In February of this year, I celebrated my 7th anniversary of leaving the corporate world to pursue a lifelong dream of opening a bakery. Having spent the prior seven years as an investment banker, I realized that now I can compare my two careers, to use an investment banker cliché, on a “apples to apples” basis.
On the one hand, I’ve made a lot less money in these last seven years than I did in my first seven. On the other hand, I haven’t worn a pantsuit since early 2004. Pantyhose either, for that matter. I’ve successfully avoided bailouts, mergers and layoffs, and I control my own destiny. But to control my own destiny, I’ve invested much of my life savings, not to mention time and sweat equity.
My day-to-day job is not glamorous. On any given day, it can involve washing dishes, paying and filing bills, bussing tables, putting out figurative fires, patiently explaining to a customer why we can’t tint chocolate icing pink, and endless other headaches. Despite that, I love what I do for a living, and I am infinitely happier in life than if I believe I might’ve been had I not left.
I am living my childhood dream of owning my own business. To top that off, I make sweets all day and get to decorate cakes for a living — two things that constantly bring smiles to peoples’ faces. My daughters understand what I do and are proud of me. So I can confidently tell you that leaving a corporate job to turn your passion into a profession can be immensely fulfilling, as long as you don’t go about it haphazardly.
Are You Realistic About What You’ll Gain?
One of the main reasons that people leave the corporate world is a desire to “be my own boss.” Being your own boss is highly overrated. I am by far the most demanding boss I’ve ever had. When you’re self-employed, you don’t get the luxury of checking out when you leave the office. Your work takes up some portion of your mind space 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Your business, your customers’ experience and your employees’ livelihoods live and die on the decisions you make. That’s a lot of pressure, and you’ll make demands on yourself accordingly.
For example, I have friends who work at corporate jobs and complain about a meager 6-week maternity leave policy. That’s pretty skimpy, I agree. When my second daughter was born at the beginning of our busiest season of the year, I took four days off before I had to come back to work. Four days. I couldn’t blame it on an awful boss. It was my fault — poor planning, in the first place, coupled with bad hiring. My staff couldn’t function without me, and had I not come back so soon and spent many days that December working 12-16 hours, my business would’ve collapsed. You may not be answering to one person in particular, but that doesn’t mean you’re not answering to anyone.
Other major drivers for starting your own business can be money, quality of life, fame or expertise. All of these are good reasons to switch careers, but most of the time you won’t be able to achieve any of them overnight. Be realistic about how much time it will take to achieve your goals.
Are You Ready to Start at the Bottom?
You may be extremely good at your hobby, but when people start paying you for it, you are subject to a new set of standards. Your age and experience in your first career won’t necessarily give you a head start in your new career. Be open to gaining experience through internships or apprenticeships, even if they are unpaid, and expect that many of your co-workers and even your bosses may be years younger than you.
If you use your maturity to your advantage determination and a willingness to succeed can help you move forward. At Tribeca Treats we have had interns of all ages ranging from teenagers to people into their 50’s. Regardless of age, they all start with the same level of tasks, and their ability to take on greater responsibilities is judged by demonstration of skill, a good attitude and reliability. Most often, older interns are more reliable and have a great attitude, but occasionally we have an intern whose attitude is clouded by a sense of entitlement or resentment at having to perform menial tasks. Don’t be one of those people.
Do You Really Want Your Hobby to Become Your Job?
Hobbies are typically things you enjoy as a distraction from work — you can pick them up and put them down at will. So what happens when your hobby is work? Will it make you enjoy your work more or your hobby less? Chances are it will lead to a little bit of both.
Say cake decorating is your hobby. You love making cakes, and you make them all the time for your friends’ and family’s birthdays and special events — maybe once a week. Each time, everyone oohs and aahs and tells you “you should do this for a living.” It feels great; why shouldn’t you make money doing it? Well, fast forward and think about doing it for a living. You have to make 20 cakes a day to pay the bills, but then you have to hire people to help you make 20 cakes a day. Then you have to spend your time managing those new people you hired, and you have to try to build your business to 30 cakes a day to afford those new hires. You may enjoy your work more than your old job, but I’m guessing you’ll find a new hobby.
Be Prepared for an Emotional Rollercoaster.
As with any job, there will be highs and lows. The more passionate you are about your job, the more personal those highs and lows get. When you pour your blood, sweat and tears into building your dream business, each accomplishment can put you on top of the world, but each criticism can be equally devastating.
Working for “the man” is definitely the safer route in life. For the thrill seekers among us, straying off on your own to pursue your dream can be incredibly rewarding, albeit challenging and scary at times. Just be prepared for what you’re getting into, and enjoy the ride.
Rachel Schifter Thebault, author of Sweet Chic: Stylish Treats to Dress Up for Any Occasion, is the founder of Tribeca Treats, and spent seven years as an investment banker before transforming her side hobby of making truffles for friends into a full-time career in confections. A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education, she opened Tribeca Treats in 2007. The bakery has won honors from American Express OPEN and entrepreneur organizations, and is a pillar of the Tribeca community.