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Corporate Life: How To Leave On Your Own Terms

Executive coach Michelle Awuku-Tatum shares tips on how corporate professionals can successful transition to their next phase.

Originally Published May 23, 2014

Career coach Michelle Awuku-Tatum offers insights and strategies for executives of color to find fulfillment and advancement.

I went to an event recently, where an attendee asked the panel, “How do you know when it is time to leave your job to do your own thing?

As a career coach, I have worked with many clients who have an fleshed out idea, one that is unfolding, or no idea at all. Regardless of the stage, these clients all fantasize about leaving the corporate world until their dream either comes to a grinding halt or loops back and plays over again. Fear of the unknown arrests one’s departure from the comfort of “corporate captivity.” As the late Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Here are three tried-and-tested steps you can use to create an exit plan to leave on your own terms:

Assess Yourself

It’s important to determine what you believe you are leaving behind and how your next move will enhance your outlook. If you were doing something that you enjoy or had the flexibility to engage in other projects outside of work, you might actually discover that you would be quite happy in the corporate world.

I also encourage you to answer the following questions: Do you have what it takes to bring your idea to life? What additional skills do you need? Doing your own thing can be a rocky road lined with setbacks that you may not be able to always anticipate. Absolute clarity on the skills you will need going forward is critical. By all means supplement your skills with additional classes, and projects at work (i.e., free training).

Solidify Your Next Move

Moving forward requires some definition. This is where research comes in. One client in particular had what seemed like a great idea which we worked to get out of their head and onto paper. Once it was on paper, the client had to become comfortable sharing their idea to get feedback.

No one can really steal your complete idea along with your drive to implement it the way you have envisioned. Share what you plan to do, be it in focus groups or at pitch events, with a small board of advisers or group of pragmatic friends. Then, be sure to refine your idea based on the input you receive.

Create a Strategic Survival Plan

Living without a consistent paycheck at the start requires a strategic survival plan to keep the lights on as well as your landlord or bank at bay. This is one of the reasons I advocate testing your idea while you are still working—ideally for at least a year—to determine the ebbs and flows and to learn how to best execute your idea. Additionally, consider how to create alternative sources of income such as working part-time, freelancing or an interim consulting engagement, until your idea is fully operational and generating a somewhat predictable revenue stream.

Leaving corporate life can look glamorous and even inspiring from the outside, but the truth is, you will work harder for yourself than you ever did for anyone else. However, the exhilaration you feel building something, seeing your idea working in the world, and putting your strengths into play each and every day is energizing and can create that sense of meaning you have been looking for.

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