In my previous post, I opened up about how coming to terms with my flaws allowed me to grow into the entrepreneur I am today. Now I want to share my first steps getting there.
In the late 1990s, in the middle of the dot-com boom, I was a hotshot graduate fresh out of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Only a few months after graduating, I was hired by a new software division at a major industrial-electronics company. As a product-marketing specialist, I was responsible for managing seven different lines of software. I was excited to use my bachelor's of business administration degree creatively, and I was eager to apply the training I received at Madison. And because the company was so large and successful (I won't say their name, but it's fair to say they're a known business), I assumed the position would encourage innovation. Early on, I fantasized about climbing through the corporate ranks. I was driven to spark new ideas, ready to be a catalyst for change and to infuse the corporate culture with creativity. At 22, my future was mapped--or so I thought.
Soon after starting, I was given a lot of autonomy, but I quickly realized to my dismay that I was in fact in a role designed to cultivate the exact opposite of innovation. I decided to take action. I stayed up countless nights thinking of new internet-enabled products, devising a compelling business idea to present to management. To my shock, my superiors didn't support my idea. Why are you spending your time thinking about new products, they asked me. Stop.
My creative ambition was crushed. I wanted to be in a role where I was challenged and pushed to take risks and build. My young mind wanted to be harnessed. But none of that was happening. It didn't take long for a sense of resentment to grow inside me like a cancer. I hated my job. I dreaded coming into work. This wasn't the future I had in mind. I realized in order to achieve my dream, I had to create my own environment; I had to start my own company, one that appreciates, promotes and supports innovation.
Just like Dan Pink says in his famous TED Talk, real motivation doesn't come from traditional rewards. It comes from accomplishing what you truly desire; it's about nurturing creativity and finding purpose. And since I wasn't in a place to do that here, I knew I had to move on. The alternative was staying to build a career of mediocrity--but I had way too much passion and ambition to settle for that. This is true bottom-up innovation, learned the hard way, but thankfully, quickly.
The truth is, it is scary to make the leap into the unknown. There is no security net. Not really. But there is a strange sense of security in knowing it's time to move. And if and when you're in a truly stagnant role, you must pull the plug. You're banking on your skills, your passion, and your desire for greater things to pull you through the dark times. And if the fire inside you burns bright enough, they will. As Henry Clay Payne so famously put it: It's better to fall short of a high mark than to reach a low one.
If I didn't struggle out the gate, I probably would never have realized my goal of starting my own company. Looking back, I'm so thankful I got the chance to learn early. Because I was so young, I could make the leap without having to worry about a mortgage or a family to support. My ambition would be tested to the max in the coming years. But that's a story for another day.