This year I celebrated my 7th anniversary of leaving the corporate world to pursue a lifelong dream of opening a bakery. Having spent the prior seven years as an investment banker, I can now compare my two careers on an "apples to apples" basis.
On the one hand, I've made a lot less money in these last years than I did in my first. On the other hand, I haven't worn a pantsuit or pantyhose since 2004. I've successfully avoided bailouts, mergers and layoffs, and I control my own destiny.
My day-to-day job is not glamorous. It can involve washing dishes, bussing tables, patiently explaining to a customer why we can't tint chocolate icing pink and endless other headaches. But I am living my childhood dream of owning my own business doing work that brings smiles to people's faces. My daughters understand what I do and are proud of me. So I can confidently tell you that leaving a corporate job to turn your passion into a profession can be immensely fulfilling—as long as you don't go about it haphazardly. Here are four questions to ask yourself before turning your passion into a business.
1. Are you realistic about what you'll gain?
One of the main reasons that people leave the corporate world is a desire to be their own boss. But being your own boss is overrated. When you're self-employed, you don't get the luxury of checking out when you leave the office. When my second daughter was born at the beginning of our busiest season, I took four days off before I had to come back to work. I couldn't blame it on an awful boss. It was my fault—poor planning coupled with bad hiring. If I hadn't come back so soon and spent many days that December working 12 to 16 hours, my business would've collapsed.
Other major drivers for starting your own business can be money, quality of life, fame or using your expertise. All of these are good reasons to switch careers, but you won't be able to achieve these goals overnight. Be realistic about how much time it will take to achieve your goals.
2. Are you ready to start at the bottom?
You may be extremely good at your hobby, but when people start paying you for it, you're subject to a new set of standards. Your age and experience in your first career won't necessarily give you a head start in your new career. Be open to gaining experience through internships or apprenticeships and expect—and accept—that people above you may be younger than you.
At Tribeca Treats, we have had interns of all ages ranging from teenagers to people into their 50s. Most often, older interns are more reliable and have a great attitude, but occasionally we have an intern whose attitude is clouded by a sense of entitlement or resentment at having to perform menial tasks. Don't be one of those people.
3. Do you really want your hobby to become your job?
Hobbies are typically things you enjoy as a distraction from work, so what happens when your hobby is work? Will it make you enjoy your work more or your hobby less? Chances are it will lead to a little bit of both.
Say cake decorating is your hobby. Each time you make a cake for a friend or family party, everyone oohs and aahs and tells you, "You should do this for a living." Well, fast forward and think about having to make 20 cakes a day to pay the bills and having to hire people to help you make all those cakes. Think about spending your time managing those people and trying build your business to 30 cakes a day to afford those new hires. You may enjoy your work more than your old job, but I'm guessing you'll find a new hobby.
4. Are you prepared for an emotional roller coaster?
As with any job, there will be highs and lows. The more passionate you are about your job, the more personal those highs and lows get. When you pour your blood, sweat and tears into building your dream business, each accomplishment can put you on top of the world...and each criticism can be equally devastating.
Working for "the man" is definitely the safer route in life. For the thrill seekers among us, straying off on your own to pursue your dream can be incredibly rewarding, albeit challenging and scary at times. Just be prepared for what you're getting into, and enjoy the ride.
OPEN Cardmember Rachel Schifter Thebault is the founder of Tribeca Treats and author of Sweet Chic: Stylish Treats to Dress Up for Any Occasion.