In most businesses there’s no such thing as an overnight success.
People suddenly become aware of a business or person and assume it or he or she came out of nowhere “overnight.” Usually, though, you don’t see the years of preparation and work behind the scenes. Nor do you see the winding path and all the dead ends and false starts and retries.
Many factors play into success. We might think any small amount of success we have is due to hard work or brilliance. But chances are some of it was luck. And often, we owe it to a person who took the time to mentor us or who simply took a chance on us. Or pushed us out of our comfort zone.
I’ve had several careers: as a corporate attorney and General Counsel; as a CEO of a technology company; and as an entrepreneur building my own business. In each of those careers, I’ve had at least one event that made all the difference. Those events ultimately can be traced back to a person who inspired me or mentored me, or who just gave me a push out of my comfort zone.
One such break gave me the confidence to start Small Business Trends LLC, my current business — even though it occurred years earlier.
You see, my academic training is as an attorney. I spent most of my legal career in-house working for corporations. Yet I was always drawn to business, even while an attorney. Being an attorney felt too restrictive because most of the time I was in the role of advisor. Oh I had plenty of prestige and power — after all, my word was law when it came to anything legal.
But I wanted to be the one making the decisions on business deals, not just advising. I might have gone on indefinitely as a General Counsel working in corporate law, and silently chafing in a role that I perceived as being on the sidelines of business, but for that fateful day….
My big break came when my boss at the time (the CEO of the company I worked for) walked into my office one morning and announced that I was going to be the new Vice President of Human Resources in addition to General Counsel. And 2 minutes later he walked out.
It wasn’t a request. I didn’t apply for the HR role. I had no interviews. It happened — just like that.
Now, you might not consider that a “big break.” The role was not a promotion — just an additional responsibility.
But you see, that’s the point about big breaks. You can’t always tell at the time they happen, that they are a big break. It’s only later when you look back that you see the momentous change.
The reason I consider it my big break? Simple. It forced me outside of my comfort zone.
Suddenly I was responsible for new areas that I had to scramble to master. I had to learn new things. The company I worked for promptly sent me off to the University of Michigan Business School for a crash course in executive education. It was the beginning of my transition away from the law and feet first into business roles.
From there I held a variety of senior executive positions. Eventually I became the CEO of a subsidiary of the company I worked for. With each new role, my knowledge grew. I was tested again and again — and it wasn’t always pretty.
But along the way the most important thing happened. My confidence grew.
Had it not been for my boss forcing me to go outside my comfort zone, who knows? I might still be a General Counsel. I don’t think I would have gained the confidence to become an entrepreneur and start my own business.
And I would have missed out on the most rewarding part of my career: being a business owner.
How about you? What was your big break? Was it something that pushed you out of your comfort zone, like me? Or was it landing a big customer? Or something different? Tell us in the comments below.