The startup lifestyle is known to be stressful and challenging, but it’s also meant to be satisfying and fulfilling, with you as the entrepreneur in control of your own destiny. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way, based on my many years of experience with entrepreneurs and advising startups. The business can be successful, while the entrepreneur feels like a failure.
As an example, I know one highly driven startup founder whose business is growing at a reasonable pace, but the entrepreneur regrets the toll it has extracted from his family, his health, and his ability to relax and enjoy the fruits of his labor. I know several other CEOs that were pushed out of their own successful companies by investors, leaving them feeling like failures.
The challenge is not to let success come without personal satisfaction, or at the expense of the ones you love. To do that, you need to follow a set of personal principles that drive your business principles, not the other way around. Here are some key ones that I espouse:
1. Define your personal goals and purpose early.
Your personal goals should drive your business goals, not the other way around. You will never be satisfied or happy if you are not true to your core beliefs, personal interests, and a higher purpose. Write down your goals, and then take ownership to make them happen and feel the satisfaction.
2. Focus on strengths rather than fixing weaknesses.
If you don’t see business as one of your strengths, you likely won’t be happy leading a startup. Many technologists refuse stubbornly to let anyone else take their invention from a product to a business, assuming they can easily fix their business weakness. Both they and the business end up suffering.
3. Create some short-term milestones on the path to your dream.
Dreams alone won’t make you happy or successful, so start early in defining and executing against a set of milestones to celebrate progress along the way. Satisfaction is not a one-time event at the end of your career; it’s a series of good feelings driven by results along the way.
4. Be honest with yourself about practicing what you preach.
Many business executives can give a great talk to their team about sustaining their health and maintaining a balanced family life, but they let the business override their own needs. Similarly, don’t compromise your own ethics and integrity for the sake of your business.
5. Don’t stop believing, learning, and growing as a person.
The world of entrepreneurs is ever-changing, so if you aren’t learning and changing, you are falling behind. In business, setbacks must be seen as normal and expected challenges, not as indications of failure. Successfully recovering from problems should be a key source of satisfaction.
6. Take satisfaction from team success, at work and at home.
Being an entrepreneur is not a one-person show, so accept that fact, and build a team that can complement you and support your weaknesses. If your business and private teams are motivated and satisfied, their happiness will radiate to you. A motivated team is a successful one.
An over-arching principle for success and satisfaction for every entrepreneur is respect – for yourself, and in business respect for every customer, investor, and employee. Another generic attribute close behind in value is persistence. No amount of talent or genius can take the place of persistence. Many experts believe that one of the top reasons for startup failures, as well as personal failures, is simply giving up too early.
In fact, people giving up on unsatisfying corporate careers is one of the primary sources of entrepreneurs. Most don’t realize that the same satisfaction and success principles apply in both worlds – and ignoring them in both will have the same negative consequences.
Switching from either lifestyle to the other will give you a whole new set of challenges, but it won’t automagically bring you happiness, satisfaction, or success. In either case, I’m a believer that you make your own success. Now is the time to start.