By Olumide Somefun, an EO Netherlands Elumni, and CEO/co-founder of Special Crafts Group
It’s amazing how life has a way of changing your future.
I managed a law firm in the Hague, Netherlands, for 10 years. We employed about 12 people and serviced roughly 250 corporate clients. About six years ago, I started wondering if having a law firm was really what I wanted to do in life. At the time, I was asked by a wealthy client to be an interim director of his super car company in England. This unique opportunity stopped me in my tracks on an unconscious level. It reminded me how much I love speed and sports, and it forced to me analyze my current situation. Was I happy? Was I still enjoying my job? At the time, stepping away from my successful law firm wasn’t something I could easily picture; you don’t leave a company you built just to try something new— or do you?
Over the years, this fundamental question started to grow within me. It didn’t come to a head until about three years ago. I was introduced to EO by a client, and around the same time, our firm was hit hard by the financial crisis. I recall seeking feedback from my Forum on what I could do to turn the firm around, to become fully invested in my business again. From the feedback I received, I became increasingly aware that I no longer enjoyed what I was doing for a living. I felt like I was not getting everything out of my professional career, and I slowly began to feel like I was a prisoner of my own company. I could not see myself doing what I was doing for another 20 years, and my company was starting to reflect my state of mind.
I had a hard time accepting this realization. I tried to get that passion back by exploring other areas of law, but it didn’t work. I pushed for business growth and long-term commitments, like indirectly investing money into the company, purchasing a new office building and setting up a subsidiary in Silicon Valley, California, USA. Still, nothing worked. My gut feeling about my role began to get worse, and I soon realized that I had a very serious and unexpected problem. I looked desperation in the eyes, and I could see no way out. I hoped and prayed for some miracle to set me free, that maybe I would bump into someone I knew who could take over my shares for a nice sum. It never happened. Ultimately, I realized I had to take the first step to create a new life, and it was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made.
With the support of my wife, I stepped out of my law firm, knowing that financially, I would have to start all over again. The value of my firm had evaporated over the past two years, and most of the money I had was put back into the company to keep it afloat. Not only was I stepping away from my business, but I risked losing it altogether, along with my financial security blanket. What’s worse, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I only knew that there was no longer any future for me in my law firm. Knowing this, I handed my shares to my business partner virtually for free. I could have decided to stay on for a couple of more years and step out after I felt financially more secure, but I knew I had to seize the moment life was presenting me. If I stayed, I would never get out.
In making this transition, I transformed my actions from acting out of fear to acting out of opportunity. Like all entrepreneurs, I have a winner’s mentality, and I realized I couldn’t win anything unless I’m willing to give up something. I decided to let go of everything I ever worked for, including my status and financial future, and take a leap of faith. Within two days of making my decision, I knew what I wanted to do: Build speed boats. There were a hundred reasons why it wasn’t smart to make the move, but I only needed one to do it. I have been a passionate wake boarder for the past 10 years, and it always gives me an exciting and magical feeling! The feeling I get from being out on the water is one of the underlying things I want to bring across in the boats I’m building. I finally found a new opportunity to fuse my passion with my entrepreneurial skill set, and I wasn’t looking back.
As of today, I’m still working on developing Special Crafts Group, my boat business. Looking back, here are some of the lessons I learned from this experience:
Sharpen your focus. Sometimes our focus can become so narrow because we’re thinking about the logistics of our businesses.
Check in on your values from time to time and evaluate your passion. You might be surprised to find that the flame you have for your business is about to go out. It’s a pretty scary process, but being aware of it is the first step toward a solution.
Be open to new possibilities. As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to get so involved in our businesses that we forget about the opportunities life hands us. This experience taught me not to be afraid of jumping in and letting life take over.You may have to make sacrifices, but you’ll go on to bigger and better things because you’re following your heart.
Create your own security. To my surprise, I found myself hanging on to some form of security, unable to initially make that leap. I spent 10 years building my business, and I knew exactly how it worked and what to expect. Having to start all over again meant I wouldn’t have that sense of security for a long time. This experience taught me that it’s easier to create your own security when you’re doing something you’re passionate about.
All in all, I’m glad I quit my business and took a risk. I wanted to be true to myself, to honor that part of every entrepreneur that drives us to excel in spite of difficulties. Most of all, I wanted to feel alive again. Though I still have a long way to go in my new business, I’m having fun, and at the end of the day, that’s really what being an entrepreneur all is about.