A couple of months ago, on the day my eldest daughter turned 14, after a couple of months of discussions, I decided to take a big leap of faith and turn my comfortable corporate non-scalable project business into a serious, ambitious venture with events and consultancy and research and thought leadership and inspiring co-founders and all the amazing things I thought I wanted and was ready for. Boy, was I in for a challenging Summer!
For about five years I’d been doing consultancy projects pretty much full time, after a previous startup adventure. Helping scaleups and corporates with business development and innovation. In these long term projects, typically lasting between 6 months and 2 years, I often got to work with people firmly entrenched in their corporate comfort zones for years if not decades, and a significant part of my work was always to challenge and inspire them. Show them the world outside of their comfort zone, creating personal and organisatorial change by focusing on Horizon 2 change and growth. After all, outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens right?
My comfortable Comfort Zone
Little did I realise how happy I was in my own little comfort zone, doing my projects, getting paid (mostly) on time, organising and attending events on the side, an occasional keynote or blog every now and then. Life was easy, and I could get some of my shit sorted after that startup adventure which had left some bruises left and right.
Of course, this comfort zone included working hard, 60 or 70 hours a week easily. Basically, I was always on, juggling priorities but feeling busy and needed, making enough money to take care of my family. The downside of this way of working, incentivised to work as many hours as possible, combined with a family with 4 kids and 2 dogs and quite a bit of travel was lack of sleep, not enough time for exercising and a lack of personal/social/family time in general. I had a nice lifestyle consulting business, doing fun and worthwhile projects, but was basically always working.
I knew it was time for me to take the leap of faith, go for it, make changes, trust myself, start this new venture when the opportunity presented itself with some great co-founders. I was sure I could do this, and I wanted it, and I knew a door has to be closed before a new one opens, and I was ready for new growth and magic. Unfortunately I had conveniently forgotten the phases between the Comfort Zone and the Growth Zone, and planning this change right in the middle of the infamous European Summer Break, that magical time of year when businesses and especially corporates are hardly available and certainly make no decisions, made that I spent my Summer mostly in the Fear Zone, doubting myself and all my core beliefs…
For weeks I struggled with mission, vision, new propositions, plans, budgets, team, partnerships, positioning, messaging, the works. Waking up in the middle of the night with ideas running through my head or stressing about all the things that could go wrong. Serious case of Imposter Syndrome at least once a week, doubting my knowledge and ability to execute. The kids’ school vacation, trips to San Francisco and Tel Aviv for work and vacation were great fun but increased my lack of sleep, bad eating and drinking habits and worrying about the uncertain times ahead. Running projects ended, the leap of faith meant taking those to the new business but the new business wasn’t ready yet and decision makers were leaving for their Summer holidays.
Because of the vacation period we couldn’t test new value propositions as often as I wanted, or discuss proposals, and certainly couldn’t close deals, seriously challenging my patience (and cashflow). Some corporates promised to get things done but discovered they couldn’t, others didn’t even try and simply suggested meeting dates a month or more later. One strategic partner decided to take these Summer months to go through an M&A process, postponing the projects we’d planned. Needless to say, I had and was no fun at home (did I mention our 4 kids were home from school?), increasing overall stress levels for everybody involved and only contributing to the vicious circle I was in. Something had to give.
Trust the process
After four weeks or so of this it finally dawned on me I simply had to accept that there was only so much I could do, and that I had to trust that business would get better after the Summer. After all, pulling the grass doesn’t make it grow any faster, and with decision makers gone there was simply not much that could be done there. I realised I should take this time to relax, sleep, enjoy the time around the home with the family. Difficult for a workaholic conditioned to equate billable hours with productivity and success.
So I had to decide this was the time to prepare, sharpen the axe, work on propositions and planning and budget. Using the occasional interaction with a prospect to validate and test propositions I could actually work on strategy, sales pitches, decks and a website with some solid content and stories. Most of all, I had to start believing in myself again, trusting that I didn’t have to see the entire staircase to take the first step. The model of the Comfort Zone, Fear Zone, Learning Zone and Growth Zone worked wonders to keep me on track here. I realised I’d been here before but had forgotten the beauty of letting go of image and embracing vulnerability…
So I used the time to build a great event schedule, an advisory board, a 3 year plan (ha) with budget, and I thought a lot about my own purpose. Why did I want to do this in the first place? And why should I not just quit and go back to how things were, to my old comfort zone? Why go through this struggle with a new venture if it’s such a struggle, what’s the upside?
Purpose, dream and conquer
I think I figured out why I want to do this, why it’s important what we’re doing. Based on this long term vision and our short term opportunities I created a plan for the next few years. With lots of unknowns, but based on validated market trends and (some) tested propositions. Using the strengths and capabilities of myself and the rest of the team. With a goal and tangible, ambitious, objectives, and room for experimentation and learnings. The sales funnel is looking good, the first contracts are getting signed and 3 new events have been announced. And we’re just getting started. The core of the team is in place, plus some great partnerships, and we managed to attract some amazing advisors who apparently believe it all makes sense. In retrospect, I realise I needed this time to create and embrace a fundamental change. Leaping takes time and energy!
In the process I lost 8 kg by sleeping better, working out more and eating and drinking healthier. I stress less and have more time for family and friends, sometimes even let my iPhone alone for an hour or so. I still have to remind myself every day that I need to be patient and trust things will work out, even though I don’t have control any more. Realise there’s no such thing as failure, only learning. I’m starting to enjoy these Learning and Growth Zones again.
So, goodbye Comfort Zone. Here’s to my Leap of Faith and a great new (ad)venture. Let the magic continue!