Elbows, Entrepreneurship, and Endurance

In late August 2012, my own career transition imploded.

I’d been at my job for almost 9 months, and I was miserably unhappy. It was great organization and I had a great team. I’d had high hopes going in, but the writing was on the wall almost immediately. It was a bad match and I desperately wanted out.

After a few months of selective searching, I was thrilled to have 2 great offers in hand. I chose the one I was more excited about, with better growth potential in workforce development, and gave notice to my employer. A few days later, I left for a long-planned, much-anticipated vacation. I was going to have fun in the desert, then come back and wrap things up at my old job before starting the new one. The stars had aligned and I was relieved to move on to a new professional chapter!

On the first day of my vacation, my life took an unexpected turn, and not in a good way. (Life pro-tip: do not attempt amateur acrobatics without proper safety gear.) I fell from gymnastics rings, dislocating and fracturing my elbow. Vacation over. I spent a couple days in a Nevada hospital having my arm put back together with titanium and stainless steel. Doctors used words like “traumatic” and “life altering” to describe my injury. The experience definitely belongs in the low points in Kim’s life category.

elbow x-ray

When I returned to San Diego, I got in touch with my new employer to tell them what had happened and that I was going to need accommodations in my first few months on the job. They responded by rescinding the offer. It was surreal. As an HR Consultant for many years, I’d been on the opposite side of the table, advising my clients to do exactly the same thing in similar situations. I understood why they did what they did, but I was devastated. (You can listen to me talk about all this in juicy detail on Episode 20 of The Chris Cerrone Show.)

I’m not going to tell you my injury was a blessing in disguise. It sucked. A lot. I really wanted that job. Breaking my elbow was not a gift; it was incredibly painful and the rehab took months. I was severely depressed by the time I was physically well enough to start my job search over – from scratch. I forced myself to get out of the house, to pursue leads, and to go on interviews. I had some glimmers of hope, but nothing came together. Time passed.

At some point, my partner and I started talking about taking my career counseling practice full-time. I’d been doing this work on the side – as a labor of love – for many years. I really enjoyed it, had a steady stream of referrals, and lots of happy clients. I always figured I could turn it into a profitable business if I hustled enough, but I didn’t have a clue what that meant. So we talked about it and weighed the pros and cons. I contemplated entrepreneurship and what it might mean for me. And then I went back to sulking on the couch, lamenting the fact that I couldn’t scramble over rocks or easily apply eyeliner any more.

In late January of 2013, we were at brunch when I looked at my phone and saw an email from someone I didn’t know… she wanted my help with her career transition. I was confused because she didn’t mention who had referred her and at that point my only clients were referrals. My partner smirked at me over his eggs. He had secretly created a Google AdWords campaign for me, and this was my first conversion. And that’s how it started.

The first few months were slow. Very slow. Google PPC drove some traffic to my site, and word of mouth did the rest. I met with people in coffee shops, took on pro bono clients in my free time, and barely made enough to squeak by. Most months I was in the red.

I took a full-time job working at a consulting firm in the spring of 2013 because I was concerned my business wasn’t taking off fast enough. But the referrals kept coming and my clients kept reaching their goals. I realized I had too much momentum to stop. (And that I’d been forever ruined for working for someone else.) I resigned after a month and went back to building my business full-time. And I haven’t looked back since.

It’s been a year and a half, and my business has tripled in size. I’m in the black most of the time, and when I’m not, it’s because I’m reinvesting back into the business. I usually have a waiting list that’s a week or two long and I’m working on ways to scale and expand. My current problem is one of abundance, not scarcity. It’s pretty amazing when I stop and think about it, even though the day-to-day is still a roller coaster.

That’s where endurance comes in. Endurance is how I survive the entrepreneurial roller coaster. I was not prepared for the level of endurance I would need. It’s been a challenge since day 1 and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. And I don’t necessarily want it to. Sometimes it’s about raw perseverance, when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. Other times I’m practically invincible – certain I have found my calling. The contrast is startling. And I’m still adjusting to it. It helps to know that I’m not alone.

The endurance I’ve developed means that I’m proud of my work ethic. And it means I don’t always know when to stop. I help clients design their ideal work-life balance, but those same strategies are hard to apply in my own life. Learning how to pace myself and prioritize is an ongoing process. As my business has picked up over the past year, I spend more and more time working. More and more time sitting at a keyboard. More and more time in pain.

That same elbow injury that led me into entrepreneurship in the first place has become the canary in the coalmine. It told me that I needed to back off. That I was working too much and not focusing enough on self care. That it was time to see a doctor.

I just found out I need to have elbow surgery. Soon. The original hardware holding my arm together is failing. Combine that with the repetitive stress of constant computer work and I’m a sad panda most days. Once I get the new elbow, I should be in much better shape and able to endure typical workdays. But I hope it doesn’t fix me too much. I like having an internal alarm that tells me when I need to back off.

sadpanda

I still don’t think my elbow injury was a blessing in disguise. But I don’t know if I’d have gotten on the path to entrepreneurship without it. I’m not the type of person to make a major change unless I’m in a lot of pain. Now that I’m on this path, I cannot imagine my life any other way. I love the work I do in my business, and the work I do on my business; I am constantly challenged and stretched. Having both of those elements working in sync motivates me to endure whatever comes my way.

Written by Kim Eisenberg

Kim Eisenberg

I provide individual and corporate career development services to clients throughout the US. I’m your trusted business advisor, motivational speaker, professional butt-kicker, and complacency crusher rolled into one.

Comments

  1. One of your last comments, “I’m not the type of person to make a major change unless I’m in a lot of pain.” really resonated with me. I think this is true for almost everyone. Not always the pure physical pain from an injury that you experienced, but certainly the mental pain.

    For me, my path to entrepreneurship was driven by a daily emotional pain of going to work for someone else every day. Particularly the combination of feeling like I wasn’t being asked for my best work, I was being treated like less of an adult than when I was in college, and just having a general low grade problem with authority. Looking back on my childhood, a keen observer probably would have known all along that I would go in business for myself. I truly thought upon graduation that I would be happiest with a “real job”.

    Calling entrepreneurship a “roller coaster” is an understatement. It’s lead to both my best days and worst days. The swings are like nothing I ever anticipated. Over the 3+ years I’ve been in business, this has lead me to be better at regulating my emotions. I’m more cautious in the good times and more optimistic in the hard times. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other… 🙂

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