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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Coping With a Day Job When You're an Entrepreneur

Let me start by saying that I love my job.

I’m enhancing my social media and client services skills. I have supervisors who support me and who are always down for a game of Fruit Ninja on the company’s Xbox360. Plus, there are free K-cups and telecommuting days. It’s a great workplace, and I’m grateful to be there.

But being a business owner in addition to a 9-to-5er, there are moments at work when my entrepreneur senses tingle. If there’s an issue, I want to dive into it immediately to get it solved—but I have to wait for the proper channels to get things fixed. What are we waiting for? How busy are these proper channels? It’s a waiting game that makes me itch, because I am sure that the solution is within arm’s reach—if the powers that be would simply press that Staples “easy” button.

It’s a stark contrast to my role as a food truck owner, where there are days I have to act fast to keep things in order and to keep customers happy. I am the powers that be, the proper channels. Working a 9-to-5 has its perks, but as an entrepreneur, it often feels like the train is either going at a snail’s pace or has stalled on the tracks (without Wi-Fi).

If you’re an entrepreneur working a day job, too, I’m sure you can understand. Here are three lessons I’ve learned that have helped me cope in the corporate world.

It’s Not Your Baby

At the office, I often get worked up or emotional about projects. (My co-workers probably blame this on my Cancer astrology sign, but I think it has more to do with the fact that I’m an entrepreneur who just wants to get the job done.) For example, when the project management tool says we’re weeks behind or off-track from meeting a goal, I’m in my cubicle biting my nails and drinking my third dark roast K-cup.

My co-workers say, “It’s cool. Chill. It’s up to the client.” But does the client know that we’re weeks behind? I protest. “Yes, and when they’re ready to move, we’ll be ready to take off. It doesn’t belong to us—we’re here to support the client.”

The general vibe at my office walks a fine line: Some co-workers are over it and don’t care whether a project moves forward. Others keep their go-getter spirits up by offering different options, coming up with different solutions, and remaining positive. I’ve learned a bit from each group: Instead of being in a mode of constant panic or crying over a system that constantly has me failing at life, I’m learning not to get attached to projects as if they are Lazarus (my food truck)—and to look for ways to stay motivated and make whatever progress is possible.

You Don’t Have All the Power

Disclaimer: I am not a control freak. I just think things should go a certain way, and if that way happens to be fueled by my ideas (genius), well, the world is a better-off place.

At work, there are moments where projects seem unorganized, chaotic, and a total mess. It’s not my imagination—they often are—but I’ve realized that my approach is often a bit judgmental. I’m the co-worker who’s constantly wondering why we can’t take this approach to meet goals and standards. If only everyone would stand back and let me take the lead, things would be a lot better, and the task would be complete. I’ve run a food truck, I can handle this! My natural stance is arms folded while giving out recommendations and then returning to my cubicle to pout and listen to Louis Armstrong’s version of Solitude.

As an entrepreneur doing something else, it’s understandable that you want to be in charge of things—after all, your track record proves that you kind of know what you’re doing. But, as I’ve had to realize, not everything involves a moving kitchen or red velvet goodness. There are plenty of things I’m not an expert on, and I need to accept that I don’t have to be in a leadership role to move things forward.

Folding my arms is the easy way out, but unfolding them and lending a hand is the better move to make. The moments I’ve conceded to my more team-focused nature are the ones that made the task at hand much less difficult.

Focus on What You Want to Learn

It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going wrong at a 9-to-5. But it’s also important to remember that every one of the successes, failures, ups, and downs at a corporate job can be used as very important lessons when it comes to leadership, project management, client and customer engagement, and employee motivation, just to name a few.

So, I try to focus on what kind of leader I want to be when I decide to move on and learn as much as I can from my day job in the meantime. The leaders at my company are dynamic. The CEO remembers everyone’s name, sends weekly letters to the global staff on his travels, and has an awesome mustache. The Managing Director’s bubbly energy is contagious and puts everyone at ease. Entrepreneurship is about leadership, and if I can take at least 10% of their thoughtfulness and charisma, then I’m sure it will all be worth it.

I always wonder, when companies say they want people with an entrepreneurial spirit, if they’re looking for someone who actually wants to start and run a business or someone who’s willing to take the initiative and stick with it when the going gets tough. Perhaps it’s both.

Either way, I think there’s a lot that companies gain from hiring us—but there’s a lot that we gain, too. So, if you’re working a 9-to-5 for now, chill out and learn as much as you can. You’ll be building your own empire soon enough.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.