5 Things I’ve Learned Since Leaving my Full Time Job to Run a Startup

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For a short period of time after you make the ridiculous decision to leave the safety of an aircraft to tumble into the sky, you feel as though you’re in free fall. No control, just falling. Then, just as the weight of that decision to jump hits you and you realize how crazy what you just did really is, you remember something: you have a parachute. You remember that you’re not alone, that you’re not the first, and probably won’t be the last person to do this crazy thing. You can do this. And all of a sudden, it’s exciting, it’s thrilling, it’s the best thing you’ve ever done. You pull the cord and you drift back down to safety, if not landing directly on your feet, at least something close. And now you’re hooked. This is what it has felt like to leave my full time job to start my own company. Today I’m here to talk to you about what “falling” feels like, and what I’ve learned so far on the way down.

  1. The Importance of your ‘Why’: The first, and arguably most important experience I went through after leaving the security of a full time job was the opportunity to clear the clutter in my head and focus on me. Sometimes when we work for other people, we don’t have time to stop and reflect on ourselves and remember why we do what we do day in and day out. We are unhappy and we don’t really know why. We blame our bosses, we blame our coworkers, we blame our workplace. But we don't stop to think about ourselves. After I left my full-time job, I took time and was able to identify my strengths, passions, and gifts – the things I loves doing. With these in mind, I set new boundaries for my next job so that whatever I did, I would make sure my role revolved around my gifts. Now, I can serve the organizations I support better, and find lots of happiness in the day-to-day “grind”. I highly recommend reading Simon Sinek “Start with Why” if you’re at this point in your career.
  1. Potential without a Paycheck: Maybe this sounds obvious, but having a traditional job is limiting. The scary part is that I didn’t realize how limiting it was until I left. The comfort of a regular paycheck sets your own glass ceiling. Knowing that you only have to do “X” things to get “Y” direct deposited into your account every week is stifling, even if you consider yourself an ambitious, hard working person as I did. Once I left, I had no regular paycheck. I get asked all the time if this is scary. The logical answer is, well, of course, I have to be careful and have a plans for that, but scary? Absolutely not. It’s challenging, yes, and challenges bring out the best in people. All of a sudden my personal value is not defined by the numbers on my paycheck. My self worth is a product of what I actually do, not what time I clocked in and out of a building. My motivation shifted, I had energy and drive to go after everything and anything. Once I released limitation from a regular paycheck, I was open to re-defined who I am, what I do, and even what I’m worth.
  1. You Aren’t Falling Alone, You Have Your Network: I know what you’re thinking. Courtney, this all sounds great, but living without a steady income is still really scary! Remember what I said about jumping out of a plane? You do have a parachute, and you’re not the first person to do this. Jumping out of a plane without a parachute isn’t just stupid, it’s suicide, wouldn’t you agree? On the same note, I wouldn’t have left my full time job without having a solid network of people to support me first and break the fall if I needed it. (if you’re here, I highly suggest You Network is Your Net Worth by Porter Gale). When I left my job, my initial response was not to go looking for part-time work. I went after my network. I had meetings set up nearly every single day. Sometimes 2-3 per day. I’d meet with one person I knew, told them my situation, and they would refer me to two or three new people to talk to. My network grew exponentially in a matter of a few short months, and that network is valuable. Not only could I lean on that network to get a regular job if I had to, but within that network I’ve connected to potential investors, mentors, partners, and customers for my startup. Even more fulfilling, I’ve been able to make valuable connections between members of my network, and help people I never would have been able to help before.

“It's not about knocking on doors till the "right" one opens: it's breaking them all down until you reach your goal.

  1. Creativity Unleashed: I left a full-time job to work for a pre-revenue startup that can’t afford to pay me. I had two choices: opt for a part-time job, or look for creative ways to make a living doing the things I love. Of course I chose the latter. Following my passions, I’ve started consulting and speaking for an income. When you have the guts to leave a job and go after creating your own income, you automatically have a story worth sharing. I’ve found a way to use the story of my startup to do things I love for an income while supporting that startup.
  1. Instant Qualification, Now You’re ‘For Real’: whether or not you’re successful with your startup, when investors, friend, family, customer, etc hear you’re doing this full time, you are instantaneously qualified. There’s no longer any questions of your devotion to your idea. People trust you, and they trust you’re a safe bet to be leading a startup. Investors invest in people, not products, so the fact that I can now say I’m full-time with my startup is having an incredible impact on our ability to attract investment.

Today, I wake every morning both absolutely excited and absolutely terrified at the exact same time.

I’m not writing this to say leaving your full time job is easy, but I am saying that it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I love what I do day in and day out, help more people than ever before, and am accelerating my startup in ways I never could have otherwise. My advice to you: grab your parachute and jump!