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Corporate America Is Killing Your Start-up Dreams

Chained to your desk? I've been there. If you're still stuck working for a giant company, you need to know these two things right now.
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I owe a lot to Corporate America. My mom single-handedly supported our family by working a corporate job for almost 30 years. It paid her a salary that afforded my upbringing and provided invaluable benefits that are sometimes taken for granted like health insurance, a 401K plan, and a pension. I have also worked in Corporate America. During my tenure, I acquired tangible skills that I leverage everyday as an entrepreneur. Yet when I think about the times I felt most stifled, complacent, or doubtful about my capabilities on the job, these emotions occurred most during my time on the corporate grind.

The dynamics of Corporate America can be a double-edged sword for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit. On one hand, it provides you with critical training and baseline skills that can serve you well as an entrepreneur. On the other hand, if you have any ambition to introduce a concept that changes lives or how business is done, or if you simply just want to run your own show, there are two simple reasons why the corporate environment can eventually kill your chances of turning these desires into action:

  • Corporate America Creates a False Sense of Security. With the surety of money and benefits, it's possible to become comfortable working in a role that may not use all of your talents. It's also viable that as you develop functional mastery, your impetus to excel in other areas wanes or you loose sight altogether of a scenario where your impact spans beyond the company environment. Coupled with ongoing tenure and the perks that come along with, the incentive to do anything but status quo quickly diminishes. God help any downturn or clash with a manager that, like at any corporate job, could cause the illusion to swiftly fade.
  • The corporate climb is slow and at each rung you're reminded that there is so much still to do before reaching the next level. At most established corporations, formal decisions require several layers of approval before anything gets done. As one waits in line to get their project's time to shine, corporate training can actually program the employee to believe they must still "check more boxes" to demonstrate they've got the skills to do what it takes or be promoted to the next level. In turn, the employee begins to believe that they’re not ready to rise to the next level, let alone forge into a new venture where the outcome is completely opaque.

The good news is there are plenty of people who despite the aforementioned obstacles, take the leap of faith and pursue ventures, even some while simultaneously working for Corporate America.  Yet to do this effectively, it's important to remember:

  • Knowledge is power. The most important component is knowledge of "self." If you know there's more that drives you than taking a paycheck or living life comfortably, be honest with yourself and seek your passion, even if that means trying to figure things out after hours!
  • Mitigating risk is key. While you've got a guaranteed salary, stack your chips! The money will come in handy one day—trust me. Get all of the cross-functional training you can in preparation for the day when you may have to do it all, when starting a business.
  • You only live once.  Our time on this earth is limited and way too short to doubt your ability to do great things, even if you don't know it all. There are several living entrepreneurs, from Andrew Mason to Mark Zuckerburg, that remind us what's possible, even with limited experience. So seize the moment and live each of your days to the fullest!

What wine inspires me to live my life to the fullest? The very same wine that Napoleon Bonaparte devotedly drank up until his final days, South Africa's Vin de Constance. Á votre santé!

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jan 27, 2012

SELENA CUFFE | Columnist | President and CEO, Heritage Link Brands

Selena Cuffe is the president & CEO of Heritage Link Brands. Previously, Selena served as a marketer for the Council on International Educational Exchange and the Procter & Gamble Company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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