pay my rent and make car payments. After half a year in business I had $30,000 of debt. But I had jumped and I was building my wings as I was falling. It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. I worked hard and managed to get my wings in place before I hit bottom (ran out of money and credit) and I started to soar. After a year all the debt was paid off and I was flying high.
Unfortunately I cannot say that the flying was all smooth after that. There have been some difficulties along the way. Not long after I paid off my debts the DOT-COM crash came, and most of my business went away. I spent years struggling. It took me those years to realize that I was always falling and that I needed to constantly be building new wings to stay airborne. I have changed my business model several times and I am frequently adapting my contracts to fit my clients.
Regardless of the varied quantity of business I feel that I have been successful. I have built a business around my own work style and personality. I have helped people. I have built a recruiting business based on ethics and quality and it is something that I am proud of. My risk taking succeeded because I also had the perseverance to continue, and that I figured out that just continuing to stay in business was a risk, and that I would need to stay continually awake and aware to prevent a crash.
While I would not encourage others to quit a job without savings or a business plan (unless you share my MBTI type…) I encourage taking risks. Great accomplishments will never happen without risk taking. Plan as much as you need to but make the leap.