Naama Zusman: How To Navigate The Transition From Corporate to Entrepreneur

Bridie Houlihan

Bridie Houlihan | Founder & CEO of Female Health Founders

Naama Zusman is a Life & Career Coach who empowers people to answer the call of their hearts, trust their wisdom, and pursue the work and experiences that will bring them deep fulfilment. In her time as a coach, she has witnessed countless people live life following other people’s rules, choosing a path that isn’t fully aligned, and wondering, “Is this it?” She believes we are all meant to find out what that is and take small and big leaps of faith to get there: leaving behind a 10-year career for something new, transitioning into a new industry, starting a business, unapologetically being your whole, authentic self at work. Naama is passionate about supporting her clients to honour what they want, pursue it with confidence, and build the resilience needed to ride the evolution of their lives, work & beyond.

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Naama Zusmanm, as an expert who has guided individuals through the transition from corporate to purpose driven entrepreneurial life, what common motivations do you often see driving professionals towards this shift, and how does it impact their sense of identity and purpose?

In my years of coaching and guiding individuals through transitions from corporate to purpose-driven entrepreneurial life, I’ve observed several common motivations that drive them towards this shift. More often than not, it’s a combination of a few factors.

One common factor is a desire for greater autonomy and independence in their work. Many individuals feel constrained by the rigid structures and hierarchies of corporate environments and seek the freedom to pursue their own ideas and creativity. They also want more autonomy over their days and how they structure their week.

Sometimes, it can be a change of circumstances that instigated the shift – maybe they have had a baby, or their kids have started school, and they now need more flexible working hours. Perhaps they are relocating due to their partner’s work and they want to work remotely. Life transitions, whatever they are, change us and the way we see the world. Sometimes it means our work is no longer a fit for us.

Another factor is related to the core of what it means to be human – to change and evolve over time. Many of my clients share the same sentiment – their work, once a perfect fit with their talents and interests, has become unfulfilling. They have been evolving, but their work has stayed the same. They want more. They want something different.

Another motivation is the desire to make more impact, to experience more meaning and fulfilment, and to feel like they are bringing more of themselves (their gifts, passions and purpose) into the world. There is a sense of a calling to pursue a different direction or a long-held dream.

Other reasons may be a toxic work environment, a micromanaging boss, stress, burnout and the lack of work-life balance.

-Naama Zusman

One thing common between all these different factors is that these individuals have arrived at this crossroads moment where they have been asking themselves questions such as: Is this it? What do I truly want out of my work and life? What makes my heart sing? What now? What’s next?

As it relates to their sense of identity, pivoting from corporate to purpose-driven entrepreneurial life is a big shift. It’s not just the practicalities that change, but as with any career change, it’s a change of identity. Changing careers means changing ourselves. It’s not a process of swapping one identity for another but rather a transition process in which we reconfigure this new version of ourselves.

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From your experience working with individuals navigating this transition, what are some of the typical challenges they encounter when moving from the structured environment of corporate life to the world of entrepreneurship?

There are several typical challenges that may emerge. Firstly, one of the primary hurdles is adjusting to the uncertainty inherent in self employment. Unlike the financial stability provided in corporate settings, entrepreneurship often entails irregular income streams. 

Secondly, professionals transitioning to entrepreneurship/self employment often face the challenge of wearing multiple hats. In corporate roles, responsibilities are typically more specialised, whereas in entrepreneurship/self employment, individuals take on a diverse range of tasks spanning various functions. This requires individuals to adapt quickly, develop new skills, and navigate unfamiliar territory.

Thirdly, often when individuals make such shifts, they move towards work that not only feels more meaningful, but is an expression of who they are. They bring more of themselves into their work. Consequently it means less separation between “work” and “life”. There is more integration, which can be beautiful. However, it requires establishing and practicing clear boundaries in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Additionally, there can be a sense of isolation for individuals transitioning from the collaborative atmosphere of corporate settings to the more independent nature of entrepreneurship/self employment. It requires being intentional about building and fostering relationships.

It’s often said that the fastest path to personal development is through entrepreneurship. This isn’t surprising. This path demands that we shoulder the responsibilities of business ownership, which encompass decision-making, risk-taking, and navigating uncertainty. It’s definitely more suited for the growth warriors. 

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In your expertise, how do professionals typically experience shifts in their professional identity during the transition process, and what insights have you gained into the unexpected discoveries they may make about themselves?

Any career transition involves more than just changing jobs; it’s also an identity shift. Throughout our lives, we ‘try on’ different identities, which we explore through the various roles we play in our lives. Work plays a big part in the versions of ourselves we explore. For this reason, this process can feel bewildering. Essentially, what is happening is that we are putting our identity in question. It’s a natural part of our growth and evolution. Nevertheless, it can feel deeply uncomfortable. This is especially true when we are in the “messy middle” – the in-between phase – where we are neither here nor there.

Often, a shift in identity begins before the actual career change occurs, triggered by questions like, “Is this it?” or “Who am I?” when we realise something is out of alignment. There is a mismatch between who we are and our work.

-Naama Zusman

In the structural phase of the career change journey, individuals reevaluate their values, skills, and aspirations, reshaping how they see themselves in their work, often leading to redefining what success means to them. This paired with the fact that transitioning to a new career prompts deep reflection on what truly matters and how they want to contribute, fosters a deeper sense of purpose and fulfilment.

Moreover, individuals may experience a massive transformation in their mindset and personal growth. Making a significant career shift challenges existing beliefs and assumptions about themselves and what they believe constitutes success and fulfilment in their work.

What strategies or techniques have you found most effective in helping individuals overcome feelings of imposter syndrome or self-doubt as they transition from corporate to entrepreneur?

