10 Things You Need to Give Up to Be an Entrepreneur

There was a nice post about being happy that was everywhere on Facebook last week. One of my favorite bloggers, Rob Walling, did a great job of adapting it for entrepreneurs on his podcast. It got me thinking of some of the things I’ve given up in order to build a business. Here they are:

1. “Success.” I wasn’t able to quit my job until I gave up on the vague ideas I had about success. Stuff like having a good job and making a good salary. I remember saying to myself: it’s possible that nobody will ever think you are successful.

When my answer was finally “screw it,” I quit. At the time I did not realize how fulfilling it would be to work directly with customers and products I was passionate about.

2. Over-worrying about screwing up people’s lives (or being perfect for your customers). If you try to make meaningful change with your business, you will create collateral damage. Period. Even relatively benign assertions like: “if you want to make some extra money on the side, try building some niche sites” can waste a year of somebody’s spare time. I’ve seen it happen. Seems harmless, eh?

3. Reliance on cultural scripts for decision making.  I’ll share something embarrassing: one of my biggest concerns with following the entrepreneurial “weird expat” path was that I wouldn’t be able to find a wife. The cultural script I was working off of said something like: position yourself in a nice secondary US city, have a high-quality job, and watch the wife candidates flow in.

To hardcore entrepreneurs, this might sound like a petty concern, but to me it was a meaningful fear I had to overcome. I know more than one guy who never followed his dreams of being a musician or of traveling abroad or of starting a small business because they thought it would hurt their chances of meeting ‘The One.’

4. Your desire to make money. This might be different for other professions, but for entrepreneurs, money focus can destroy businesses. Money forces you to compromise your values, which should be at the core of great products and company cultures.

A money focus inspires short-sightedness. If you could just do something and ::: BOOM! ::: make money from it, it wouldn’t be that valuable. Entrepreneurs focus on value. Specific, elusive, unseen– it can’t be bought and sold on the open market.

Have you ever spoken to full time investors in financial markets? These are generally people 100% motivated by money. Ask them “if you had a great year, what percentage would you make on your money?” You’ll hear answers ranging from 11 to 20 percent, generally. Now ask the same question to an entrepreneur. 20% would very much be on the low end.

5. Your desire to avoid feeling like an idiot. A month ago I set up a writer’s mastermind group (which has been hugely useful to me). We’ve all tried to address this issue of “feeling stupid” head on. It’s been liberating to post half-baked, ambitious projects in our group chat.

I put a lot of stuff out there, and I suspect most of it doesn’t work. I’m dumb and dangerous, and that’s probably the way it goes for many entrepreneurs. The punchline is that the small percentage of good stuff that sticks around and gets refined, re-worked, and cultivated. One day you wake up with something great. Speaking of dumb, go ahead and download my first 50 podcasts if you want a confidence boost!

6. Your fear of change. I was listening to (a must-listen) Mixergy episode today and Robert made a point. Let’s call it the “paleo theory of fear.” His point: we are wired to fear change. I suppose that’s because back in the good old days, when things changed, you died. Now, not so much. Learning how to both enjoy and engineer change is the foundation of business success. I’ve found that over the years the idea of re-working everything becomes more thrilling and I seek change out.

7. What you are doing right now. Something popped out of my mouth the other day as my good friend (and US expat tax guy) David McKeegan was interviewing me for his podcast. He was asking me about hiring and said “why do business owners find it so difficult to relinquish control and let other people run their business?”

My response got us laughing: “they aren’t having a hard time relinquishing control, they are having a hard time finding something better to do.”

9 times out of 10 that’s true. It’s one of the things I love about creative pursuits in general– you are always at square one. You are always in danger of utter failure. Where you play, there isn’t any sure thing. Read this book and watch a software legend bomb. Listen to John Mayer talk about how songwriting is a great equalizer.

It’s the same with writing and entrepreneurship. Falling back on your cash flows is the same thing as falling back on a job. Often I’ll fail, but I’m always looking for ways to move on and find something more important to do. Hopefully I can backfill the space I create with processes and team members.

8. Your self-focus. Or: putting your immediate needs in front of the principle or the project.  This is the part of the post where I diverge from the hoards of broke-ass personal development bloggers telling you to express yourself more fully or follow passion and stuff like that. Yes, I’m all about that. But we are talking about being Samurai’s here– it’s tough to stay focused on meaningful projects when our passion for Youtube lurks! Entrepreneurship is a strange mix of personal drive and egoless ear-to-the-ground care. It’s a dichotomy I’m fascinated by.

9. Following the advice of others. Have I ever ever mentioned the sharks or the dolphins thing on this blog? Sharks and dolphins are two different types of entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of things that distinguish them. Here’s one: dolphins listen to advice, sharks watch it. Be a shark. Or rather, watch me to tell you to be a shark.

10. Your desire to avoid conflict. For all the kumbaya talk in the blogosphere, you’ll notice that when you meet-up with some of your favorite peace, love, and change bloggers that they’ve got some teeth. I’ve met some of the kindest online personas (and most popular) on the planet, and despite what you see online, they are very often the object of controversy, conflict, extortion attempts, petty attacks, and outright jealousy.

Get in line. It’s par for the course. Asserting yourself in the world means you’ll have detractors. Some of them might even be those closest to you. It’s okay. I try to be thankful for the attention in the first place, pick the places I ought to improve, and try to understand precisely which elements of the feedback are about my projects and which are really a reflection of their own ideas about themselves.

That’s it. I’d be grateful to hear yours.




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