You are going to do it, your life project is ready. Here are just a few modest thoughts for you before you jump into the unknown.
This is my story, but this is not only my story.
This is somehow about finance, but this not only about finance.
This is somehow about entrepreneurship, but this is also about many different projects you might aspire to, not only creating your own company.
It is about everybody.
Many of us start a happily ever after career and think it will last forever. But no, there is a growing uncertainty and relentless life satisfaction questioning that might appear something like ten years into one’s professional life, and which makes everything change. There is a point where everyone might start wondering :
” What the hell am I still doing here? ”
And I guess 2020 probably made this even more vivid for many of us.
Many things can spark this life-changing thought. It can be strong or very diffuse. It can appear after just a few years or way later. But it is one that will change your life, professional or personal, once and for all.
Like Néo in The Matrix, when asked which pill you want to swallow, you might have a life-defining moment in your life. It is no small decision. And you know it. Here are some modest advice on how to make that choice, and how to get prepared for it.
So, will you go down the rabbit hole ? And how ?
I started my career nearly 15 years ago as a financial buy-side analyst and junior fund manager for a small private bank in Paris.
For the non financial guys out there : I bought and sold stuff on the financial markets for my clients.
My company was great, so were my coworkers and the job itself.
Responsible of analyzing companies in order to make sound investments for the firm’s clients, my work was indeed exhilarating. I had to be curious, skeptical, analytical and every single investment was very different from the other. I had to keep in constant touch with the economy and read.
Who does not want to be able to read pretty much what he wants as part of his job ?
The financial and ego upside was attracting as well. Apart from the way too generous pay and reasonable workday I also profited from some very sweet perks like been invited to luncheon event in luxury hotels, meetings with executives, individual calm and high ceiling office and most of all, a very high, albeit totally overvalued, self esteem.
But there was a time when I started questioning myself. I was rational and honest in my judgments, but somehow I progressively rose in consciousness of something that was wrong.
My company’s earning came massively from fees inside our own mutual funds sold to our clients. They trusted us with giving them the best advise and investment and gathered their assets into funds that we managed. While I did try to invest their money to the best of my ability, those funds were heavily loaded with fees, between 2% up to 4% a year, and there was no chance for me to win this uphill battle.
We were therefore not advising our clients honestly, we where maintaining them into a twisted belief system where we could explain our fees with this shaky narrative :
“it is not expensive because we manage to earn more than our fees”.
We were not, fees were just too high, and we were not working in our clients best interest. And that is what prepared, then triggered, my “let’s move on” instant.
I liked my job but that was not how I wanted to practice it. And this very single word is of upmost importance.
But I am not alone obviously, a lot of us did so, or will do so. Many of us faced or will face this moment where we realize that we need to move on.
I am talking here about “entrepreneurship” in a very conceptual meaning : Dedicating yourself to an intrinsically risky project that means something to you.
Indeed the very same questions can pop up somehow similarly in many situations : for instance you might want to expatriate – or come back home. You might want to create a brand new company, or join an existing project, you might want to start completely over (lion tamer, cooking youtuber… you know that kind of risky stuff) or just change the way you work.
You might want to create a unicorn company or create a small but agile local company. You might want to be benevolent, or give more time to your family.
All of those are projects. Meaningful ones. And all of those have strong personal and financial implications.
The point is : the very same thoughts and questions will need to be answered.
Bad reasons, good reasons and getting ready for it
First let’s start with the “Don’t”-s, the wrong ways to look at this decision :
- “I want to be my own boss” : A bit naive I am afraid. Even if you are the “boss” you will still have clients (hopefully) or people that depend on you, and they are
your boss. Don’t you ever think that being “you own boss” will liberate you from constraints, deadlines, (family or business) budget cuts or interactions with people you profoundly dislike. There are people you will dislike all around the globe, and you won’t be able to avoid them all.
