Contributed Column

The Manager's Corner

by Emily Morrow

Career transitions and the reluctant entrepreneur

Some years ago my brother wrote a book entitled The Reluctant Entrepreneur. It was never published, but I think of it often as I work with clients during the current economic downturn. Reluctant entrepreneurs are people who never thought they would be self-employed, did not seek it out, and are often surprised by their own success.

Take, for example, Laura, age 57, who left the workforce years ago to homeschool her children until they were both accepted at Ivy League colleges last year, after which she needed to find a job. Having been unable to secure a full-time job, Laura now develops curricula for parents who homeschool their children.

John, an accountant, chose to leave his position with an accounting firm, and, after much soul searching and a frustrating job search, is now a consultant earning a modest income, which allows him time for volunteer work.

Mary was unexpectedly laid off from her editing job and, after looking for a job and some careful research, started a “niche market” bicycle tour company. Laura, John, and Mary are successful reluctant entrepreneurs.

What do these people have in common? All went through a period of restlessness, followed by a sense that something was not quite right in their work lives. Money was, and is, important to them, but they questioned whether the money was the “meat and potatoes” of work or whether it should be the “gravy.” Leaving the security of a traditional job and a predictable paycheck, voluntarily or not, they chose to take the road less traveled by.

When considering self-employment during career transitions, clients often ask me if I think they could be successful in doing so. Going off the beaten track can involve some anxiety and self-doubt.

I tell them that, in my opinion, success as an entrepreneur is less closely associated with one’s areas of technical expertise and work experience, and is more highly correlated with certain intentional and attitudinal choices.

That said, what does correlate with success? I’ve noticed the following.

  1. Successful reluctant entrepreneurs understand the role their intentions and attitudes play in their lives. Despite the external realities, they have complete control over their attitudes and they create non-negotiable intentions going forward.
  2. They accurately identify their core capabilities beyond their technical areas of expertise. Mary realized she was a remarkable organizer, could get along with anyone, and could handle any emergency. These are critical skills in her bike tour business but have nothing to do with her training as an editor.
  3. They are realistic and honest about the risks and rewards of self-employment and take full responsibility for their own success. Blaming is not part of their life experience.
  4. They are tenacious and resilient. As one client said to me, “I may not always be successful, but I choose not to include the word failure in my lexicon.” Bingo!
  5. 5. It’s interesting to note that most successful reluctant entrepreneurs choose to believe that there is more than enough to go around, that a rising tide floats all boats, and that their success should not be at anyone else’s expense.
  6. They are realistic about their strengths, know how to compensate for their weaknesses, and act on this.
  7. They believe it is possible to have an abiding sense of well-being in life and they intend to achieve that.

You may never be a reluctant entrepreneur. But should the need arise to consider being one, don’t dismiss the idea out of hand. You might be better at it than you think. •

Emily Morrow ( of Shelburne, provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives and HR personnel. She can be reached at

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