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Cubes Are For Squares: The Startup/Corporate Matrix – Where Do You Fit?

By Melissa Thompson, CEO of Talk Session Everyone wants his or her dream job, but few have the courage to take big risks. Two years ago I attended my Business School reunion and it was clear that I was part of the 1% who effusively loved her job. I was also in the 1% of alumni who had a salary of zero dollars per year. Now, eighteen months after graduation, my classmates are leaving their jobs in droves to similar roles that with a slight change in name, title and uptick in optimism. Sadly their hair, complexions and dreams are all becoming shades grayer – in a much less sexy manner than the book. Most corporate nomads prefer to stay within their comfort zone, and can you blame them? Steady paychecks, 401K plans, health insurance, an actual office with support staff, an HR department to source talent, cafeterias with reliably bland good, often black car service if you stay past 9pm and corporate AMEXs for the lucky ones. To some, risk has a very different meaning than to someone like me. For some, the risk is working at a boutique bank over a large one. That boutique bank or consulting firm seems like a big move, a bit risky. And for them, it is. There are a few important truths to face if you are thinking about jumping off and in to a startup, be it your own or someone else’s.

The corporate “holy grail” jobs are often inversely correlated to happiness.

Goldman, Bain, BCG, Morgan Stanley…. Are all the same names despite market and moral turbulence. Enter Sharon – an anomalous example of a classmate who proved a useful lesson.  After a year’s worth of 16 hour days in glass offices with her friend Excel (together creating strategy matrixes), she left her Consultant title and six-figure salary, and took her Ivy MBA to become a bartender in Canada. Tired of urban life, and truly happiest when engaged in casual conversations, she realized vanity does not equal happiness in a job.Startups can hardly be glamorous, yet given Sharon’s training, I would put money on her ability to make a perfectcocktail from a recipe – she is not necessarily a startup gal, but she did learn that she is better suited for casual conversations with strangers while she’s shaking and stirring. An unrealized problem amongst most of my corporate peers is that recipes are guides, not rules. To make any individual’sideal cocktail, it would likely diverge from the exact formula. Starting a company is creating one’s ideal concoction, for those who can accept the risks.

Perfect matches are hard to find in love, friendships, and careers.

The only perfect, complete match, is found in math. In practical life, there are no one-size fits all jobs, quizzes or algorithms that can dictate happiness. Some of us are born Type-A entrepreneurs who start businesses out of their parent’s garages. Some, like me, go through a push-and-pull process to potentially have the chutzpah to jump from corporate to startup. We rely on “corporate security,” (call it “resume building”) and spend a few years in which everyday seems incredibly important, yet over time aggregates into a bland resume block that garners respect, but also accounts for time lost.

You are the job, you are the recipe.

Creating a completely new venture is not easy. There is no padding to fall back on aside from the trust I have in myself. But like Sharon, I broke it down. What is at the core of my happiness? Fixing inefficiencies, technology, self-exploration and improvement, entrepreneurial collaboration, reading about studies in psychology, and the agility to move around physically and between projects. How was I going to find that match in a job? I could not and did not want to. I started TalkSession. It is no different for me than anyone else who might fit in to this paradigm of creating the job and the recipe: you have to do it, no one else will.

However, dipping in a toe is okay, too.

Corporate environments provide security, structure and salary. Startups provide a blank canvas. Everyone falls at a different place on the spectrum of risk tolerance and I do not wish to preach to everyone to take that leap. Even if the startup is not your idea and despite your intact 401k, everyone can participate in the entrepreneurial process and at least alter the corporate recipe a bit more to his or her liking. We spend so much time dedicated to our jobs – we best be happy doing it. More than half of my team spends their 9 to 5’s at full-time jobs. I keep my office open after hours, on weekends, and cater to their schedules. My startup gives my team the infrastructure to keep their job and simultaneously leave their legacy. Whether it is through angel investing, participation in brainstorm sessions, or sharing contacts, everyone on the spectrum can participate in the startup process and take a change at changing the world. To have a startup one needs to realize the worst-case scenario of falling down with no cushion. Whatever your next move might be, do the research and make an informed decision. I love the startup world and for me, there is no going back. But certainly that is not for everyone. Jumping into risky and unpredictable waters can be scary, but if you have the chops and the dreams, I believe it will be worth it. And if you are risk averse, you do not have to bleed corporate blue or include the JPMorgan Challenge on your list of “things to do.” There are ways to participate in the startup world, make a mark on the world, and still maintain some security.   Melissa Thompson left a burgeoning Wall Street career as a trader with Goldman Sachs to become a female pioneer in the world of technology. She is currently the CEO and co-founder of Talk Session, an online counseling platform in beta mode, that will connect users with highly credible professionals for on-demand, mobile therapy and counseling sessions using proprietary algorithm matching and artificial intelligence.    

This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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