As seen on Forbes
It is a ride many people dream about and most wish they had never gotten on.
This article was written for visionaries and masochists alike.
During a particularly tough business cycle, I asked my friend and mentor Rick Voirin about whether it was the right time for me to change the direction of one of our companies that was struggling.
Rick reflected for a moment and said, “Mike, in my experience, leaders only change direction for one of two reasons. Either they have a vision that is so incredibly compelling they can’t help but be drawn to it or they have suffered to the point they can’t stand it anymore. So my question for you is this: Do you have an incredibly compelling vision for the future or… (dramatic pause) have you had enough suffering? Because unless you can answer ‘yes’ to one of those questions, nothing is going to change.”
In my experience as someone who has started and run six companies, Rick’s coaching captures the essence of entrepreneurship. It is like a roller coaster that thrills you and scares you at the same time; you suffer through the terror all the while imagining the exhilarating rise beyond the next turn—if you can just make the right decisions at the right time.
In other words, for many (myself included), entrepreneurship is both the happy American dream and the horrifying American nightmare. I strongly believe these realities are absolutely inseparable.
Here are just a few of the challenges that make the entrepreneurial dream such a thrill ride.
You Will Wrestle With Scarcity
In order to be an entrepreneur, you must view life through the lens of abundance. Basically this means that you see opportunity where others see obstacles and stop signs. One of my fellow entrepreneurs Adam Robinson, the CEO of Hireology, calls this “pathological optimism.”
The opposite side of abundance—the dark side—is scarcity. Scarcity thinking is what makes people dump every extra cent into their 401(k), forever believing that they will certainly run out of money some day. Scarcity thinking is what makes people fold even when they are certain their opponent is bluffing. Scarcity thinking is what makes people say “some day,” knowing that day will never come. Scarcity keeps you from taking the chances you need to win.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you will need to surround yourself with people who will help you see abundance when scarcity is pounding at your door.
Being “Present” Is Nearly Impossible
Twelve years ago when I was helping to start a new company, I gave my new partner a bronze teeter-totter. I told him that it was the perfect metaphor for his life going forward. When you run a business, you are either worried about where the next client is coming from or how you are going to possibly get all the work done. There is rarely an in-between. This teetering distraction makes being totally present for a conversation, a soccer game, a birthday party or a relationship extremely difficult.
The best entrepreneurs I know are so aware of this challenge that they ask their families, partners and friends to call them out if they appear to be drifting away.
If you plan on being an entrepreneur, plan on being distracted. If you plan on being a good parent, partner or friend, plan on working on this challenge.
You Will Stare At The Ceiling At 3:00 a.m.
Most of the entrepreneurs I know have no problem falling asleep. They run so fast during the day that exhaustion runs its course. It’s staying asleep that is the problem. At about 2:00 to 3:00 in the morning, the insidious voice of the subconscious takes over. It talks to you about the things you didn’t get done, the train coming down the tracks, the client or employee who is on the edge, the one who got away, the in-law who foresaw your demise, the business professor who frowned on your idea….
When entrepreneurs are in action, they rule the world. When they are asleep, too often their subconscious rules them. I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who didn’t struggle occasionally with this challenge.
If you plan on being an entrepreneur, you’ll want to learn to exercise to relieve stress and love caffeine. Caffeine is good because it allows you to slay your conscious demons while you are awake and prepare for the battle that awaits.
You Will Let People Down
My biggest regret as an entrepreneur are the people I’ve let down. The partners, teammates, family members and investors that I’ve disappointed. I’ve learned that even the most successful businesses have ups and downs. The highs are glorious and allow you to pay people more, celebrate more and smile more. But the lows are difficult, and they can cost jobs, friendships and confidence. They are as difficult as they are unavoidable.
You Are Not Going To Listen, Are You?
But despite everything I just wrote, you are going to jump in the pool anyway, aren’t you? This makes me happy. Because you are one of the “crazy ones,” and to quote the famous Apple ad: “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Now, go change the world.