I wrote a list for Entrepreneur a few years back on the reasons why you should start your own business. It ended up being the most popular post I’ve ever written. Now I wonder, what was I thinking?
When I wrote that article my company was just taking off. I was excited, heading into the future with blinders on and a grin on my face. Which, truth be told, was probably necessary for me to make it through these past three years.
I have survived a massive growth trajectory and a hundred disasters and successes, yet I’m still a neophyte. There are a thousand more mistakes and triumphs for me to experience, but now I’m not walking into those with the blinders and the grin. Now I peer around every corner. The grin is oftentimes forced.
Here are a few ways being an entrepreneur has changed me during the process of taking my company from two people working at one desk in a leased room to more than 60 team members and hundreds of clients.
1. I’m careful who I trust.
As entrepreneurs, we have a naturally optimistic view of the world. We’re a trusting bunch. There are always people looking to take advantage of that trust. Whether it’s a partner, an employee, a client or an another organization, you always have to balance your willingness to trust with an understanding of your vulnerabilities if things go south.
Time and time again, I’ve been betrayed, lied to, taken advantage of and swindled. Each time left a scar and each scar made me a little less trusting. Some people in the office laugh at how cagey I am sometimes with new relationships. That’s just who I am now. Being an entrepreneur has fundamentally altered how I approach new relationships.
2. I’ve stopped wanting more.
When I got started, I couldn’t wait to move into our next office, hire our next employee or onboard our next client. I wanted more revenue, more awards, more desks, more ping pong tables -- I just wanted more.
Some call this greed but it wasn’t resulting in immediate cash in my pocket -- growth is not cheap. It didn't feel like greed but, looking back, it was a type of greed. It was a desire for the energy, the recognition and the spotlight. As we were growing, so too was the attention. That became intoxicating.
But as your company grows, so does your circle of influence and responsibility. Eventually, I couldn’t do the jobs I liked doing. Operational duties were constantly pulling me away from the stuff I wanted to do. Then, before long, “big company” problems like HR related issues, lawsuits and finances became the norm. Suddenly, I had less. Less time with my family and none for lunch with my friends. Less sleep. I smiled less often.
In my pursuit of “more,” I ended up gaining a lot less than I’d bargained for. All of a sudden my desire wasn’t for more of the usual business stuff. I wanted more freedom but hard choices were required to make that a reality. Growth requires a lot of you, and it’s reluctant to give it back when you ask for it.
Entrepreneurship changed what I thought I wanted. In just three years my goals have drastically shifted.
3. I’ve started wondering why we do it.
You know those stories about the entrepreneur who is wildly successful, builds a company to massive heights, then one day sells the whole thing and goes off to live in the woods? I completely get that guy.
Being an entrepreneur and achieving success can be exhausting. Things that used to energize you become a chore. I’m naturally an introvert. Being gregarious and outgoing taxes me like nothing else, but I used to go to a dozen or so networking events per month. In the past year, I’ve been to two or three. I just don’t have the energy to do it anymore.
Similarly, you start to dread days on the road for meetings and trade shows. You know you’re going to miss your family, your bed and your town. Hotel rooms all look the same, time zones blend into each other. Before you know it, you’re one of those dead-eyed business people pulling your roll-behind luggage through the airport, unsure if you remember where you’re flying to.
When everything becomes a chore, you question why you’re doing it. I longingly look at mountains and wonder how long it would take me to fashion a lean-to that could shelter my wife and kids while I go catch a salmon in the river. Because up there, away from everything, nothing is a chore.
4. I’ve realized you need to have a purpose.
If you haven’t noticed, there is a risk of becoming burnt out as an entrepreneur. But there is also a cure. It’s not all doom and gloom. After I chased the wrong things, and did the wrong stuff and trusted the wrong folks, I realized my focus was wrong. I was making myself pretty miserable.
Instead, I started asking myself questions I’d never asked before. I started probing to find out what was really driving me and what I really wanted to accomplish. Once I was able to get a sense of that -- because trust me, I still haven’t fully figured it out -- things started becoming fun again.
I still hate networking events, but I’ve embraced a lot of the stuff I had started to dread. Now I know I’m doing it for a deeply personal reason.
If I could impart just one insight from my journey the past few years, it would be to find out what that deeply personal purpose is, and then chase it with everything you have. Because maybe then entrepreneurship will change you for the better.