How to Return To Corporate AmericaWhen I left my corporate cubicle in May of 2011, I vowed that it would be the last time I ever spent eight plus hours of my day as a wage slave. But a year and a half later, in need of some extra funds, and intrigued by the promise of a new opportunity, I ventured back to Corporate America.

I figured that making the transition from solo entrepreneur to corporate employee would be as simple as stocking up on some new work clothes (no more working in my pajamas!), but I failed to realize just how much being on my own had impacted the way I think about business. I was scared that I would lose my entrepreneurial mojo, and I was in constant fear of overstepping boundaries on the job!

Although a trip back to cube country might be necessary to pull in more money to support your entrepreneurial dreams, the transition doesn’t have to be so bumpy. Keep these five key things in mind when making the jump from solo star to corporate team player:

Define Clear (Job) Parameters

As an entrepreneur, working for yourself meant you could be lax about the amount of time you spent dedicated to your projects, but if you approach corporate work with that same attitude, you can lose time on doing the things you love. Employees are often expected to clock early hours, and take work home. But for the sake of your creativity, you have to know when to take yourself off the clock.

Use your entrepreneurial mindset to figure out how to work more efficiently from 9-to-5. Maybe that means you use your lunch hour to get ahead, or you work with an intern at the company on getting some of those pesky admin tasks out of your way. When it’s quittin’ time, roll out of the building knowing that your worked hard, and get excited about heading home to focus on your business.

Think Strategically About Your Position

Ask yourself: “How can this gig get me closer to my entrepreneurial goals?” before your first day on the job. Write down your reasons on a post-it note, or a small piece of paper and reach for it anytime you need a solid reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish. When you have a rough day at the office, or feel frustrated about not being able to devote 100% of your time to your business, reminding yourself of how this position is strategically a part of your grand plan can keep you motivated and focused on what really matters: using this experience to get you closer to where you want to be.

Teach Them Something

Believe it or not, employers actually value employees with innovative ideas, and suggestions for how the company can get better at what it does.  Entrepreneurs are masters at seeing solutions (what boss doesn’t love a problem solver?). The key to pulling this off is to offer your suggestions in a creative and constructive way that doesn’t make you sound like a know-it-all. Seek out managers who are like-minded, progress-focused, and supportive, to figure out how you can promote your ideas. You’ll look like a rock star, and keep your entrepreneurial mind engaged.  Win-win!

Master The Art Of Communication

Navigating the nuances of corporate communication can be tricky for entrepreneurs. You have spent time cultivating your own ideas, you’re used to giving directions, and you might lack the patience and understanding that dealing with several layers of corporate bureaucracy demands that you have. It can be frustrating to feel like you have to hold your tongue all of the time, but it’s a good opportunity to observe communication practices “in the real world.” Learning how to talk to a variety of characters in a myriad of situations is a skill that will come in handy whether you are pitching a VC or a potential client.

Learn As Much As You Possibly Can

If you think of your time in Corporate America as a giant case study, you can take so much more from the situation than just a paycheck.  Sitting in at a company gives you perspective on corporate hierarchies, and how we are all players in a larger game. Learn things that will make you more valuable to the entrepreneurial community such as how to collaborate effectively. Get tips on how you want to run (or not run!) your company, use your position to network and meet people that it might have been harder for you to get access to.

Don’t let those gray cube walls stifle your ambition-make your position work for you!

Amber J. Adams is a journalist, idea strategist, and the creator of The Fab Life Project.com, a site devoted to helping Generation Y define work/life happiness on their own terms. She frequently writes about careers, entrepreneurship, and her love affair with chocolate.

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