The life of a millennial entrepreneur can feel like the wildest of roller coaster rides; requisite with screaming, bravery mixed with extreme fear, shaking tracks, and downward loops and spirals. “Entrepreneur” sometimes seems like shorthand for hard struggles and disappointment with the faint glow of achievement hovering above the horizon like a mirage.
The truth is that business and entrepreneurship isn’t always sexy, even if it is usually wild and unruly. Founding a company is full of hard decisions that change your inner self as much as your career. Emotions run hot and betrayal, broken hearts and shattered dreams are sometimes the only products you produce.
There’s good news though. Millennial entrepreneurs have amazing intuition and instincts. All that’s missing is experience and context to know how to apply them. Just pay attention to the process and remember you’ll never know everything, what matters is learning something from every experience. Breaking things down has the upside of letting you rebuild better and stronger. You can ask yourself what you really want. Creating those goals helps you hold yourself responsible for your own growth. And learning a lesson every time you stumble is a real success.
It’s easy for me to preach at the ripe old age of 25, but I’ve had to start over so often my resume looks more like I’m 40. Starting over I often fear that, in the “corporate world” I would be a round peg in a square hole. My time working for large corporations such as the World Bank proved useful to validate that belief. More recently, while interviewing at companies, I’ve been told by the HR managers how my resume looks like “one big red flag” and that “it looks as if you’ll jump ship in a couple months.” When hearing these responses, the hardest part was confronting my own expectations of success and what that would look like. Could I really achieve the success that I desired by taking a set position in a large company?
I wondered if I was selfish for wanting to build great things and change the world. I couldn’t fathom what it meant if that was no longer a viable reality. I often asked myself, is a meaningful life even possible for me? I had not lost my drive but after seeing the dark side of entrepreneurship, I didn’t feel that I could resolve my moral beliefs with doing “good business” and felt very lost and confused on what that meant for my life moving forward.
At the formation of my first company, a social entrepreneurial venture, I truly felt as if I was making a difference. However, as my company grew, it also changed and it felt as if in the blink of an eye the morals of the company had been corrupted and I was left questioning what the business was even about. At that time, I felt as if I had been an idealistic young female entrepreneur who became my own worst enemy by trading ethics for success and professional gain.
Some of the “successful” businessmen that I knew were engaging in shady dealings; buying companies based on poker bets, spitting on waitresses in restaurants, creating vanity company valuations for sport and cheating of all kinds of varieties. I watched heated fights emerge over a minuscule percentage of a non-revenue generating company pre-investment based on the idea of equity. I also will never get over the idea that some people believe baby pigs with diamond studded collars are cute (of course, that might just be my mom’s farm girl roots in me).
But, I grew to realize I was hardly a paragon of virtue. I held others’ work to impossible standards and micromanaged people, which impeded their growth. I’ve resented others for my own shortcomings and have made excuses rather than time. I was not the best leader.
True introspection is difficult and often painful. You must be kind to yourself and refrain from dismissing yourself as useless when problems arise. We put a lot of unnecessary pressure on ourselves everyday to outperform but we must also remember to balance that with a healthy dose of self-reflection. It is easy to say that our opportunities have been ‘wrong” and that a new opportunity will fix or change the pattern but the truth is, the pattern is in us and it must be teased out in order for us to grow.
Don’t just blame your environment, change how you deal with it and you’ll find that external changes accompany it. Mistakes are a chance to be better next time. We all have flaws, we all stub our toes (often many times) but this is a maturing process and you are not alone. It is good to take the time to dig in deep and be introspective so that you don’t keep stubbing your toes for many more years. Remember that it is not a zero sum game and the key is incremental improvement.
Real growth and change comes from within. It is important to own your flaws. I’m still stubbing my toes in my career and in life, still bombing interviews that I know I shouldn’t even be taking and engaging in petty fights with the people that I love most. Nonetheless, I am still learning from trial and error and indeed learning from every experience. I know that growth comes from taking a long hard look in the mirror and examining and determining the things that I need to improve about myself. It is often extraordinarily difficult and reveals aspects of myself that I’m not proud of. However, it always provides me with the opportunity to then work on them and thus take incremental steps towards bettering myself.
Taking responsibility for my own actions drove me to where I am today. I attempt to be present and do the greatest good with what I have. I know that I am not perfect; that I have flaws and weaknesses and I am getting to know them better everyday. Each day, I strive to become better and activate a better version of myself than currently exists. I am damn excited to be alive and with a sense of loyalty to my true self, I feel inspired to continue to learn, to fight and to conquer. With each breath you take on this adventure of life, remember to let your heart lead the way.