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It's OK to Be Great: Why Entrepreneurs Deserve to Stand Out

It's OK to Be Great: Why Entrepreneurs Deserve to Stand Out
Image credit: Creative Tools | Flickr
This story appears in the February 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

I have to be honest: Being an entrepreneur isn’t that glamorous or even fun on some days. You have a hard job. But I promise you, no matter what direction your company goes, it will be meaningful, and you will matter. Because what you do, even in failure, matters.

Why? Because you have chosen the path less taken, the path less understood and the path most pockmarked with pain. Much of the time that path is a complete slog, and your job, on occasion, is simply to slog it out. 

My god, it sounds brutal. And sometimes it is.

It’s not easy being an entrepreneur. It’s lonely and scary and … mostly lonely and scary. We, in the press, paint a picture of the aspiration and glories you bring to the world, the jobs you create, the ideas you spread and the impact you have on the future. And it’s misleading, because the reality is, you are working your ass off to make something, to fight for something and simply to see your vision to the next stage. And it doesn’t always work. But that’s OK.

I get a lot of phone calls. Pitches mainly. The conversations are not always rosy; sometimes, they are tough and brutally honest: “I can’t make payroll” or “I have a pit in my stomach, and I think it may be a heart attack or possibly a stroke” or “I don’t know how to pivot—and I don’t want to anyway.” Or, “Screw this, I’m getting a job.”

It’s strong medicine. The reality of what you are doing is harsh. It’s not always rainbows and bunny rabbits. In fact, it rarely is. Being an entrepreneur is more than being the boss. You are the leader—not only the leader of your destiny, but a leader to the people who believe in you: employees, investors, customers and evangelists. 

This makes you vulnerable. You are the one who will herald the next generation of … something. And you are the one who will keep the lights on. Being vulnerable and keeping that sense of honesty is what makes you an entrepreneur. It separates you from the corporate world and makes you fallible—and also, heroic.

Fear, although you may feel it, is not an option. And when you worry, well, that is a form of fear, so stop doing it. 

In the Nordic countries there is a deeply held principle about standing out from the crowd. It’s called the Law of Jante, and it essentially states that if you call too much attention to yourself, you will be denounced, and you must retreat. Everyone is equal. So stop being so excellent. 

This idea flies in the face of reason and the very philosophy of entrepreneurship. And even in the countries that hold this idea true, things are changing. I was in Copenhagen recently at the Creative Business Cup, a business competition for entrepreneurs that strives to toss the Law of Jante out the window (especially where business is concerned). And it’s working on the cultural level. Things are slowly changing. Entrepreneurship is being embraced and encouraged. It’s OK to be an entrepreneur and it’s OK to look to Silicon Valley, where excellence is heralded. 

In Jason Ankeny’s fascinating look at the psychology of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley we learn about the mindset of excellence and also of failure.

These ideas are not only inspiring, they bring with them economic and cultural impact. But you already know that, even on the days when you’re slogging it out.