Cup 6

Person: Tom Crawford

drink: medium brewed coffee, in a mug

Two weeks ago, while sitting with my friend Brett at a coffee shop, I met Tom Crawford. Brett, who recently graduated, was in town for business meetings and Grand Traverse Pie Company had been one of our favorite places for homework, so we met there before his meeting to get some work done. When Tom arrived Brett introduced us and within the hour, Tom and I had a coffee meeting scheduled for Sweetwater Cafe in Ann Arbor the following Friday. I figured if Brett liked Tom, I would to, and since I was already planning a day trip to Ann Arbor, the timing was perfect.

Going into the meeting, the only thing I knew about Tom was that he was an entrepreneur and loved to travel. Those are two of my biggest interests so I knew finding things to talk about wouldn’t be a challenge. When he arrived at the coffee shop, we ordered our drinks and found a spot in the corner next to the large picture window and started talking. I asked him a few questions and the resulting answers illustrated the career path he’s been traveling down since he left college.

But before I get to that, let me take a quick tangent. Brett is one of my best friends from college and the reason why is our mutual enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. When we first met it was clear we shared the same perspective on post grad plans—we wanted to bypass the 9-5 cubicle life of a corporate ladder-climber and go straight to the world of entrepreneurship. A place we could follow our passions, create something from nothing, and pave our own road.

Fast-forward two years and that is exactly what Brett is trying to do. He graduated from college last December and is launching his company next week. He dove into the pool of entrepreneurship headfirst from the high dive. I, on the other hand, have experienced a small change of heart. Living the life of an entrepreneur is still in my line of sight, but I’ve recently discovered it is not the best move for me right out of college. I now that I need to gain other experiences (a job within a company, maybe an MBA) and ease myself into the pool of entrepreneurship. Basically, I’m not ready to tackle the high dive—yet.

As it turns out I had picked a great person to have coffee with—Tom had experience with easing into entrepreneurship.

While Tom was earning an undergraduate degree at Kettering University, he worked at the William Beaumont Hospital, which gave him great insight into how a 10,000 employee business runs. He stayed with the hospital after graduation but eventually left for a company that would help him earn his MBA. While working as a business analyst for a communications company full-time, he was also a full-time student in the University of Michigan’s nighttime MBA program. For three years, Tom endured a grueling lifestyle where work and school occupied virtually every spare moment he had.

Once he finished his MBA, Tom landed a job as a consultant for Root, which created the opportunity to travel both nationally and internationally and see how different organizations operate. Then his position within the company changed and he had the chance to build a new program from the ground up—essentially to be an entrepreneur within the comforts of a large company. The program his team created was a huge success, but after a few years, the role became routine and Tom moved on to a new company. As he said, “Life is too short to spend it doing something you don’t enjoy.”

His next job was similar in that he had the opportunity to essentially build something from the ground up—but this time there was a little more risk, the safety net wasn’t quite as big. But again, Tom found success and left for another venture that also required an entrepreneurial skill set. As Tom’s career progressed, he was lucky to work on projects that allowed him to wade into the entrepreneurial pool. These experiences resulted in an opportunity to be completely on his own—to hang up the corporate tie, set his own hours and be his own boss. That’s where he is today, the CEO of Visualization Network—living life as an entrepreneur.

It’s interesting to think back to Tom and Brett’s meeting at the coffee shop. It was a meeting between two people who were doing the same thing—running companies—and yet the paths they have taken to reach that point are completely different. Brett dove head first, Tom waded in slowly.

So who made the right choice? And what is the right choice for me?

The truth is that they both made the right choice. Coffee with Tom helped me realize that we each have a career path that is uniquely ours—even if the destination is the same. And the only way to find success is choosing the path right for you—not the path others are traveling or the path your friends and family think you should follow. What worked for Tom wasn’t the right fit for Brett, and what worked for Brett isn’t go to work for me. It’s reassuring to know that everyone is on their own journey and as long as I stay true to myself, I’ll find the right path.

As our meeting was drawing to an end, Tom asked me if I knew how to get to my next stop. It was my first time in Ann Arbor and I didn’t have a clue so he borrowed a piece of paper from me and proceeded to draw me a map of where I was, where I wanted to be, and the best way to get there. As I walked out of the coffee shop to navigate the unfamiliar streets of Ann Arbor by myself, it was reassuring to know exactly what path someone familiar with the area would follow. It was equally reassuring to know if I found a map and choose my own route, I would still end up exactly where I wanted to go.

I’m grateful Tom helped me realize that.