Are you seeking freedom… or power?

This dilemma is often faced by those considering a business of their own –– often at mid-career. Should I strike out on my own, or should I stay and climb the corporate ladder?

There is no right answer. You must first seek to know yourself. It is YOUR decision — nobody else can make it for you. NOT your family-NOT your friends-NOT your colleagues.

Either way, there is a price to be paid. Both paths require time and effort — often much more than you realize. Both may result in different levels of compensation… different levels of family time… different levels of overall life satisfaction. Consider the tradeoffs.

In my case, I chose freedom through consulting, with no regrets. At the same time, I’ve had colleagues who chose corporate power with success. No regrets there either. I’ll share specific examples later. But first, a short story…

In ancient China, two brothers went separate ways. One became a monk, and the other became a civil servant.

Many years later they met in the market where the monk was eating his bowl of rice as he sat on the ground.

Said the now successful civil servant to the monk, “If you had learned to bow to the king, you would no longer need to eat rice.”

To which the monk replied, “If you had learned to eat rice, you would no longer need to bow to the king.”

Here are three modern examples…

(1) One colleague chose the corporate route. He worked hard and eventually rose to the level of VP. Along the way, he made significant contributions to the company, and was amply rewarded. He recently retired, and now engages in philanthropy and angel investing.

(2) Another colleague chose the freedom route. After becoming increasingly disillusioned with big corporate life, he founded a small but very successful company. He is still running the company, and is having a blast.

(3) A college classmate was rising fast on the corporate route, but it didn’t really fit. One night he awoke spitting up blood from an ulcer. The stress of being a square peg in a round hole finally caught up with him. Fortunately, his enlightened company let him take a step back, and he finished his career developing several successful products while mentoring numerous young engineers.

Three stories, three happy endings…

And in the third case, nothing wrong or disgraceful with making a change. Had his company been less enlightened, he might well have succeeded with another company, or even as a consultant. (He did moonlight for a while to feed his passion to create rather than manage.)

Incidentally, all three made these decisions (as I did) at about age 40. The late Howard Shenson once noted this is a good age for a mid-career assessment. By that time, you have enough experience to know what you like (and are good at) and what you dislike (and perhaps are not so good at.)

The secret, Shenson said, is to focus on the former and ignore the latter. Unfortunately, many people miss this opportunity for change, and spend the rest of their lives in misery.

This post was prompted by a recent discussion.  I hope this helps if YOU are facing this dilemma. If you opt for freedom, consulting is but one option. It has been great for me!

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