coming out of the corporate closet

Not too many years ago I worked for a company as a project manager. I worked tirelessly to please the customer, promote those that worked the hardest on my team, and deal with people and issues that were counterproductive to our mission. On my appraisal that year, my supervisor put a single word under the section designated for areas of improvement: Passion. He went on to explain that I had too much of it.

I was stunned on so many different levels but first and foremost that my desire to uphold the spirit, integrity and intent of our contract was held in a negative light by corporate. Apparently, too much passion to do the right thing and excel can actually be a bad thing in some people’s eyes. It was then that I finally decided to come out of the corporate closet.

Sure, I had had these cultural “rubs” with previous bosses, one even told me when I was in the military that I made decisions too quickly (hadn’t I gone through five years of military academies to learn how to do that?). In fact, it happened so regularly that I finally went to my father and asked “Why do those in positions of authority view it as a threat when someone is working their hardest for the good of the entity?”

His answer was simple, but one I never forgot. “You can work for yourself or you can work for someone else”, he said. “As long as you work for someone else, this is going to happen.” I was blown away! Surely there had to be some organizations out there that valued order, structure, and integrity? And that’s when it hit me. Organizations, churches, governments and families have no inherent good or evil. It’s a matter of the people running them. As my father said, “There’s never been a monument in a park dedicated to a committee.”

Bureaucracies especially shun any kind of boat-rocking, change-inducing innovation because they are creatures of habit and those who get their paychecks there have done so for decades. I should know; I worked in the biggest and best of them, coming from the military, to Fortune 500, to government contractors.

Let’s face it, I was a refugee, I just wasn’t ready to admit it. I was never going to be able to enact lasting change on these behemoths. I had to come out of the closet and call myself what I really was: an entrepreneur. Once I owned up to it, I felt so liberated! So free! So creative! So in-my-own-element!!! I had gone the engineering route because that’s where “the money was”, and as a champion of doing the right thing I thought other organizations would be a haven for me. Boy was I wrong. I was like a fish out of water.

I’m a maverick! I loathe lazy people who just sit at their desks and delegate! I can’t stand unethical vendors or low-ball bidders! I despise managers who won’t make a decision! I knew I had to make a change. So at the beginning of the great recession and housing downturn of ’08, three months after my father died, I decided to walk away from my previous lifestyle and come out of the closet.

I used to think that “engineering project manager for a space technology division” was a sexy title. It’s nothing compared to small business owner, publisher, writer and speaker!  I used to think launching fighter aircraft was pretty cool. Try sharing and thinking with people intent on changing themselves and then the world. This is what I was made for. The only one I’ve got to worry about painting a target on my back is the kitten I just found when she jumps on the back of my chair to grab my pony tail.

The feeling of dread for the coming week on a Sunday night used to be palpable; now I’m so tired of being happy it’s wearing me out! I no longer count the days until vacation and then cry each time I fly home; who needs vacation when work is more fun than fun! I was so ill-informed I actually thought big companies and huge government bureaucracies made the economy run. Boy was I ignorant! It’s all about the entrepreneurial spirit of small businesses that is the backbone of our economy and the only way to be truly free.

One of my best friends recently called me. He had been hired by the government a year earlier and was realizing that it’s the “same s*%#, different day”, forget about the “guaranteed pension, job security, and lifelong health benefits”. You see, he’s a closet entrepreneur like I am, so he’ll never truly be happy until he’s allowed to fully express himself with his God-given talents and creativity. So for all you others dealing with your own identity crisis, take the plunge and declare it loud and clear.

I have no regrets about my previous professional lives. I never would have discovered what I truly was had I not gone in their closets and tried on their garbs. And I’m proud to share my story today to let others know it is okay to come out of the corporate closet, claim your own professional identity, and live life on your own terms. As Tom Petty said, “You don’t have to live like a refugee”.

8 Responses to “coming out of the corporate closet”

  1. July 11, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Tracey – I love this and agree completely! In fact, I just commented to Peyton that, minus the engineering and military references, I could have written this! The WORST day at Tin Cans is still 100% better than the best day at one of my previous ‘corporate’ jobs…

    • July 11, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      Isn’t it wonderful to talk with others who have seen the light?? You are so right Laura and it shows in the attitude and actions of you and Peyton that you are exactly where you are meant to be:-)

  2. 3 Linda Druce
    July 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    OMG Tracey that sounds so much like me on a much smaller scale. I worked with animals in different settings, private zoo, kennels, vet tech assistant ect. I either would get fired for speaking my mind on ethical treatment or I would quit because of office politics. Finally I realizes I can’t work with people so I became a pet sitter. My own business my own worker. I was so totally happy and had fantastic clients (2legs and 4). Life was never better. People were afraid of upsetting me by using term “real job” but I told them if everybody could realty love what they do they would never “work” a day in their life.
    I totally understand coming out of the closet. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • July 11, 2012 at 3:58 pm

      Linda, I knew you were tremendous but you’ve taken it to a whole new level! I am so with you regarding folks shutting you down for doing the right thing. Thankfully you saw the light as well and moved on to where your skills and integrity could bully blossom. Thank you so much for sharing as well. I need to call you to get an update on your situation and see about coming out for a visit! You are such a dear heart!!!!

  3. 5 Linda Druce
    July 11, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    I would love to meet you. You are tremendous no doubt but you sound so amazing. Plus I love following Mr Blue, Ruby Red, and Indigo. 🙂

  4. July 13, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Aw, man– what a trumpet blast! My ears are still ringing!!

    That opening paragraph was an absolute killer: too much passion. Thinking it thru a bit here, I guess the reason it’s so shocking is that someone actually wrote it down. Because anyone who’s spent time in a corporate closet is familiar with the loud-and-clear (but unspoken) message: Don’t rock the boat.

    Know what I like best about this post? That you didn’t set a course for bitterness and resentment. On the contrary you saw busting out of the closet for what it is: a blessing. It can be a mighty tough road, but it’s hard to beat the joy of liberation.

    Great post! Hats off to the lady with the cat hanging off her ponytail!! : )

    • July 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      You hit the nail on the head! That’s exactly what corporate told me, don’t rock the boat and stop running the contract in a way that caused them to have to be involved:-) It used to really hurt my feelings, but like you said, it was really a blessing in disguise all along, just took me some years to see it! Wait til you get to design the kitten’s book cover:-) Thank you again for your encouragement Mark!

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Tremendous Tracey

CEO Tremendous Life Books. Book Evangelist

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July 2012

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