How I used transitional identities to get to my “full-time writing biz” goal

Tanya Gardner is a Clubhouse-r (I need to find a better name for my Clubhousers…Clubhouse Cuties? Clubhousians? I’ll come up with something…) who wanted to write about what helped her take The Giant Jump from full-time employee to full-time solopreneur. How could I refuse? (I couldn’t, which is why her brilliant post is below. And did you see that chart?! She doesn’t just tell you – she shows you. Love it.)

Trust It by Pinwheel Designs

It’s a BIG jump from full-time employee to full-time entrepreneur

Let’s start with a statement of “tell-it-like-it-is” fact, shall we?  It’s one hell of a giant jump to go from the sureness of a steady paycheque to the quicksand-uncertainty of full-time business ownership.

Psychologically speaking, it’s an even bigger one to go from answering to someone else for ticking off jobs on a clearly defined tasklist to… well, being your own boss.  You know: from just being responsible for your individual role in someone else’s business, to being responsible for absolutely everything in your own.

Now, you might be the kind of person who finds the idea of that kind of freedom – that kind of responsibility – intoxicating.  But can I confess something to you?  I’m not. I find it freaking terrifying!  Panic attack inducingly terrifying, in fact.

So you’d think I’m just not cut out to be a business owner, right?

My past definitely suggests I’m not a great fit for business ownership

You see, once upon a time, five years back, I tried starting up my own business.  It was all about fitness and stress management: topics about which I knew much and was intensely passionate.  I wanted to help people. I wanted to share my knowledge. I wanted to make moolah.

There was just one problem. I knew next to nothing about business.  I didn’t know how to get clients. I didn’t know how to get organised. And probably most importantly, I didn’t know how to get help.

What I did was set up a web page, start writing a newsletter, and wait for people to come to me and tell me what they wanted. Kind of the way they’d done in my job. And who’da thunkit?  I wasn’t very successful. In fact, I wasn’t successful at all.

So, after just a few months, I closed the biz and slunk away, tail between my legs. Evidently, I concluded, I just wasn’t cut out for this business stuff.

Here’s what I’ve learned since then: entrepreneurship is as much about who I’m being as it is about what I do

I didn’t realise back then, but even though I did everything I technically needed to in order to set up a business, I was still an employee on the inside.  I could make all the right noises about proactivity and independence and freedom… but deep down where it counted, I was still waiting for someone to tell me what to do. And back then, it was just too big a jump to go from my identity as a secure, easy-to-work-with employee to someone brave enough to jump out on their own.

So for the longest time, I simply tried to make the most of my job.  I was lucky – I had a pretty damn good one. I loved the people I worked with.  I mostly loved my work (how cool was it that they paid me to write full-time????) And I really loved my steady paycheque!

Yes, sure, I longed for something more. Something that would let me make a direct difference. Something that would give me the freedom to travel and see the world. But I kept telling myself to be realistic.  Other people might manage to make a full-time living as entrepreneurs, but I’d tried it and I knew it wouldn’t work for me.

Or so I kept telling myself until my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer… and all my excuses for not going after what I wanted started to pale.

Transitional identities to the rescue

Something that really helped me get my head around making the jump from my self-image as an employee to one as entrepreneur was the concept of “transitional identities”.  I first heard the term from Motivation to Move coach Scott Smith (whom I used to listen to religiously).

The idea is this: your identity – the image you have of yourself – is pretty much fixed at a subconscious level in any given moment. It’s like a snapshot of how you see yourself at that point in time.  If, in that moment, you try to do or become anything that dramatically clashes with your identity, it just doesn’t end up working.  You get too much pushback from your subconscious that says “Nuh uh! That ain’t me! I can’t do that!

And at that point in time, your subconscious is 100% right.

But… what if you think of your identity as being something you can slowly, oh-so-gradually, change over time?  What if changing your identity was a long-term goal, and you could set up short-term “identity milestones” along the way to it (much like you would with any other goal)?

What if instead of diving headfirst into the unknown waters of a completely new identity, you could ease your way into it  over time?

A few of the transitional identities I went through

That’s exactly what I did in my journey from an identity as a full-time employee to one as a full-time entrepreneur.  Going straight from being a secure employee to a confident business owner was just too big a leap.

So here are a few of the baby-step transitional identities I chose to move into along the way, all summed up in a pretty graphic… You’ll notice the last identity transition is missing an arrow – and that’s not accidental.  Here’s the gods-honest truth: this whole “full-time entrepreneurship” thing is still crazy-new to me. I still find the idea of being responsible for everything and answerable to no-one but myself terrifying.

But that’s OK.  My identity right now is someone who’s working on becoming a relaxed, confident entrepreneur.  And I know I’ll transition into it – just the way I have with all my other identities along the way.

How about you?

Are there things you’d like to do that just require TOO much of an identity change to be realistic at the moment?

Who would you need to become to make them happen? What transitional identities could you set up along the way that would allow you to gradually move into being that person?

Please to be hitting me up in the comments!

Tanja Gardner is a professional copywriter, word weaver and story sculptor at Crystal Clarity Copywriting Ltd.   She helps difference-makers like you write with concise, creative clarity that your readers intuitively “get”.  That means they understand EXACTLY what you offer – so you can make more of a difference in their lives.  To connect with Tanja, say hello on Twitter or Facebook, or follow her blog.   Or, discover how write a scannable web page people that actually read with her Make Your Web Page Crystal Clear guide. It’s completely FREE when you sign up for her short-‘n’-sweet weekly writing tips.


Last day to join us until spring/summer-ish 2013 (can ya tell I don’t have next year totally mapped out yet? But yeah…around/at least then….)



  1. says

    I had the incredible pleasure of being the first customer Tanja sent an invoice to for services. What a joy it has been to watch her evolve in all her transitional identities. She is too modest to mention that her amazing skills have helped her become a full time entrepreneur who will be immensely successful. I have no doubt about that!

  2. says

    good read! after reading this, i have to admit that I STILL get stuck on wanting to have people tell me what to do… i wish i had some sort of mentor or coach who could just hold my hand along the way but I need $ for that.. 😛 I’m a part time entrepreneur looking to transition full time. I am still freaked out about my identity as an entrepreneur but i love this traditional identities approach!

    • says

      Hi Janet – I know, right? Despite that feeling of chafing against people telling us what to do, there’s still a certain kind of… I don’t know… security? in not being totally responsible for all our daily choices.

      I *have* found that a good accountability buddy is just magic when it comes to helping me get clear on what my goals and priorities are for a given week. I still don’t get everything on my list done, but I seem to get the things I absolutely *have* to do done – so that’s at least some progress!

      Glad the transitional identities idea works for you too :-)


  3. says

    Your journey is very inspiring. I’m currently in the “Full-time employee + freelancer” phase, and I don’t know when I’ll be ready for the next step, but it’s great to know others have been there and succeed.
    Several people I know have jumped right into their own business after quitting their job, and the first few months were very difficult for them. I would like to avoid that, so I’m taking the “transitional identities” route.

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