Draft of Intro
We have lied, we have done damage, we have sold the people a beautiful fantasy not based in reality. We have stood on soap boxes, in pulpits, at podiums and on stages spouting the narrative that the only path to freedom is the path that ends in entrepreneurship. Let’s pause and backup for a second. We are not talking about the freedom Christians speak of when they are teaching on eternal life, not the freedom Black slaves sought when they risked life and limb to flee slave masters in the United States, nor the freedom that drives people to leave their country of origin and homes to go to a land far away and unknown just for the hope of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: not that type of freedom, not freedom from “The Man” but the freedom we lust after every single day when we trudge through rush hour traffic to make it into a job we hate, to work with people we barely tolerate, to do a job we aren’t even passionate about. Career freedom, which is what we are talking about here. This is the freedom employees long for when they walk into an office knowing they will be there for a solid 8-12 hours, five days a week, 4 weeks a month, 12 months a year. That is the freedom we are talking about here. And we, entrepreneurs, business coaches, life coaches, Entrepreneur programs at Universities, Wantepreneurs (want to be entrepreneurs) have lied to these employees. We fed them the story that until they step out on their own, run their own business, become their own boss they will always be in bondage because employment is bondage with the only escape being entrepreneurship.
Because of the lie people go to work fantasizing about the day that they no longer have to make that trek to the office. They focus more on “getting out” than they do on the benefits of being an employee, or the benefits of finding your passion while employed, or the idea that you can actually live your passion, be fulfilled and be an employee. I heard a preacher once say “marriage is like flies on a screen door, the ones on the outside are trying to get in and the ones on the inside are trying to get out.” I would apply this same sentiment to entrepreneurship but with a caveat. Just like marriage, there are people on both sides of the equation that are quite happy with their situation. Why? Because they haven’t defined happiness and fulfillment by the title of their situations. They are like the Apostle Paul who says “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Being content, dare we say happy, in every situation is an art and there is a secret to it; a secret that we are ready to reveal. Unfortunately I won’t reveal the secret to total life happiness in this book but I will tell the secret to career fulfillment and freedom.
In my TEDx Talk “Employeeprenuer: Quest to Crazy” I recited something I said to myself over 15 years ago. That statement set me on a path that would change my life. My words to myself were “Life is too short to trudge through rush hour traffic to make it into an office you hate, to work with people you barely tolerate, to do a job you aren’t even passionate about.” I said this to myself in the midst of a self-diagnosed break down. In that moment I realized I was trapped in a job with no apparent way out. Also, in that moment I realized I would remain trapped until retirement which was easily 40 years away. The thought of that moment makes me cringe. From that moment I began my quest on what I affectionately call “Empoyeepreneurship: The Quest To Crazy.” Since that time I have escaped career prison and help(ed) many other escape career prison.
Now, let’s have a moment of honesty: I am an entrepreneur in the literal sense of the word. I own and operate a company and that company is my main source of revenue: it pays the bills, sustains my lifestyles and is the method by which I financially support the causes that matter to me. I am free and I love it. I make my own schedule; I choose whom I work with and what I work on. Everyday I look forward to going into the office or not going. Sometimes, I work in my pajamas the entire day and only take a shower because I was taught to take a shower everyday, not because I have left the house, broken a sweat or done anything to ruin my bath from the night before. My life has some of the attributes people think of when they long for entrepreneurship. But, I have a confession and mind blowing fact: I was free long before I was an “entrepreneur.”
You may ask why the word entrepreneur is in quotations marks. According the dictionary.com, entrepreneur mean “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” I know when people think of entrepreneur they only think of someone who has a legally registered corporations but I am here to challenge that definition and to offer a path to freedom right where you are.
Many employees look at other, higher level positions and think, “If only I had that job, I would be happy/free/liberated/creative/productive/…” They think this not knowing, the person in that job they are lusting after is trying to find freedom just like they are. So, let me describe my prison. The job was actually a great job, with decent people and sufficient pay, my boss stayed out of my way and let me do my job. My coworkes saw me as the expert and came to rely on my expertise. By all accounts it was a good job. My breakthrough came when I realized it wasn’t the job that was miserable, it was me. I had yet to learn how to navigate my business. What do I mean by “my business.” That is a story for the rest of the book but let’s provide a peek here.
Before ExecuPrep I was an entrepreneur, I had a business. I never filed for a LLC, Inc. or any legal incorporation papers, as a matter of fact my business had no registrations, except for maybe a few conferences. This is not because my business was not legitimate, or because I was doing business under the table. It was because I, Dethra U. Giles was my business. I was both the Inc. and the product. No, I was not doing anything classified as illegal in most of the 50 states in the United States, to the contrary, I was doing what most employed people should be doing. I recognized that my career was my business. Not like, “I am minding my business” but like “I am running a multibillion dollar, world class organization” because I was. When I began to treat and run my career like a business was when I found freedom. Running my career like a business made me realize that I had been fed a lie.
