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Brave Thoughts for a Weak Economy: Two female entrepreneurs give sound advice for sour times

By Paula Baldwin and Pat Cameron

(FeatureSource) Well, here we go — again. Unemployment levels just keep climbing, and today's headlines are once more replete with the displacement of more people in more industries and at more local companies.

Why, then, would two seasoned executives choose this foul economic climate to voluntarily sacrifice the security of nicely compensated senior positions, venturing out of the corporate womb and into some sort of rebirth on their own?

That's the question that has been asked of the two of us since we both departed a generous employer and gainful employment last year. It's often posed with a definite undercurrent of, "What are you, nuts?" Or, given our graying temples and spreading crow's feet, the distinct inference that mid-life crisis is definitely looming.

Perhaps both of these observations are true. But in an atmosphere so universally obsessed by security in every way, shape and form, we've ironically found greater sanctuary in life on our own than in what felt to us like a superficial safety net.

We know we're not alone, although there are days when we feel like members of an endangered species. The current recessionary climate, coupled with chaotic domestic developments (sniper attacks) and fearsome international events (Hussein's rumored weapons of mass destruction), naturally encourage a "don't rock the boat" philosophy towards life. Do what you can to salvage your 401(k) and reduce the mortgage. Follow the boss's direction, come in at or under budget and maintain the status quo. Do whatever it takes to retain some semblance of security in at least one aspect of your life.

But let's say you're like the two of us, and you can no longer swallow the sense of misery and doom that can accompany this scenario. You're unable to repress the urge to rise up from your office or cube, and jump on a most-probably unknown but definitely different kind of ride.

Those are some of the symptoms we experienced as we moved to take our lives back — an insatiable urge to run like The Screamer from the corporate security blanket that we feared was about to smother us.

We're certainly not advocating mass work force exodus. But if you often wish that an escape hatch would magically open beneath your office chair, you likely are a candidate for a different kind of ride. Be prepared to be challenged for your seeming wantonness.

You are embarking on a journey that is foreign to many. Here's some advice to help you cope with your potential calling, based on what we've encountered in our own recent excursions:

Go ahead, plead insanity. People will ask quite pointedly if you can afford to do this, since it seems financial security is the number one item on everybody's priority list these days. You won't know. All you'll know is that you can't afford not to. The two of us experienced a prolonged and grueling period of self-revelation, where we found we had to rediscover our bliss and follow it. You'll be forced into a possibly frightening awareness that if it's just about the money, then it's just not worth the profound personal investment that work demands of everybody these days.

Acknowledge your need for passion. People will ask why you did this, when you may have had the luxury of a secure income, seniority or some other semblance of corporate influence. Our answer frightens many of our former colleagues, because it has to do with an emotion in short supply in corporate offices today. It's called "passion." Often inherent in the need for change is the desire to reintroduce passion into our lives, and into what we do for our livelihoods as a significant part of what life is today. The goal is to approach each day and nearly every activity with a feeling that so closely resembles love you'd swear that's exactly what it is — a sheer giddiness about a "to-do" list whose rewards through personal fulfillment are richer than any paycheck.

Let yourself be. People insistently, and consistently, will ask what you're going to do, as if making a living were the only reason to live. Actually, this decision is less about what you'll do. It's more about who you'll be. For us, not too long ago, officer titles were our identities and executive offices the demarcations of our entire worlds. Professional reputations tend to define our value as people, and while the power and glory can be heady, as human beings who may desire an emphasis on the "human," this world can feel hollow. Be prepared to do the hard work of discovering what truly excites you, moves you and is important to you — the work of really being the real you.

Reclaim your inner security. We have come to recognize that none of the myriad of self-help tapes and books, or even the daily dose of Dr. Phil, can possibly prepare any of us for such a profound shift in what is actually a very personal life journey toward achieving genuine inner security. Reclaiming your inner security takes one day at a time, in an environment that will perpetually challenge you to opt for artificial safety over real "deep-from-your-soul" sanctuary. Like Eve with her tainted apple, you will be tempted to bypass your own path with the charm of superficial symbols of refuge. Stay the course to find your own true sense of real shelter.

When we set out on this adventure, neither of us realized it would be so challenging. It is lonely, scary and grueling at times, and yet often rewarding, exciting and just plain surprising. If the corporate world today is a merry-go-round, this is truly a monster roller coaster, and we're taking the ride of our lives.

Actually, we're on the ride that is our lives.

Paula Baldwin (baldw013@tc.umn.edu) and Pat Cameron (patcameron2002@aol.com) are currently experiencing the roller-coaster ride of self-employment, handling public relations and market research projects on their own.

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