Regardless of the Cinderella stories you hear in the media, the reality of entrepreneurial failure is anything but a fairy tale
Sarah has worked at Guardian Technologies for nearly a decade now. She started out her career at the company as an entry-level sales associate and has since worked her way up to a sales executive.
She makes well over US$100,000 a year, loves her team, her company and her life as a whole.
When her more entrepreneurial friends poke fun at her for being a “nine-to-fiver” or “not dreaming big enough” she doesn’t mind. In fact, she finds it amusing.
She deeply respects her friend’s drive to build the next Apple or Facebook — but she couldn’t be happier with her job and her life.
She gets nights and weekends off as she watches her friends spend most of their “free time” working.
During her late twenties, she has been able to cross countless destinations off her travel bucket list with a hefty four weeks worth of vacation each year, while her friends have been locked up in their apartments building and rebuilding and then rebuilding some more after that.
Not to mention, when she hits her bonuses… she makes more than them combined. But, who is counting?
Let’s have a candid conversation about entrepreneurship vs. “employee-ship”
I want to begin by saying the dream to become an entrepreneur isn’t a silly one — not in the least.
After all, I chose that path for myself and that decision has allowed me to build JotForm for almost four million users over the last 12 years, giving me the chance to work with a team of incredible people and a team of incredible employees.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the dream to become an “employee” isn’t a silly one either. In fact, there is a great deal of me that would argue it’s a better one for some people.
Help build an already established company, instead of losing sleep over-thinking all the entrepreneurial risks you took?
Earn a hefty salary over worrying how on earth you’ll be able to take care of your family for the rest of your life?
Have the chance to move up the ranks one day, instead of embracing a completely uncertain future?
Enjoy paid leave and other benefits, instead of burning yourself out in a culture that celebrates the 80-hour hustle?
Where do I sign up?
Unfortunately, in the twenty-first century, “employee-ship” seems to have gotten a bad rap. All of a sudden, being a “9–5’er” became uncool and aspiring to work for a company over building your own somehow makes you small-minded, unmotivated or a follower.
I totally disagree.
The story about Sarah (her name and the companies name have been changed for privacy purposes) highlights some of the benefits employees get to enjoy that most entrepreneurs don’t… until they “make it” (or if they ever make it).
While I’m not naive to think that Sarah’s experience is every employee’s experience, hitting a home run and selling your company for a billion dollars isn’t every entrepreneur’s experience either — just a select few unicorns like Instagram.
We need to talk more about the real cost of entrepreneurship and our worrying “Hustle until the haters ask if you’re hiring” mentality.
Entrepreneurship doesn’t always lead to happiness, flexibility, wealth and notoriety
“I’ll be happy when…” is a thought that has ironically caused much unhappiness for men and women chasing anything in this world.
We find ourselves running after something — marriage, kids, a bigger house, a nicer car — and when we finally catch the thing we’re chasing, we find ourselves still feeling a bit empty.
In psychology, this concept is called the “focusing illusion”. It’s a cognitive bias where people place too much emphasis on a future event and as a result, inaccurately predict the reality of the event.
Think about a time you’ve told yourself a story about a goal or dream you were going after and in your head it looked like a fairy tale. But, once you’ve actually achieved the goal or dream the reality was far less epic.
That’s focusing illusion.
In “why setting big goals can make you miserable”, I explained it using the concept of “post-marathon syndrome”, a well-documented state of sadness, worthlessness and letdown. It’s a natural human reaction.
Many aspiring entrepreneurs suffer from such psychological phenomena. They tell themselves stories of what life as an entrepreneur will be like — but once they actually live the life of an entrepreneur they discover the reality is anything but.
Often times, these stories come in the form of “I’ll be happy when…” like:
- I’ll be happy when… I start a business.
- I will be happy when… I make US$100,000 a year from my business.
- I will be happy when… I sell my business and become a millionaire.
- I will be happy when… [fill in the blank].
One story aspiring entrepreneurs tell themselves is that they will be happy when they find some of the many myths associated with entrepreneurship — flexibility, wealth, notoriety, etc.
But, from my own experience as an entrepreneur, these illusions aren’t discovered or achieved through entrepreneurship:
- I will be happy when I have more flexibility as an entrepreneur
My life hasn’t become more flexible after building JotForm (and it wasn’t anything close to being flexible during the first ten or so years). After 12 years, my responsibility today is only bigger — managing, hiring, strategising and worrying.
If, as an entrepreneur, you’re working 40 hours a week and “worrying” an additional 40 hours outside of work… is your life truly flexible?
- I will be happy when I have greater wealth as an entrepreneur
While JotForm has been a modest success for myself and my team, for every modest entrepreneurial success, there are thousands of failures. And, regardless of the Cinderella stories you hear in the media, the reality of entrepreneurial failure is anything but a fairy tale.
There’s nothing poetic about going tens of thousands of dollars in debt because your dream didn’t take off. Where it concerns entrepreneurship, I would argue that wealth isn’t something that should be expected… I’d argue it’s a rare exception.
In fact, according to this study, the average entrepreneur makes roughly US$5 per hour starting out and established entrepreneurs make US$62 hour. Yes, that’s good money, but far from being a millionaire.
- I will be happy when I have more notoriety as an entrepreneur
Another misconception of entrepreneurship is that it leads to notoriety or fame. While some entrepreneurs like Musk and Zuckerberg are celebrated like rock stars, most of us go completely unnoticed.
Instead of trying to make it to a magazine cover, I choose picking olives and spending quality time with my family.
So, when you truly look at flexibility, wealth and notoriety, you realise that entrepreneurship isn’t necessarily the best path to take to achieve these things.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Just because it’s cool or you are born to become an entrepreneur doesn’t mean your friends should become one.
If you want more flexibility, you might as well work for a remote-friendly company. If you seek wealth, you might as well make money working in real estate, sales or investment banking.
While there’s nothing wrong with these things, they can’t necessarily be found through entrepreneurship — or at least as easily as other paths.
Before making the choice to become an entrepreneur (or an employee for that matter), we can ask ourselves what truly makes us happy and be extremely realistic with ourselves… because it might just be focusing illusion getting the better of us.
This was originally published on JotForm.
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