(Guest blog) The Happy Trap

Special Guest Blog by Becky Craig, founder of Blu Lake Personal Coaching & Development

April 2015 was when I made the first solid step to escaping corporate life to set up my own business; this was when I handed my notice in. I could almost hear 19 years of corporate shackles clattering on the ground. I was going to be free at last. Free at last!

Little did I know that almost 3 years down the line, the freedom that I craved so much would become the very thing that trapped me.

It was often the conversation over lunch or after a really sh1t meeting; ‘when I leave this place and set up on my own things will be different, I’ll be able to do exactly what I want and won’t have to answer to anyone’. ‘Erm, kind of’, is the answer I would give anyone now, who is considering making this leap.


Trap Number 1: Vision, goals and targets
If you’re setting up a business, you will have a clear idea of what you want to deliver/sell/create in the world and why. Linked to this, you’ll have goals, be that financial targets, customer metrics or outcomes. Great! Also not great, because this can be the kind of stuff that creates sleepless nights, feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, waves of self-doubt…..etc.  And you can’t ‘blame’ someone above you for their ‘stupid targets’ or ‘flawed business plan’ – it’s YOURS!

I’ve set myself some mahoosive goals in the last 3 years, some of which have paid off and loads of which haven’t. The ones that haven’t have been ones that invaded my own inner peace too much – the stress of making them work was not worth the end outputs – I didn’t want them enough based on what I truly valued. If you’re aiming high, you’ve got to really want what you’re after to live through any type of pain and discomfort associated with it.

Trap Number 2: Winning the work
You’re very lucky (or way more prepared than I was) if you get handed enough work on a platter at the start, or even later on for that matter. It’s never consistent; there’s either shed loads on at the same time (see Trap Number 3: Routines and boundaries) or an excruciating drought that you can’t enjoy as ‘time off’ as you’re worrying about where the bloody work is! So, you can become fixated on getting the work in, which means in the busy periods you have zero freedom as you’re working all hours and in the quiet periods when you’re not networking your ass off to find more business you’re stressing that you won’t have enough income in 6 months’ time.  This was not how I’d imagined ‘freedom’ to feel.

Trap Number 3: Routines and boundaries
Won’t it be great to ditch the ‘daily grind’ and monotony of going to work?  When you set up your business though, you find yourself creating routines so that it feels like the work we know, such as doing expenses at a certain time, setting up marketing and PR activity on a regular drumbeat, conducting customer follow ups X number of weeks after interaction, attending scheduled networking events blah, blah, blah. Only difference here is they are your routines, in your control, at the times you want. Except that’s not always the case – they’re often driven by your customer, client or target market base; their needs on their timescales. You just have a new boss or set of bosses. This is when our boundaries as business owners often get challenged, because in our busy periods we cram all the work in at the same time as fulfilling our routines – because we want to do a sterling job of the work and continue to build business for the future. This is what creates the 7-day weeks, evening working, midnight waking (if you’ve even been to sleep by then!)

Trap Number 4: Reputation and presence
The age-old phrase is ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ – which I’m sure has some deep meaning planted in history – fits the bill for being in business. If you’re not present on and offline then people don’t know you exist, they don’t know who you are and what you stand for and therefore won’t engage in your products or services. I may have over-simplified that – but you get what I mean!  This has created some requirements for me – to be investing time at the ‘right’ events, to be ‘all over social media’, to be making contact with my contacts. And then if you don’t get engagement, likes, shares and don’t get business you start asking if you’re doing the right thing – is it all really worth it, because it takes time away from the ‘real work’ if you’re doing it yourself, or money away from the bottom line if you’re outsourcing it? Cue more mental turmoil and lack of inner peace; trapped in the big blue prisons of Facebook, Linked In and Twitter! Aargh..heeelp meeee!

Trap Number 5: Either this or that
The way it seems to have worked so far is that you either work for someone or you work for yourself (although you never truly work for yourself as we established in Trap Number 3). I had fallen into this ‘either/or’ trap – I can’t work in a corporate role now because I’ve set up my business, I don’t do corporate anymore, and, people will see me as a failure. How interesting that I/we have created this binary approach to work, an approach that has led me to pass up opportunities and be less flexible than I pride myself on being. Taking up an employed contract in recent months alongside my business has given me a big nudge in my thinking here. The world of work is changing – you no longer have to be one thing or another, you can have more than one career or vocation on the go at any one time, you can work more flexibly even in the ‘corporate world’. Now that’s what I call freedom.

The Happy Trap
Where I’m at now is what I’d call The Happy Trap, i.e. a place of freedom within boundaries that I’ve set based on what’s important to me in life and what I want to achieve. I’m not doing either/or, I’m doing both, and here’s why: –

  • I have a big need to feel part of something; a team, a unit, a purpose – I missed this by working for myself, it was too transient, and I never wanted to build my own business empire, there are many brilliant empires I can contribute to!
  • I’m a first-class follower – if I’m working with a team, a leader or an organisation that has their proverbial together and a compelling vision I will back them all the way and do a bloody great job!
  • I have a new way of viewing the corporate life having been ‘cleansed’ of it for a few years, for example politics is something I can manage but not in a way that frustrates me, it now slightly amuses me. Grades, levels and hierarchies carry little weight for me now, which opens up lots more opportunity. I’ve learnt through my business that true reputation is built on awesome delivery, not a number, letter or paygrade.
  • I have the confidence to walk away from something that’s not working for me as I’ve developed a higher tolerance for risk taking by pushing myself in my business. Equally, working for someone is what you make of it, not them – we all owe it to employers or clients to be clear on our needs and boundaries, and if they can’t be met then we have an adult decision to make.
  • I love having a true balance in life, which for me looks like working hard on stuff I enjoy with people I care about, having time for experiences with my family, having time for myself (mentally as well as physically) and caring about myself enough to eat, sleep and exercise well. And the care for myself has increased hugely since facing into The Five Traps, which ironically makes me a much better employee and business owner.

For those of you wondering about setting up your business or sticking with the employed job, sorry there’s no yes or no answer here! It’s all about being very clear on what your needs are in life, which sometimes you don’t know until you push yourself to try something different. 

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