It Takes Courage

Starting a business, facing the prospect of failure, making it through the tough times--it's all part and parcel of entrepreneurship. With courage, though, you can make it through anything.

In 1994, Celita Schutz left a lucrative art director position to train for the 1996 Olympics and start her own graphic design business, Celita Schutz Designs, based in New York City. Six months before the 1996 Olympic trials, the judo Olympian broke her leg in two places while competing in Brazil. The doctors predicted a six-month recovery, which would have eliminated Schutz from the Olympics. "I could either sit back and accept my injury, feeling sorry for myself, or I could fight. Win or lose, I had to try," says Schutz, 34. She made it back onto the mat in three months, winning a spot on the 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams. All the while, her graphic design business provided a mental diversion during the painful rehabilitation.

As an entrepreneur, you ride a roller-coaster of emotion every day-from the exhilarating highs of making a sale to the deep lows of lying awake at 3 a.m., wondering if your company will survive. As the economy sputters through recession, you count dwindling cash reserves. Months of massive layoffs have torn gaping holes in the corporate safety net-there are fewer jobs to catch you if you fall. How can you find the courage to face your fears and make your business successful? How do you push past discouragement and the darkness of self-doubt?

Return to the Reason You Started
Entrepreneurs work for a purpose far beyond a paycheck. Staying focused on your company's original mission will give you the stamina to last through the tough times. Dust off your earliest business plan and re-read it. Why did you start the business? Did you have a vision of great service or an innovative product to meet an unmatched need? Were you going to make the world a better place in some small way? Recommit to your company mission, and rewrite your vision to match the urgency of the moment.

For Kimberly Ogilvie, keeping her company's original mission top-of-mind is all she needs to forge ahead. The 31-year-old started Transcending Concepts, a disability and accommodation consulting firm in Kansas City, Missouri, out of frustration: As she watched a friend with muscular dystrophy go from walking, to relying on a walker, to being wheelchair-bound, Ogilvie felt called to make a difference. Today, she works with employers to make their companies more accessible to disabled individuals. She has learned from her disabled clients to never give up, to never take no for an answer-a lesson every entrepreneur could use these days.

Even if you fail, all is not lost. You just have to get back up and do it all over again.

Sometimes, sticking with your entrepreneurial venture is as simple as considering the alternative: a corporate job. That was enough to keep Andrew Frumovitz in the game, even when the market correction of 2001 dried up his financing and brought business at his Los Angeles law firm to a screeching halt in the span of one week. Frumovitz went from advising his high-tech clients on achieving success to advising them on how to close their businesses without hurting anyone. With a new marriage-and a new mortgage-on the line, he was tempted to return to a handsome corporate salary at a large law firm. But going back would have meant giving up on his dream-a prospect far scarier than failure. "The reason I became an entrepreneur was that I wanted to create something," explains Frumovitz, 31. "You can sleep at night when you've given your best on your terms."

Face Down Your Fears
For Wendy Tarzian, president of Tarzian Search Consultants Inc., a Chicago-based recruiting company, facing her fears motivates her to put in the long hours necessary to make her recruiting firm a success. "I'm putting everything I have into this business. That is a little bit terrifying at times," admits Tarzian, 34. " I don't want to end up knocking on the door of the homeless shelter, asking if they can spare a cot, [so] I have to bear down and work through the fear."

Realistically facing the worst scenario for your business and preparing a contingency plan can build courage. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that could happen? Laying off your employees? Bankruptcy? Losing your home? Losing your family? Facing down your fear at the faintest death rattle can help you plan to avoid financial and familial ruin.

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This article was originally published in the June 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: It Takes Courage.

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