Separating From Your Corporate ID

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

Welcome to this week’s installment of the “Neophyte Entrepreneur” series, where we deal with the fears and obstacles that hold corporate professionals back from their entrepreneurial dreams.  Today we discuss the fear of foregoing your corporate identity, and how to keep it from stopping your dream in its tracks.

Sometimes, when you sit in your office and imagine life as an entrepreneur, it looks so rosy, so relaxed and free.  You get to be your own boss, you have more control over your time, and your work brings more personal satisfaction to your life.  And if all goes well, there’s some good money in it, too.

But you know that in reality, the transition won’t be easy.  As you get closer to making the move, you realize how important your job title and company affiliation have become to you.  You are a respected member of the business community, and a go-to source for a lot of things.  Colleagues come to you for advice.  Vendors come to you hoping for business.  Industry organizations even ask you to speak at their events.  Your position brings you power and respect, and it makes up a huge part of your professional and personal identity.

When you leave the corporate world for the entrepreneurial life, however, that status is going to undergo drastic changes.  The thought of it can be crippling.  You worry that without that status, you will be just an ordinary person.  Former colleagues won’t give the same weight to your opinions.  Vendors will stop knocking on your door for business, and you’ll actually have to chase them instead.  The industry organizations that begged you to speak at their events won’t care so much anymore.

Emotionally, this is a lot to deal with.  The fear of losing the prestigious identity that took you years to build can stop you dead.  So here’s a tip for getting past it:  Break it down.  Start slowly, practicing your identity change one small step at a time.

Attend a few events and start introducing yourself as the thing you want to be.  For example, instead of introducing yourself as “a Director at Company XYZ”, say, “I am an event organizer”, or “I am a filmmaker”, or “I am a professional speaker”.  Remember, you’re not actually doing these activities for money yet.  You are simply becoming comfortable with standing alone, without leaning on the corporate identity.

At first, this will feel strange.  After all, for years you introduced yourself as “a Director at Company XYZ”, and your job title and company affiliation gave you status.  Now when you introduce yourself, you’ll feel naked.  In the back of your mind, you’ll be thinking, “I’m not a real filmmaker, I just make homemade movies and my wife watches them”.  But remember, you are not trying to convince the world you are something you are not, you are just training yourself to say something besides, “I am a Director at Company XYZ”.  If someone comes up to you later and wants to talk more, you can say, “I work as a Director at Company XYZ, but yes, in my spare time I make short films.”

As you do this, listen to your gut.  If the words don’t feel right, change them and try on a different identity.  If you tried calling yourself a professional speaker and that didn’t feel right, try calling yourself a trainer, or an entertainer.  When you find the right phrase, you’ll know it, because you’ll feel confident and proud when you say it.

Each time you introduce yourself like this, you will separate just a little bit from your corporate identity.  You’ll start to see yourself in a new light, and you’ll be eager to move on to the next step in making your dream come true.

This is the first task for the Neophyte Entrepreneur.  However, as you become comfortable standing alone, without your corporate identity, another fear will threaten to derail your journey to entrepreneurship.  That fear is the fear of failure, and we will address it in next week’s installment of the Neophyte Entrepreneur.

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