Close your eyes — actually no, scratch that. Leave them open so you can read this blog. Okay: while reading, think about all those career days in elementary school and all the jobs you dreamt of having. They were probably well-known jobs with well-defined characteristics and easily brought to mind clear-cut images of what these vocations were all about. Veterinarian, astronaut, race car driver, ice cream taster — you know, the popular choices amongst an age group for whom the most important job criterion revolves around the costume involved (ie, lab coat).
Fast forward past elementary school, past awkward high school dances and fruit punch spilling on your ruffled dress/oversized khakis, past those quasi-enlightening philosophical college conversations about the only two Marcel Proust quotes you knew. Fast forward to today, when you are in the midst of a start-up company. You may not be taste-analyzing the nuances between Phish Food and Cherry Garcia, but you are building upon your dream and developing tangible results. Being an entrepreneur, however, is more than embodying the American dream of starting from scratch and working your way up into an inviolable bubble of success. Au contraire; it’s risk, stress, joy, passion, team building, competition, and lack of financial security. It’s a smorgasbord of extreme pro’s and extreme con’s — but then again, any truly worthwhile venture is.
Attempting to define something as broad and conceptual as entrepreneurship is no easy feat — pretty much up there on the difficulty scale with hearing the theme song to Friends and NOT singing along (“I’ll be there for you..”). However, I do love a challenge. So here’s my breakdown on what it means to be an entrepreneur.
1. “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Bill Gates
This may sound a little depressing, especially as the quote that kicks off our definition, but it incorporates the two extremes conjured to mind when thinking of the start-up life. Whether you’re inherently an optimist or a pessimist or a realist or even a Dali surrealist, you use success as motivation to continue your business venture, yet are entirely aware of crashing and burning worse than a 90’s child celebrity. This quote explains the importance of weighing both sides of the spectrum heavily in your business journey. Also, perspective is key. With something as risky and uncertain as a start-up, there will inevitably be pitfalls. The key to getting past them, as with any “failure” in life, is to learn from them. Attaching value to the experience mitigates the temporary negativity you may feel. On the flip side, go ahead and celebrate your successes! Pop that $12 champagne and have an extra slice of cheesecake. However, you might want to hold off celebrating with buying a yacht…you might need that capital.
2. “One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.” Jeff Bezos
Everyone is capable of having a passion — be it wrestling, increasing bicep circumference, teaching underprivileged children, or redefining national culture via reality TV shows (a certain shore in an East Coast state…). However, there is a difference between being passionate about something, and doing something with unbridled passion — so many people complain about job dissatisfaction and being completely apathetic toward their careers. An unfortunate case, but such is reality. When you’re starting your own business, though, both sides of passion are involved into attaining your business and personal goals. You start a business based on a cause you are inherently passionate about, and your work is thus impassioned as you strive for success. Essentially, you career life has personal value — something billions of people can’t say about their jobs. Yes, there are sleepless nights and drained energy and scary bouts of stressed-induced insanity — but the pursuit of happiness is never an entirely sane journey.
3. “I’ve been blessed to find people who are smarter than I am, and they help me to execute the vision I have.” Russell Simmons
One misconception about being an entrepreneurship is that the journey is 100% solely, unabashedly, you. Yes, this is your company — you’re the CEO, you’re in control. But rarely can one person perform every entrepreneurial task with Herculean strength and efficiency — unless of course you’re on…something, but that’s an article for another time. You’re great at multitasking and you have killer PR and coding capabilities — but you can’t do everything. You need a team! Entrepreneurship isn’t just a sole venture — it’s sculpting a dream with multiple hands. As Mr. Simmons implies, embrace the intellect of others for your vision.
4. “An entrepreneur tends to bite off a little more than he can chew hoping he’ll quickly learn how to chew it.” Roy Ash, Litton Industries
This quote is pretty self-explanatory — essentially as it refers to how entrepreneurs embrace risk. The notion of financial instability in the form of unpredictable paychecks and work hours, investing copious amounts of capital into an idea with no tangible guarantee of long-term sustenance, and early onset graying in places you didn’t even know grew hair is not attractive to the risk-averse. However, with extreme risk comes the chance for large returns. Entrepreneurs do bite off a little more than they can chew — but this is a calculated, crafted risk. Combined with proactively and passionately learning to chew with compensatory pace, this strategy isn’t too bad. People will always tell you not to get in over your head — which is sound advice; after all, being overwhelmed can be a ticket to regression. However, entrepreneurs are a different breed. They are fueled by stress and motivated by fast-paced environments. The idea of biting off more than a chewable amount does not conjure notions of toothaches and dental co-pay fees — rather, it’s a challenge and an opportunity to grow.
5. “For every good reason there is to lie, there is a better reason to tell the truth.” Bo Bennett, Archieboy Holdings
Ah, ethics and morals.. Those ever-elusive concepts which everyone strives toward — or do they? Business is no stranger to unethical and immoral behavior, hence the term “white collar crime.” From fraud to embezzlement, to more recently, camera-backed allegations of domestic violence, the professional/corporate realm is more synonymous with handcuffs than halos. However, this does not mean questionable ethics is the norm of being in business. Stepping on other people (figuratively-speaking; if that phrase is literal to you, then your issues might be beyond the scope of this blog) to build your way up, lying to get ahead, or any other blatant detours from integrity will not bode well in long-run. Our point is, admirable entrepreneurship goes beyond a cookie-cutter image of success. It goes beyond the bottom line or social media presence — at the end of the day, you as an entrepreneur and you as a person are inextricably intertwined. Your decisions as a person will inevitably overflow into your business — whether that’s positive or negative is up to you.
6. “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” Unknown
All quote-replete definitions and all, being an entrepreneur is more than having a certain Myers-Briggs personality result, or embodying traits such as tenacity and having a high tolerance for ambiguity. Entrepreneurship is, essentially, a lifestyle that requires major sacrifices but carries with it the potential for great rewards. This quote exemplifies those two spectrums. The upside of the former spectrum is that, if this life is what you truly want, the sacrifices pale in comparison to the notion of building your idea into something tangible, profitable, and capable of helping others.