Reality Check

4 min read

This story appears in the March 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In the good old days (about 17 years ago), when entrepreneurs were just starting to surface in our society, theories and opinions abounded that, to be a successful , you had to be a certain kind of person or a particular personality type. Entrepreneurs, it was said, were risk-takers, ready to throw it all away for a shot at the top. There were other "knowns," of course. You weren't good at delegating, you hogged all the glory, you were selfish. In short, you were basically a dysfunctional, greedy, no-good bastard.

Then the entrepreneurial explosion hit (for a number of reasons we won't get into here), and we learned-just as in life-that while some entrepreneurs could indeed be bastardly, far more of you were busy starting and growing businesses for your own reasons, using your own ideas and strategies.

I've seen and heard a lot in my 21-plus years at Entrepreneur. There's been a lot of talk about old-style entrepreneurs (misfits and loners) and the newer, more inclusive model (you know who you are). These characterizations are part truth and part bull. One of the lessons I hope we've learned over the years is there's no one way to entrepreneurial success. It's important that every entrepreneur find the path he or she is most comfortable with rather than blindly following someone else's course because it was so successful for them.

That's not to say you should stay within your comfort zone-in fact, to succeed, I think you frequently need to exit that zone. However, it's far harder to thrive if you're trying to do something that either makes you so uncomfortable it immobilizes you, or is so "not you" it calls for a complete and total personality transformation. You can certainly learn new ways to do things, and you should. But it's also important to try to tailor business ideas, management style and to your personal style.

Again, let's go back to the "good" old days. Another popular theory was that entrepreneurs were born, not bred. In other words, you couldn't learn to be a successful business owner. Well, we all know that's not true. can be taught-in fact, I think it's imperative entrepreneurs continually seek new information. And it's never too early, or too late, to start. Turn to "The Wonder Years" on page 58, and find out how you can help jump-start the process and provide your kids with a sound entrepreneurial foundation.

I recently taped an appearance on 's show. First, let me get this out of the way: Despite what many of us have read or heard about her, Martha Stewart was just as gracious (and funny) when the cameras weren't rolling as she was when they were. Anyway, during the interview (I was on the show to talk about starting a business), we were talking about business plans and how important it was for all entrepreneurs to have one. And I said the standard, "After all, you wouldn't go on a road trip without a map." Martha, one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs, quickly stated, "Well, I would." That didn't surprise me. Martha Stewart is one of those "born" entrepreneurs. My guess is (no evidence, just conjecturing) "born" entrepreneurs are more likely not to start with a business plan (even though I think even they should have one). I believe they are also likely to have a higher tolerance for risk. That doesn't make the borns better than the breds-it just makes them different.

Entrepreneurs share a common dream: to succeed. There are many paths to that goal, some easily traveled, others laden with obstacles. Whichever you choose, go forward knowing that if you have what Sir Walter Scott said is "the will to do, the soul to dare," you will find success.


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