By definition, an entrepreneur is; “an individual who creates a new business, bearing most of the risks and enjoying most of the rewards. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as an innovator, a source of new ideas, goods, services, and business/or procedures”
While that may define WHAT an entrepreneur does, it fails to hit the mark when it comes to the human element of what makes an entrepreneur tick, and most importantly, WHY they become one in the first place.
The human cost of entrepreneurship
In my example, I didn’t know what an entrepreneur was during the early stages of my career and I certainly didn’t identify as one. I knew I was a little different to my colleagues, mostly because I demonstrated levels of intrigue way beyond my peers.
I needed to see progress and fresh ideas brought to life, but wasn’t that me just being an enthusiastic junior?
Quite a few years later, I was fortunate enough to join an entrepreneurial business and that’s when things started to make sense, the environment I now found myself in was much more familiar to me and yet I was unbelievably intimidated by it. I didn’t belong; I wasn’t proven.
And so, to the point of this article. Every single day an entrepreneur makes huge decisions that dictate the future direction of their business, they drive change at an overwhelming pace, they are forced to learn at lightning speed, and they are expected to have all of the answers. Thus they attempt to live up to this almighty billing.
“Wasn’t I just one of you yesterday?”
This comes at a real human cost. Entrepreneurship, or the results of it more accurately, requires sacrifice. Work becomes life and life just revolves entirely around your new venture – it’s all consuming and takes everything from you.
Time becomes your enemy, your friends become strangers, your family wonder why you’ve changed, and “they’ll never understand anyway”. Balance isn’t in your vocabulary anymore, but you tell yourself that next month will be different, and that next year the pressure will be off. It isn’t.
So, you start to ask yourself, “Am I a terrible entrepreneur?” I don’t personally claim to know what makes a good one, but everything I thought I knew about myself went out of the window.
I’m 200% the professional I was before I decided to put my entrepreneurial passion to good use, but oh boy did it take its toll.
Can entrepreneurship be compatible with wellbeing?
The truth is they don’t come hand in hand. You can’t operate at the level of intensity often associated with founding and running a start-up and then expect your mental fitness to be in check.
I invested heavily in my own mental fitness prior to undertaking this venture with a few years of coaching and mentoring to get me ready for the big event. So, I felt prepared. But my resilience has been tested more than I ever expected it to and the peace and contentment that I had just a few years ago seems a distant memory at times. I’m not alone in feeling like this.
Being an entrepreneur can be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do, and I don’t just mean the potential result. We get complete autonomy, and increasingly these days, we get to do something truly meaningful.
We also get to inspire others, our teams, our industry, ourselves: “I never thought I could do that, now look at me”
However, you need to find completely new ways to manage yourself if you’re to find any sense of enjoyment on this journey that you’ve undertaken, and let’s face it, what really is the point if the journey doesn’t give you any satisfaction.
I’ve evolved my personal ‘toolkit’ massively and I need to rediscover myself almost quarterly if I’m to maintain some level of mental fitness.
Why do it, it sounds terrible?
Entrepreneurs don’t just wake up one day and choose to be one. They are compelled to behave in such a way by their belief system. A belief that something can be done better, that something is missing, that they don’t want to work for anyone else, that they want to take fate into their own hands.
It might be a little far-fetched to say that you’re born an entrepreneur (although I’m happy to have that debate sometime), but we are certainly conditioned at some point to see things differently.
According to the ONS, micro businesses account for 18% of all employment as recorded via PAYE submissions. 19% up on the same statistic 7 years ago.
As more of us adopt an entrepreneurial career path, mental wellbeing is only going to grow in importance, and it all starts with working to raise awareness of the stresses and challenges of being an entrepreneur.
Too often do we need to put on a brave face and be everything to everyone, but we’re just human.
Investors, industry, policy makers, and most importantly, the entrepreneurs themselves, need to change the perception that being an entrepreneur doesn’t instantly make you invincible.
I, for one, am happy to accept my vulnerabilities as I find it a cathartic exercise, but it’s often far from comfortable.
So, by my definition, an entrepreneur is;
“A disruptive individual, of vital and increasing importance to the UK economy, who makes substantial personal sacrifice in the pursuit of change and personal freedom. They are adaptive, resilient, but not infallible, and they need just as much support as anyone else.”
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