A year on my own

A year ago, after having worked in big companies my entire life, I decided to start a company of my own. I figured I would mark my anniversary by answering the question people ask me most:

“How’s it going?”

The trade-offs quickly became obvious

It didn’t take long for me to experience the advantages. Immediately, I was in control of my time and my work, and that was both empowering and fulfilling. Like shedding a heavy overcoat that had grown increasingly uncomfortable, I left behind the mundane anxieties, the manufactured drama, and the sheer senselessness of some of what I did each day. I felt lighter. I felt liberated.

The disadvantage was equally clear: the paycheck that was deposited twice a month was no longer going to arrive.

Building my way forward

Though I had published Working Out Loud a year earlier, and had interacted with people and companies in different countries, I had no firm idea how I would make a living. I figured I could deliver presentations and workshops, and do some consulting. But I knew many people who were doing the same and were struggling. Why would I be different?

So I tried experiment after experiment. Most didn’t amount to much, but each one helped me practice my craft or get feedback on a new idea. They refined my sense of the work I wanted to do as well as what other people valued. After six months or so, I had a few more customers and an emerging sense of what I could offer them.

And so it continues. I’m writing this on a train in Germany where I’ll work with five different companies in four cities. More experiments. More learning. My fledgling business isn’t a success, it's a work in progress. Step by step.

I can’t say I’d recommend what I’m doing to someone else. The odds are too high. Most days it feels like there’s no ground beneath your feet. As a result, I have more compassion for my former self, working at big corporations for so long. I also have more respect than ever for anyone who tries to build something on their own, whatever it is.

Finding my ikigai

A year ago, I named my new company “Ikigai” after the Japanese word for “a reason for living.” I feel like I’ve found my ikigai now. It’s to change how people relate to each other, to themselves, and to the work they do. When I get it right, the methods I’m developing help individuals be more effective and feel happier. They make work more human, compassionate, and connected. Maybe someday they’ll change the culture of a company, or even a country. Step by step.

I think the photo of me and my daughter on a rollercoaster captures how I feel after my first year on my own. I’m happy and excited and scared all at the same time. There’s so much to do and so much I don’t know. But the feeling of purpose makes it worth it. Just like that rollercoaster, I can’t wait to get back on for another ride.

Announcing ikigai, LLC

Four weeks after my last day working in a big corporation, I formed my own company: ikigai, LLC. It’s named after a Japanese word meaning “a reason to get up in the morning.”

I wrote about it in the final chapter of Working Out Loud titled “Finding your ikigai.” 

“I first heard the word “ikigai” in a talk about the secrets of living a longer, healthier life. A team of researchers investigated communities around the world that had high concentrations of people one hundred years old or older. The talk was about nine factors that contributed to such longevity, including what people ate, how they exercised, and how they maintained their social connections. One of the locations was Okinawa, a string of islands at the southern tip of Japan, and one of the factors was a sense of purpose, which the Okinawans called their ikigai.
Listening to the talk made me wonder, 'What’s my ikigai?'”

I think I found it. It’s enabling people to access a better career and life and helping them feel good while they do it. 

“Better” will mean different things for different people. Some will become more effective, or make work more fulfilling inside their organization. Some will build a sense of communion with others towards a shared purpose, or start a new chapter in their lives. Some will feel more open, generous, and connected, and enjoy each day a bit more.

My aspiration is that my one-person company and a community of practitioners around the world will inspire people to think “What’s my ikigai?” - and help them discover an answer.