I always like to start any discussion about imposter syndrome, highlighting that it’s estimated that over 70% of people will experience it at some point in their lives. It normalizes imposter syndrome and helps individuals understand that it’s not that they are flawed. It’s just a part of what it means to be human — to have a brain that is wired for safety and protection.

One of our brain’s strategies to keep us safe is to make us feel ‘not enough’. When we believe that to be true, we don’t take the steps that stretch us out of our comfort zone but ultimately lead to growth and self-fulfilment.

-Naama Zusman

It’s also why adopting a growth mindset and reframing failure as a learning opportunity is key to navigating imposter syndrome. In an interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, she says that when she was a child, her father asked her on a regular basis: “What did you fail at this week?” When she replied: “Nothing”, he would respond: “Oh… that’s too bad.” Of this habit, she says: “My definition of failure became ‘not trying,’ not the outcome.”

The meaning you assign to failure can liberate you from its clutches. What interpretations, other than believing something is wrong with you, are available for you? Can you see failure as information? Can you see failure as a step that gets you closer to where you want to be? Can you see it as evidence that you had the courage to step outside your comfort zone? 

Failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you.

-Naama Zusman

Finally, it’s not about overcoming imposter syndrome or waiting for self-doubt to disappear. It’s about changing your relationship with self-doubt. When you believe that people pursuing and achieving their dreams (career and beyond) struggle with self-doubt, when you embrace that you don’t need to wait to feel any more confident than you feel right now, if you understand that inner confidence is built by taking steps within the presence of self-doubt, you have a path forward of growth, evolution, self-expression and fulfilment.

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From your perspective, how crucial is a supportive network in assisting professionals during this transition, and what role does mentorship play in helping them adapt to the challenges of entrepreneurial life?

Transitioning to a new career path can be challenging and daunting, and having a supportive network of peers, mentors, and advisors can provide invaluable guidance, encouragement, and perspective.

A supportive network offers individuals a sense of belonging and connection during a time of transition. Knowing that they have a community of like-minded individuals who understand the challenges they’re facing can help alleviate feelings of isolation and self doubt. Additionally, having a supportive network can provide individuals with access to resources, information, and opportunities that they may not have otherwise encountered.

Moreover, mentorship plays a crucial role in helping professionals adapt to the challenges of entrepreneurial or self-employment life.

-Naama Zusman

A mentor can offer valuable insights, advice, and guidance based on their own experiences and expertise. They can help individuals navigate the uncertainties of starting a business, make informed decisions, and avoid common pitfalls. 

Can you share any anecdotes or insights from your work that highlight pivotal moments or experiences that have facilitated a smoother transition for individuals shifting to entrepreneurship/self employment?

Certainly! One anecdote that stands out is a client who transitioned from a corporate marketing role to starting her own digital marketing consultancy. Initially, she was overwhelmed by the prospect of leaving the stability of her corporate job and venturing into the uncertain world of entrepreneurship. However, through our coaching sessions, she gained clarity on her aspirations and vision, developed a strategic plan, and honed her business skills.

A pivotal moment for her was when she attended a networking event for entrepreneurs in her industry. She connected with fellow entrepreneurs who shared their experiences, insights, and advice on starting and growing a business.

Building relationships with these like-minded individuals not only provided her with valuable support and encouragement but also opened doors to potential collaborations and partnerships.

-Naama Zusman

Another pivotal moment for a client who transitioned from a corporate career in finance to starting her own financial consulting firm occurred when she took the leap and officially launched her financial consulting firm. While she initially faced challenges and uncertainties, she found strength and confidence in her passion for helping clients achieve their financial goals and her desire to spend more time with her children (which was impossible in her corporate job). By leveraging her expertise, connections, and support system, she gradually built her client base and established a thriving business. But the biggest thing that helped her on this journey was the work we did together around her mindset and understanding her inner critic.

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Reflecting on your expertise in guiding professionals through this transition, what key pieces of advice would you offer to individuals contemplating a move from corporate to self employment, particularly in terms of managing the emotional and psychological aspects of leaving behind a corporate identity?

Understanding their ‘why’ (their reason behind making the move), values and aspirations can provide clarity and serve as an anchor, especially through the more challenging parts of the transition.

I would encourage individuals to acknowledge and validate their emotions throughout the transition. Leaving behind a corporate identity can evoke a range of feelings, including excitement, fear, uncertainty, and even grief. It’s normal to experience a sense of loss for the familiar routines, structure, and identity associated with corporate life. By allowing themselves to feel and process these emotions, individuals can better navigate the transition with self-awareness and resilience. Moreover, I would emphasise the importance of building a supportive network of peers, mentors, and advisors who can provide guidance, encouragement, and perspective during the transition.

Connecting with others who have experienced similar challenges and successes in entrepreneurship can help individuals feel less alone and more confident in their ability to navigate the uncertainties of self-employment.

-Naama Zusman

I would also recommend individuals cultivate a growth mindset and embrace the journey of continuous learning and growth. Transitioning to self-employment requires individuals to adapt to new challenges, acquire new skills, and overcome setbacks. Viewing challenges as opportunities for learning and growth rather than obstacles allows individuals to approach the transition with optimism and resilience.

Finally, I would encourage individuals to be patient and compassionate with themselves throughout the transition process. Building a successful business takes time, effort, and perseverance.

It’s okay to make mistakes, experience setbacks, and take detours along the way.

-Naama Zusman

By practising self-compassion and maintaining a positive outlook, individuals can navigate the emotional and psychological aspects of leaving behind a corporate identity with grace and resilience.

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