Quitting the Corporate World

About seven years ago, one of my best friends called me on the phone and said, “I’m going to do it.  I’m going to quit my job.”  She was a very successful pharmaceutical market researcher, but I knew she wasn’t happy.  Fast forward seven years and she’s following her passion and kicking butt as a small business owner, a professional personal chef, and entrepreneur.  
I’m sure there are many people who are unhappy with their job, but don’t know how to make a change to do what they are truly passionate about.  Quitting corporate sounds scary, but she did it successfully, so let’s learn from her experience.

What Erica has to say about quitting the corporate world

So many people view my career choice as “that cooking thing” – in other words, not a career. To which I want to say, “Oh, you mean that cooking thing that has been my full time job for the past seven years and counting?”  Yet, I politely say, “Yes, I am still a professional personal chef.”   Others share my passion and view my career as some great secret I figured out, and they want to know how to get in to my party (so to speak).

“I am privileged to do what I love for people who love what I do.”

This sounds warm and fuzzy because it is. I am a unicorn in today’s society.  I may not be a billion-dollar tech unicorn, but a rarity nonetheless.  I go to work every day to do what I love.  It’s the dream we all have when we enter the work force, and I have it.

I worked hard to get here though. In fact, if you are looking for easy income to live the good life off of, this is not it.  I work hard, physically and intellectually.  My job requires me to be on my feet five to eight hours a day.  I am walking the grocery story, lugging bags and equipment into client homes, and of course, preparing meals.  Then, when I get home feeling exhausted, I grab my coffee and head to the computer to answer client correspondence, take calls, plan menus and cooking days.  This job is not easy.

But I genuinely care about what I do, which is more than I can say for my old jobs. I bust my ass for something that means something to me.  I get to share a passion I have with others, and in-turn I am actually helping them to live a better life.  See?  I’m living the dream!

How I knew I wanted to quit the corporate world

There came a point in my corporate career I realized I didn’t care about what I was working on. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, and one day I realized I didn’t feel good helping a manufacturer research the highest price they could charge for a drug.  It just wasn’t me.  This goal went against my life morals, and made me feel crappy.

I am confident in the fact I am a hard worker. I have an excellent work ethic and have always known I could be “good” at anything I put my mind to.

 I researched my passion before making a career change

 So, I started casually exploring jobs in food. Food is my passion.  I even bought an encyclopedic-type book on food jobs.  Researching food jobs, connecting with other personal chefs, and meeting with entrepreneurs and local small-business support groups all helped me form the vision that was to become my company, Taste, A Personal Chef Service.


How I decided to take the final step to quit my corporate gig and go out on my own

I would love to say that it took lots of planning and gradual transition. The truth is that it was more of a corporate burn-out situation.  It felt like I literally jumped off a cliff.  Not exactly the smartest choice of my life, but at the same time it forced me to fight for it.

You need to budget before starting a business of your own

When starting my business, bootstrapping was our middle name. I think there was a two year period of time when I did not buy any new clothes, did not go on vacation, and stuck to a super strict budget.

It takes time to find clients and “build” a business. I literally took any job that came my way – grilling hot dogs for client summer barbeques, tastings at local farms, and “dieters delight” for those pursuing the first 20 days of a fad-diet.  I also secured a part time receptionist job working at a local spa, which I kept for the first year I began my business.

My husband and I dipped into rainy-day savings to fill the gaps in income. It took a little over a year for me to earn a predictable, steady income as a personal chef.

What I would do differently if I were to do it all again


The hardest part of being my own boss and business owner

There is a quote on the internet. “Entrepreneurs are the only people who work 80 hours a week so they don’t have to work 40 hours a week.”  This sentiment couldn’t be truer!

As a small business owner, I spend more time going from extreme success to extreme lows, and all in a 24 hour period. It sometimes feels like feast or famine.

The true challenge is managing client relationships so life and income is predictable. I think, after seven years, I’ve become quite good at managing client relationships.  I maintain a full-time client load, this means I work five days a week.  Of course, it’s natural in the course of time to lose a family, and thus need to fill the gap.  Sometimes things serendipitously work themselves out and I fill the spot quickly.  Other times I’ve had a gap in the schedule for one to two months, and I try to view these times as a small blessing to slow down.  This gap in the schedule means more quality time with my daughter.

What I miss about being an employee at a bigger company

I have my husband’s health insurance and his steady income. HOWEVER, if I was single and pursuing this lifestyle, I am sure health insurance would be number one.

I miss having paid time off and vacation days. If I don’t work I don’t earn money.

I miss having coworkers. I work alone, and if you spend enough time with me you realize I am a podcast junkie.  Podcasts replace coworkers in my world.

I miss getting dressed up for work. As a personal chef on my feet all day, comfort is king.  I wear the same thing every day (I have multiples of the same items), so a plus is I don’t have the “what-to-wear-today” worry.

(Michelle’s note: I work in a business environment and I rely on my stylist to help me with the “what to wear” daily dilemma – so I don’t stress about this either!)

Being my own boss has changed my life

I live the life I chose. I spend time with and prioritize my family and relationships.   I am sane and feel good about the work I do.

My advice for someone considering making a big career change

Making a career change as I did – from corporate world to small business owner – is something you really have to want. It’s hard work, especially for the first few years.  You can’t just be good at something and figure things will work out; you have to apply a range of other skills if you want to make it work.  These skills include accounting, marketing, and basic communications to name a few.

You need the support of those you love, people who believe in what you are doing. Money obviously helps, but successful small business owners are often “scrappy” and will bootstrap to make it work.

You have to be a self-starter and motivated. If you want to change your career so you can sit on a beach and drink fancy cocktails, you probably are making the wrong decision.  If you want a change so you can do something that is meaningful to you, my opinion is that you will be a success!



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