6 Ugly Lessons of Entrepreneurship the Media Doesn’t Tell You
For a period of time, it was really hard to get on Facebook; everybody’s life seemed better than mine. What made it more galling was that people I had “judged” to be unworthy of a great life, were living it up! I had left my “glamorous” publishing job for the life of an entrepreneur, but instead of feeling empowered and liberated, I often felt sidelined and ignored.
Lesson 1: Entrepreneurship isn’t for people who live on attention.
Sure, there were the highs, but somehow, they could never mitigate the lows. I was always comparing myself to others because despite people telling me that it was great being “my own boss”, I wasn’t getting the type of validation I was used to: promotions and pay raises.
Lesson 2: Entrepreneurship isn’t for those whose self-worth comes from their job titles.
I think I exhibited signs of “founders burnout” before I realised I had it. I went to bed every night hoping I would die in my sleep so I didn’t have to wake up to keep the business going. I didn’t want to talk about my work with anyone because I had believed that vocalising my fears would make them come true faster. I was constantly drowning in worries, most of them about money. And, even though I didn’t want to talk to people about the stress that was killing me, a part of me still wanted them to care.
Lesson 3: Founders burnout is real.
The decision to throw in the towel came when I got news about my mum’s cancer. Just a month earlier, my grandma was diagnosed. Death is no fun, and two of the most important people in my life were suddenly facing it. I started to wonder about my future:
Could I really afford to live from one freelance work to the next?
How can I grow my wealth if I’m left with nothing to invest with at the end of every month?
Lesson 4: Don’t let anyone tell you Passion is all you need.
I needed to get real about my situation. My husband and I decided we were never going to have children. Of course, not every child will grow up to take care of their parents, but buried in the decision is also the awareness that there’s no future for me, for him, for us. I had to quit my startup because it was not fulfilling my need for validation, my financial needs, and my emotional needs.
Lesson 5: Once it stops giving your joy, leave. (h/t to Marie Kondo)
We read about founders striking gold with “an idea they thought up while washing cars”, we read about startups that attracted huge investments after just 6 months in business … the media surrounds us with so much positive news about startups that it’s hard not to take failures personally.
But in reality, 90% of startups fail. It is possible to have that dream come crashing down on you, and it is also perfectly understandable to walk away.
I would like to tell you that we should never go down without a fight but there’s simply no glory in sticking to the bitter end: you are not the only casualty. You will just hurt the people who love you, you will end up hating yourself, and you will be unable to extract a single ounce of joy from the things you used to love doing.
I think I was lucky to cut myself loose before irreparable damage was done. I used to feel guilty for walking away because I knew my decision upset and disappointed a lot of people. But I know I’m now a better person for it.
Gone are the days of getting stressed because of not knowing when my next job was going to happen. I’ve become more frugal — saving up whatever I can in case I need to stop working for a while, I’ve become more sensitive to potential pitfalls, less tolerant towards those who waste my time, and I have a stronger stomach for disappointment and the unexpected.
Lesson 6: Entrepreneurship isn’t a single long campaign. For many of us, it’s trying and trying until we get it right.
20 down, 43 to go