Entrepreneurs are today's American heroes, and that's a good thing. But too many people have unrealistic pictures in their heads of how things are going to go. They think that being a successful entrepreneur means they will be universally loved and rewarded, both financially and psychologically, and that everything will go without a hitch as long as they find the right idea.
Anyone who's ever run their own business — especially a startup in an emerging industry or field of technology — can tell you it doesn't work like that. Being an entrepreneur is not about being loved, being secure or being happy. There are days, weeks, months and years of sheer terror and existential despair as the obstacles and roadblocks come at you one after the other, leaving you hardly any time at all to react, much less prepare for the next tsunami of even bigger challenges.
You may find yourself having to do all of the things my reader in last week's column had to do, namely:
—hit up relatives and total strangers for money
—hit them up again when the money runs out
—max out your credit cards
—put your house at risk by taking out a second or third mortgage (if your spouse will let you)
—putting your marriage and family ties at risk
—do things yourself because you can't afford to pay others to do them
—make bad and costly mistakes, over and over again
—make contractual commitments without having all the facts you need
—spend most of your time putting out fires, most of them of your own making
Startups are not for sissies. There's a reason many really successful entrepreneurs are in their teens and 20s — they have no fear of death and nothing to lose in the way of assets, they can pull multiple all-nighters without sleep, and are too dumb to worry about failure because they've never experienced it. After a certain age, it's impossible to walk the tightrope without looking down. After a certain age, your arthritis won't let you walk the tightrope at all.
Even if you are successful, there are lots of people who will hate you because you are disrupting their safe, secure little lives and threatening their livelihoods with your new way of doing things. Think about the taxi drivers who are currently trying to shut Uber down, or the parcel delivery companies watching the skies for Amazon's coming fleet of drones. These people will want to shut you down and, in extreme cases, even try to kill you. If you want to be loved, become a teacher. Or a motivational speaker.
Starting your own business — of any kind — requires the strength and focus of a bull elephant in heat, the faith of a saint, the courage of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, and the self-confidence — if not arrogance — of a presidential candidate. Being nice is something that may have to wait until after you've succeeded.
As for the reader who sent me last week's email, I have only one piece of consolidation (and no, it's not the much-overused "keep calm and carry on").
It is this: think about the story you have just told me, and think how amazing it will be to tell it to your grandchildren decades from now. After you have (somehow) pulled through these tough times. After you have opened your 50th outlet and have paid back all those tight-fisted investors. After your business is a household name, you are universally recognized as "the" industry leader, and business schools are writing case studies about you. After you sign a $2 million book deal for your biography (ghostwritten, of course). After your spouse comes back on board, or you have dumped him or her for a spouse who really gets and supports what you are doing. After you have taken all those nasty words people have called you and shoved them back down their throats.
Somebody once said that "success is the best revenge," and it's true. What gets you through the tough times as an entrepreneur is often not hope, not faith, but simple rage. Rage against the people who didn't believe in you. Rage against the people who tried to stop you. Rage against the people who held you back. Rage against the people who said "you can't do that."
Get yourself good and righteously angry (but not so angry that you stop thinking clearly), and you will find the resources within you to get through your current "slough of despond".
If you need further inspiration, remember the words of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen: "he is most right who stands most alone." Picture yourself, years from now, telling your success stories on a television talk show or business convention. Picture the look in your audience's eyes as they give you the adulation and hero-worship you are not getting from anyone right now.
And get back to work.
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: John Seb Barber