Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Brand New Lemonade Stand

When I conceived this entry in late August, it was all different. It was supposed to show off how smart-ass I was, how I had everything planned ahead, and how everything would fall into my lap as usual. Now, I am going to tell you how having the right mindset prior to adverse events helps staying put when plans fall through.

The job that I used to have until a week ago was the perfect vehicle to survive the recession: the pay was stable and relatively good given that I was hired to do something without prior official experience, the tasks were not too demanding most of the time, and it was 15 minutes away from my home. However, there was absolutely no growth potential and my “honeymoon” lasted for just 7 months until my first boss quit and I was relegated from doing primarily IT work to doing primarily line of business tasks, government paperwork. The remaining almost 2 years have been a rollercoaster of emotions, adventures, and opportunities that came to a very sudden and unexpected stop.

I was getting ready to slowly phase out of the job by reducing my work hours to free up time for my personal development projects when they fired me out of nowhere. I didn't want to quit right away because I have over $50,000 in student loans and I wanted to keep the minimal income for the monthly payments. In addition, relaying my knowledge and training a co-worker in IT infrastructure & procurement decision-making would have taken some time that wasn’t there when I came to terms that I needed to get off that road to nowhere. Most importantly, I didn't want to be the a-hole leaving during a busy season.

This wasn't the first time I tried to cut the connection. I took a week off in April and it would have been longer had I not gotten invited to the Israel trip. At the time, I was quite upset with the bad timing but now I realize that 5 months ago I would not have been able to separate well (and it's scary for me to think right now how I will reflect on these days next spring). The main reason was and still is my realization that I am not yet cut out for a typical career of working for somebody who has a playbook that needs to be followed.

In the seven years of my “adult” life, I've worked for over half-a-dozen companies in-person (2 were telework — they are different). Only one of them was a large company. In small businesses, I wore many different hats well beyond my main duties, and that was fun until the point when I would feel underappreciated. It wasn't the pay (I did get a few bonuses even from the boss who fired me), it was that no matter how much expertise I had provided nobody would give any authority to me because it was their toys, with which I was playing. And I wanted my own toys if they couldn't share.

The first time the entrepreneurship bug bit me seriously was in the summer of 2006 when I wanted to continue an idea that my friends had given up. I had to table it when faced with the lack of any business education, at the time, and the lack of time to do anything further than some designs (I still have them). The last time the bug started biting was last summer and it hasn't stopped biting ever since: I am getting close to breaking into the third dozen of ideas from lifestyle businesses to humongous multi-national companies. So I wasn't leaving stable pay for nothing.

There are only just a few minor hindrances to my plans of universal proportions: I do not have formal business education (minor in business administration is a stretch) nor I have substantial expertise in any field proven by prior experience (nobody cares about self-education & book smarts) nor I have a track record of personal accomplishments (I have done a lot of behind-the-scenes work on some well-known projects but I never received public commendations for that). Without either of these (or better all of them), no investor will talk to me seriously. And these were the reasons why I had decided that I needed as much free time as possible.

My plan was simple: I would prove my business acumen, show my expertise in marketing & user experience, and create a track record by working pro bono as a consultant with local small businesses and non-profits. The savings I put away for a lump-sum student loan payment upon getting a career job would become my ticket to personal independence as they were enough for about 12 months of maintaining my current lifestyle. And the 15 paid hours per week that I wanted to keep would have covered the minimal payments on the loans.

Had I been thinking differently, I can't imagine how I would have taken the news of complete employment termination. I definitely did not see it coming because my boss had not had any issues with me asking for such an arrangement and because I had not noticed any more complaints toward me than toward my co-workers and I had thought I was rather needed with my IT skills/knowledge. Although the termination paperwork calls it “mutual”, it wasn't nice or pleasant at all. I am still surprised how I managed to keep my cool during the whole procedure including being escorted back to my desk and watched as I was packing up.

On the bright side, this past week of unemployment has been great. Once the initial shock from the situation went away (it took me just 2 days of action & suspense movies), I started planning and executing my goals. I am reading real books, sending tons of e-mails, deciding what I am going to study, and just enjoying the feeling of freedom. To be honest, it is not going as fast as I would like it to be (attention deficit is no jokes for me and some people are less responsive) but at least it is going somewhere.

It might sound surprising but my biggest fear right now is not running out of money because I don't have the anticipated income. My biggest fear is relaxing too much and giving up on an organized routine. I just know that the second I tell myself, “You don't have to rush anywhere,” all of my plans will collapse like a house of cards.

So what's with the lemonade stand? It's nothing more than an allusion to the old saying and a great documentary that every laid-off or fired person must watch to get inspired.

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