Last year, I made a pretty big decision. After working at one of the largest financial institutions in the world for 7+ years, I decided it was time to trade in my suit for a pair of jeans and go headfirst into the world of startups. A lot of people asked me why I decided to make the transition, considering I had already spent so much time at one of the most established companies in the world.
The answer for me was simple – I needed to experience something new and something drastically different from the company that I had grown up in. Like many other aspiring professionals my age, I followed a relatively well-worn path after getting to college, going from internship to full time analyst and then working my way up the ranks internally.
Even though I worked on a great team and learned a lot during my time with my former company, I wanted to go somewhere new, to a place where I could have a real impact on the future of a company from Day 1. I wanted to help build, grow, and scale a business in an environment that was completely foreign to me. I wanted to do something that I could be passionate about and feel completely invested in. Lastly, I wanted to be somewhere where I could learn something new every day and constantly be challenged by my colleagues and the environment itself.
After explaining my rationale to most people, they actually stopped asking me why I was doing it. Instead, they started asking me when I was going to do it. That, to me, was the tipping point. It made it less scary and more exciting. It made me anxious to do it and to try something new.
For anyone else thinking of ditching their “sure thing” for a “complete unknown”, here are three things that I have learned from my experience:
1. Surround yourself with a support structure. I was fortunate enough to have a great support system around me, everyone ranging from my family to my friends to my former manager were extremely encouraging during the entire process. It made a huge difference to know that I could lean on certain people, even if it was just to talk and bounce ideas off of them.
2. Constantly try to meet new people. It’s a basic one – go out and try and meet people that are outside of your immediate network. It’s really refreshing to hear other people’s point of view and to get a perspective that is different from your own. It is especially important to meet people in the industry that you want to work in – the insights they can give you are invaluable and it will show that you are interested and educated about the subject matter.
3. Just do it. It’s scary, but do it – take the leap. The life experience is unmatched. Working at an early stage company is all about problem solving, and the ability to derive quick, thoughtful solutions is a valuable skillset. You learn how to survive with limited resources in an extremely competitive environment. The skills you learn will be useful no matter what happens.
As the old saying goes, you’ll never know until you experience it for yourself. Don’t be afraid of failing or falling down several times before you figure out where exactly you are supposed to fit in. That is part of the journey, and arguably the most valuable part of it. Chances are that you will learn more during those first few, scary months of starting at a small company than you ever thought you could. I know I did.