What was the lie? It was the lie that said “the only escape from the prison of employment is entrepreneurship.” Now, let me pause and go on a tangent for a second. Entrepreneurship is AMAZING! I love it and I don’t plan to go back (but we know about the best laid plans). It has been an awesome journey filled with ups, downs and the most unpredictable situations both positive and challenging AND it is not for everyone. When people ask me about entrepreneurship I say “Keep your job.” I respond this way not because I dislike entrepreneurship, I respond this way because most people have this utopian view of entrepreneurship that is just not reality, partially because they have been sold/told a lie. If you are an unhappy employee, you will likely be an unhappy entrepreneur. You want to know what will negatively impact your happiness? How about the uncertainty of the next time you will be paid, or the feeling of a low bank account despite the fact that collectively you are owed over $100,000 and it should be showing up any day now, though you have a bill that was due two days ago? That is a recipe for unhappiness and a very real scenario for an entrepreneur, particularly a new one. While I could go on, I won’t. I simply wanted to paint the picture of what it is like on the other side and it is not all roses. Someone once said “Yes, the grass is greener on the other side but before you decide to relocate you might want to check the water bill.” Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.
When I realized that entrepreneurship was not the only path to freedom. I went on a quest to become crazy. Why is it “The Quest To Crazy?” The day I had my breakdown in the privacy of my office, it was not a pretty sight to see. There were tears, snot, sobbing, and utter mess. My makeup was smeared, eyes puffy, nose red and throat soar, I was and looked a hot, buttered, microwaved mess. I was stuck with no clue what to do where to go or even who to ask. I really could not think of anyone who displayed a real joy or love for their job. Sure, I knew people who were good at their jobs but no one that I felt displayed a true passion for their career or career path. This realization made me cry even harder. Really, no one? Not one person in my sphere had a passion for their work. And then “she” arrived. I call her “she” because I don’t have her permission to use her name, but “she” is a very real person. We all know/knew a “she.” She came to my door sounding like all things happy and great. In my TEDx talk I say “she sounded like ocean breezes, unicorns, laughing babies and sunshine all mashed together in one melodic tune.” As I heard her on the other side of my closed door two things hit me:
I hated her, mainly because I was jealous; and
She was the person I was looking for, the person I said I had never seen.
You see She was happy. I don’t mean a happy person, I was a happy person. She was a happy employee, dare I say, she was free. She enjoyed coming to work and really like what she did. And it wasn’t that her job was in someone more rewarding or fulfilling than my own. To the contrary, we had very similar duties and I was higher up in the organization than she was. No, she actually enjoyed her job, mainly because she was managing her career the right way. I like to say She wasn’t climbing the career ladder; she was on the express elevator with no stops in between floors.
In my estimation she was one or two things; either crazy or on drugs. How and why would someone be that happy to come to work everyday? While the rest of us begrudgingly worked beyond our eight hours and five days, She was “happy to do it.” Her response was always, “I’ll do it”, “Happy to help”, “Sure, why not”, “I don’t mind.” When she said these things she did not say them with an air of contempt, you know what I mean by that. She didn’t say them like the McDonalds cashier in the drive through when you change your order at the last minute. Sure, their words say “No, problem. I don’t mind” but their tone says, “You are about to get the special sauce.” No, her responses were more like the Chic-fil-a cashier that says “My pleasure” and you believe them. Who but a high or crazy person would be this way at work? Since, I was one of the leaders in HR and knew we did drug testing I figured she wasn’t on drugs so the only option left was crazy. And haven’t we all run into this crazy person. They are out there and really way into their jobs for what appears to be no reason at all. Our typical response to them is “It is not that serious”, but what if it is?
So, in this moment when she arrived at my door I was willing to explore the idea that it was that serious and that I should look at my job differently; perhaps the way she looked at hers. Yes, I was willing to explore that path of the crazy woman in my office: I was ready to go on a quest to crazy. This began my study. I started by studying her, and then it expanded to people like her. I read biographies of well know employees that led their careers similarly to what I saw her doing. But I did not spend a great deal of time of the big named CEOs and chairmen of the board. I wanted to study everyday people. Why?
I have always had a passion for the everyday hero, everyday change maker, the real, tangible person. I often feel like we look to and idolize historical, bigger than life figures because it gives us a pass to not be great. I will never be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , he was great, larger than life, left a legacy that I can’t see myself living up to. So, instead of trying to achieve the almost unachievable, I will just quote him and call it a day because no one really expects me to live up to a Dr. King. But when someone talks about how Margaret Daniels touches elderly people with traumatic brain injuries and gives them their lives back; well now I have to do something, cause she is not bigger than life, she is a regular person like me who made a decision to do something extraordinary. I wanted regular people who were experiencing and doing things differently, and extraordinarily in their careers. I wanted to know what they did, how they did it and the results they got.
I began to study her like I studied the subjects for my thesis research, except this time I did not have to get IRB approval. And this study set me down the path to my coaching and writing this book.
This book is for you to learn and enjoy. I am an academic by nature; this means I have the ability and the research to numb your mind with pages and pages of data. It means that I like to make sure that all of my recommendations and coaching are founded in theory and supported by data. I am a human by birth, which means that I like to learn by reading and doing things I enjoy just like you. The good news for you is that I have not allowed my nature to overcome my birth, particularly in how I share and write information. This means you are holding a book that you will enjoy reading and you will learn things that will impact your life positively. There will be stories with characters that you are able to relate to. You will find yourself laughing out loud, nodding, highlighting and being tickled by the characters that made the same mistakes you have made. But in your laughter and giddiness you will have “aha moments” where you realize your own missteps, how you need to change and what strategies you may employ to have different results. While this book was written for your enjoyment, its foundational purpose is to advance your career and get you many steps closer to the life you have dreamed of.
Enjoy the book and the life it will set you on a path towards.