Are You a Real Entrepreneur or Just an Entrepreneur Lite?

It all comes down to facing your fears, challenging yourself and breaking out of your comfort zone.

learn more about Steve Tobak

By Steve Tobak

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When you're a kid, your world is dominated by two people: your parents. You also have friends and teachers, but you know who calls the shots. And it doesn't take long to figure out that, sooner or later, you're going to have to get out and make a life for yourself. Pretty much everyone knows that, but not everyone follows through.

That single decision defines your future. It sets the tone for your entire career and plays a pivotal role in how things turn out for you. That's because, when you leave home and strike out on your own, you're challenging yourself and breaking out of your comfort zone. Those are major success factors, and they're learned. Nobody is a born risk taker.

Related: Mark Cuban Has 3 Tips for Young Entrepreneurs

If you do fly the coop, you'll notice something interesting: The world doesn't come to an end. Everything turns out fine. That experience gives you confidence and teaches you lessons. You'll likely do the same thing again and again throughout your career. It only gets easier as you train yourself to be independent.

If, on the other hand, you let fear hold you back, none of that happens. Lack of experience and confidence only makes things worse. Worst of all, you know you chose the safe path, and that becomes a sort of prison that only gets harder to break out of as you train yourself to depend on others.

It's no coincidence that a third of U.S. millennials live at home with their parents, according to U.S. Census data. Many don't even work or go to school. But then, the notion of taking risks and breaking out of the status quo goes far beyond whether you leave home at an early age or not.

The problem with today's entrepreneurial crowd is that many see themselves as leaders when they're really just conforming to social media norms and becoming good little digital clones of those in their networks. It's like some bizarre combination of self-delusion and herd mentality on a massive scale.

Related: 15 Signs You Need a Social-Media Cleanse

Instead of challenging themselves, getting real world experience, working hard at developing an expertise and building meaningful careers, they market themselves as online influencers and do silly little gigs and side hustles. The trend is becoming so commonplace, I've given it a name: Entrepreneur Lite.

Sadly, all these people are going to wake up one day and realize that they never took a real risk, pushed the envelope or did anything meaningful with their lives. They never did the entrepreneurial equivalent of taking that first big step and leaving home. Rather, they've chosen to stay within the safety of their online clique.

It doesn't help that the internet is overrun with fake content on how to be successful. If you believe all the feel-good fluff you read online, you'd think you can hack, habit and YouTube your way to fame and fortune. Stick to some dumb morning routine, think positive thoughts, follow your dreams, read inspirational quotes and change the world. What a load of nonsense. But that hasn't stopped millions from following suit.

Personally, I couldn't get out of the house fast enough. I went off to college at 16 and, after graduating, got about as far away from New York as I could. I knew I needed to grow up and make it on my own, and I knew I couldn't pull that off by hanging around the same old people and places.

Related: Choosing Between Opportunity and the Comfort of Home

I moved to Dallas, Texas, of all places. I didn't know a soul and was instantly branded a Yankee. Talk about culture shock. But you know, it all worked out and I never looked back. Eventually, I moved to southern California, then Silicon Valley, and made a name for myself as a senior executive in the high-tech industry.

Don't get me wrong. Leaving home when I was 16 and then moving to a God-forsaken dessert wasteland where I stood out like a sore thumb wasn't all it took. But every big decision throughout my career involved facing my fears and taking risks. I never would have had the courage and the confidence to do that if not for that first time.

Related: 6 Ways to Take the First Step of Your Journey to Success

Life is a lot like building a house or a city. Without a solid foundation and critical infrastructure, nothing works and the whole thing is likely to come crashing down.

A successful career is built on a foundation of experience and self-confidence that only comes from facing your fears, challenging yourself and taking risks. That means cutting the apron strings -- at home and on social media. The sooner you do that, the better your chances are of becoming a real entrepreneur, not just an entrepreneur lite.

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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