(Did you get my Katy Perry reference there? That song has been in my head all morning and now it’s probably in yours, too. You’re welcome.)
Four years ago this week, I left my last ‘corporate’ job at a downtown advertising agency. In some ways, that seems just as scary today as it was then. But it was also exciting and exhilarating, also the same as it is now.
I took a risk, and it paid off.
I didn’t have a showstopper exit that I can wax on about. It was like most – I delayed the decision until I couldn’t ignore the voice in my head that said I was ready to take the leap. I put in my notice, wavered, agreed to help the company transition my accounts, and was woken by 4am phone calls from my boss asking me to reconsider. We, the company and I, held on to our safety nets for a long time.
But at some point, not quitting became riskier than leaving my cushy salary and benefits, the security of a corporate ladder and a solid paycheck. And that’s when I pulled the plug.
Many ‘success’ stories we hear go like this: I had a vision, I quit, I worked hard and I got a big break or built a company and now I’m a success. In racing, you often hear: I got my first go-kart, won a bunch of races, moved up to sprint cars, got a ride and now I’m a success.
But it’s what’s in between the lines, the time that you stayed at the corporate job after you knew you were leaving or lived on ramen noodles before you got your first wins, that I think is really interesting. I learned a lot at my ad agency job, and when I worked in the NFL and AFL, even when I knew I wouldn’t be there forever.
It’s not just the building of the business, or race team, that’s illuminating. The things you learned and the decisions you made before that are just as pivotal to your success story.
Here is the biggest thing I learned before I struck out for the motorsports camp and went to work for a racetrack and a parts company, building DirtyMouth along the way:
I wanted to feel like I was directly contributing to something I loved. I truly enjoyed working with my clients to help them achieve their gaols. Whether it was a technical whitepaper written for an engineering journal or a consumer marketing campaign with splashy ads and mobile activation, I loved doing work that made my clients happy (read: profitable).
At the end of the day I knew I wanted to work in motorsports. But that wasn’t the biggest issue keeping me from feeling satisfied.
I wasn’t helping people become successful. I was helping companies, mostly large ones. There’s a difference, and it started to matter to me.
I learned a lot of other things, too. I learned that it’s important to me to work with people who also want to make a difference and who care about integrity and the quality of their work. I love people who are willing to embrace change and who see opportunities instead of obstacles. I want to work on projects and tools that are bigger than just one client. Or me.
Overall, I learned that I want to do work that will make a difference in someone’s life.
Think about this: when you’re building shocks or tuning engines, or building your own racecar or event schedule, it’s easy to think that your work will effect what happens on the track. And it does. But what happens on the track effects a person’s whole life. I know this for a fact.
It affects their mood and mindset. It affects their bank account. It affects their relationships. It affects their future. It affects their whole life. I’ve seen and experienced it, and it really is a gift.
Good work goes beyond the purpose of the work itself. And that’s what I wanted to do with my career, my life, after corporate.
Thanks for going on this journey with me.