Sorry to Break It to You, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be an Entrepreneur
In recent years, it seems as if all we do across the realms of media, entertainment, and business is obsess about entrepreneurs. Terms like ‘valuation’ and ‘fundraising’ are as relevant to our cultural discourse as ‘fake news’ and ‘G.O.A.T’. But one thing we don’t often talk about is the fact that not everyone should be an entrepreneur. Some of us are meant to wake up in our bed, instead of seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes.
A combination of forces has led to the so-called “celebritization” of the entrepreneur, as coined by Max Marmer in Harvard Business Review. In addition to characterizations of the ‘genius billionaire playboy philanthropist’, millennials are no doubt enchanted by the technology boom and overriding notion that we must pursue our passion or work for ourselves to feel fulfilled.
The most crucial attraction to this obsession is simply that entrepreneurs have the potential to shape our everyday lives with their vision – a tangibility that imbues belief in our own ability to propel change. It’s no surprise that the romaniticazation of startup life has encouraged a record 14% of working age Americans to become startup founders, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.
The issue with this trend is not only that the discrepancy between expectation and reality is vast, but that the belief can have serious consequences on the individual and even economy. Putting entrepreneurialism on a pedestal oversells a path to those who may not be suited for the lifestyle – where failure can incur a devastating loss of time and resources.
We tend to look at entrepreneurialism as a self-actualizing journey rather than any other career choice, where personality and skill set play into how suitable you are for the role. Printing a business card that says ‘Founder’ doesn’t make you an entrepreneur; having the willpower and decisiveness to bring a valuable and viable product to market, turning a profit, and moving your company beyond the startup stage, does.
There are countless permutations of traits that make a successful entrepreneur, with sources like Forbes claiming that antisocial behaviour in one’s teenage years is an indicator for future success. Pubescent psychoanalysis aside, what we do know is that conviction isn’t always enough, and neither is a relentless work ethic, a high business IQ, or any type of legendary networking skills.
Aspiring entrepreneurs should really be asking themselves how willing they are to make sacrifices in their social life, relationships, and hobbies - just to name a few. Sure, we can all pull an all-nighter here and there, but can you spend years turning down invitations, forgoing holidays and missing those weekly latté art classes?
Most importantly: can you handle the trauma of committing years of your life to something only to fail? Gauging whether the startup life is for you, as with every other decision we make, comes down to self-reflection and weighing what truly makes you happy. Understanding our own emotional endurance and motivations are not just part of the equation, but the bottom line.
Shawn Osborne, the CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, believes that mentoring ‘better prepared’ and ‘more-motivated’ entrepreneurs has direct socioeconomic benefits, even if it means there are fewer of them. You can still pursue your dreams and bring about change without being an entrepreneur. Starting a small business or freelancing are indispensable to our economic system and are options that give you freedom while minimizing the risk and stress of startup life. So, which is it? The red pill or the blue pill?
About the Author: Min Chen is the Senior Marketing & Brand Manager for Garage Society, a regional co-work operator and entrepreneurial hub. She moved to Hong Kong two years ago after having lived in Boston, Shanghai, and the UK.