- “My job sucks I just want to quit”. This negative thinking is doomed to fail, even if your job do suck (it might). It will very probably lead you to jump into the first crappy project you will find. Stay positive, keep your head cool, you certainly can wait another quarter or so in your job. This definitely works too with the “I just want to leave this country” variation of the problem. You go forward to something you want, not away from something you don’t.
- “I do not earn enough”. Well bad news, there is very little chance for you to earn more with entrepreneurship, at least in the short run. I won’t tell you that money is not part of the equation, it is, but do not make it just about it.
- “The grass is greener on the other side”. We are all tempted to covet the other guy’s job or life, which often seems amazing from the outside. The problem is : the other guy often want your job or life too ! I have heard people wanting to create a company and quit their job… and the exact opposite ten feet away in the same wedding cocktail, with people wanting to get a more stable position. I have heard people wanting to come back home and others eager to expatriate at all costs.
- “I want to make the world a better place”. A bit immodest don’t you think ? This might often come from the impression of being a bad person, a vile capitalist minion. While this is obviously a good reason to move on, as it might very well make you happier, don’t overstate the importance of your potential role in the world and therefore your hopes on this matter. You might change the world, but just contributing positively to it is a good start. Do not confuse been a positive and constructive person (which is good) and wanting to be recognized as such (which is ego).
And this leads me now to the “do’s” and the way to get ready for it :
- Consider just doing your job but the positive way. There is no good or bad job intrinsically, there is just jobs wrongly or rightfully done.
There is indeed no such thing as a intrinsically positive or evil job (albeit drug dealer and benevolent nurse might be exceptions). This is where the “how” question I mentioned gets really relevant.
You might for instance think : “I am useless I am selling insurance policies, I want to become a lion tamer, or, if I cannot, a globe trotting youtuber”.
But selling insurance is a perfectly respectable job, as insurance policies are useful to society. It might not be “sexy” or “fun”, but shall you create your own advise company, trying to price fairly and honestly advise clients in their best interest, while creating for yourself a life goal of growing this tiny business to a respectable size, you would be pretty happy I guess.
- Do remember who you are. If you do chose to move on more radically, don’t forget what you learned and what you experienced. Whatever you are going to do or move toward to, I am pretty sure that your experience and knowledge will be useful. Your previous jobs and experiences are not to be expelled with disdain but used and valued.
- Measure our risks and safeguards. We are all frightened by our own life changing decisions. What if I fail ? What if I do not manage to earn enough to stabilize my choice ? What if I end up alone and miserable ? Well that is where you should keep calm and measure you actual risks.
“Is this really a one-way choice? Can I come back? What is the worst case scenario here ?”.
Remember that there are smart people out there who like you, and who will have your back. I am pretty sure that you will soon realize this way that whatever happens in your project the essentials should always be there. Your family and friends will still be there and they are the real safeguard.
- Be nice with the people you are leaving. There is absolutely no reason for other people around you to fell the same. There is no reason to boast or shame. They might understand your choice while not wanting to make it too. The usual business motto “be nice when you go up, it will be the same when go down” is very applicable here, but could actually be even simpler : just be nice, the people around you probably deserve it (for the most part, some really don’t I know…).
- Get ready for it. I told you that this is not about the money. Right… well… this is not entirely accurate. This not being about the money is true indeed, but you won’t succeed if your basic financial needs are not fulfilled. There is no future for an unfunded project, sorry, and you need to prepare for it. And this means that you a sound and pragmatic financial preparation, and more simply put : revenues. Your project might not be about money, but money will end it quickly if grossly overlooked. Prepare accordingly.
So you are now facing this ambitious project, there is no going away from it, and you are ready to trade security for uncertainty. But I am sure this is worth it, I am sure that somehow, sometime in the future, you will succeed. Keep positive, modest, confident, nice to the people you are leaving as well as the people you will meet, and think about money for what it is : a mean to succeed in your project. A tool. But an essential one.
Good luck and see you on the other side !
Oh and re-watch this for inspiration, it never gets old :