You are not what you do (for a paycheck)
Hi, I used to be a Software Manager at…
For months after I left my previous job to start a company, I introduced myself as a former Software Manager. This wasn’t who I was, it was just one of my old jobs. Looking back, it seems ridiculous. I was confusing who I was what what I did (not even what I was currently doing). I think most of us go through our careers this way. We are a SW Engineer Level 4 or a Manager Level 2 or a Director or a VP. The funny thing is that we don’t realize this conflation of identity and employment — we don’t even see it in others. I think one of the only ways to really become aware of this (pre-retirement, that is) is to do some self-funded bootstrapping.
Bootstrapping your identity
I’ve been bootstrapping for close to 2 years now. It’s been a creative time and one that’s encouraged a lot of reflection. At some point, “what I did” (or used to do) finally burned away from “who I was”. The ascetic lifestyle is purifying that way. 🙂 I hadn’t realized it, but about a third of my conscious mind had been wrapped up in the roles I used to play. When I got past this, not only did I have more brainpower, but I also had a clearer sense of who I was, what my priorities were, and what I needed to do.
Labels are limiting
I think a lot of people would benefit from a type of bootstrapping experience. I suspect many of us don’t know how we ended up in our current careers. At some point, we were probably labeled as future “doctors”, “lawyers”, “researchers”, “engineers”, or “businesspeople” and we let these labels limit what we did, what we thought about, and what we believed possible. We never fully explored our talents or our skills. We ended up doing what we thought we should do instead of what we were meant to do. We were so busy being what we were supposed to be, we never had a period where we reflected on who we really are.
What a wonderful world this could be
I’ve met people who should have been beat cops instead of lawyers, furniture craftsmen instead of board designers, park rangers instead of middle managers. How much better — and happier — a world it would be if we could all start from who we are and go from there, if we could apply our talents and do what we were born to do. Starting a company helps you do this. It gives you the opportunity to reset your career and refocus your activity, to figure out how to use your talent to improve yourself and the world.