Falling Into the Rabbit Hole: Why Everyone Isn’t An Entrepreneur

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Something’s really wrong with our ideas of entrepreneurship and business.

I was reading HBR blogs tonight–one great blog about older entrepreneurs by Marc Freedman and why they have an edge and celebrating the idea of taking experience alongside passion–when I ran across a comment to another blog that again seemed to taunt anyone who wasn’t an entrepreneur by insinuating that anyone with half a brain would start their own business rather than being a “miserable W-2 employee.”  (That thud was my head hitting my desk–repeatedly.)

Then I found another HBR blog by Oliver Segovia, “Considering a Start-Up? Think Again” that I thought might just get there–his statement “the new zeitgeist is that entrepreneurship is the be-all and end-all path” had me all a-tingle.  But in the end, he veered off into a little test for whether or not you had a “vanity entrepreneur” in you.  Cute, but it’s not the vanity entrepreneurs that have me worried.  It’s the very earnest, very motivated, very propagandized prospective start-up owners who’ve been told that “small business will save us” and “you too can be an entrepreneur–just buy my $49.99 kit!” 

There is no magic potion, no magic pill.

My own experience as a business owner and business attorney have taught me that there are a myriad of considerations for deciding to start your own business:

  • Do you have a strong sense of your own power and worth and can you inspire others?
  • Are your life priorities such that you can spend 50, 60, or more hours per work doing more than just producing your good or service?
  • Do your expectations for your lifestyle provide you to skip paychecks so that your employees can be paid?
  • Do you have the business experience to create authenticity and inspire trust in your business advisors, partners, and affiliates?
  • What about the people who will work for you–are you going to be an effective manager of those people until you can afford to hire a manager?
  • Will you be able to hire and fire effectively?
  • Will you be able to facilitate the creation of a culture of purpose and dialogue?
  • Will you be an effective leader?

And we haven’t even gotten to that much-touted passion for what you do or create.

Here’s the hard, honest truth.  It all comes back to what my friends and colleagues hear me complain about daily.  Not everyone is an entrepreneur.  Not everyone should run their own business.  Not everyone should be their own boss.  As Segovia pointed out, the start-up life isn’t for everyone.  But even if the start-up life was everything it’s cracked up to be–the jobs that Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit just tonight said we must create–who are going to be those employees? Logic seems to have left us here…

Judy Hoberman has a new book, Famous Isn’t Enough, that talks about all the work that has to go into starting–and succeeding–as an entrepreneur. It’s true: It is hard, hard work to succeed at your own business.  The usual support systems are missing, there’s no one there to take the heat for you, and no one else to blame when you’re working nights and weekends.  Is it rewarding? Sure.  Is it for everyone? No.

Some people do need to get that degree rather than start a business at 19.  And some people need to have a regular, steady job so that they may support their families and provide security–because they’ve established their priorities, and that regular steady job is necessary.  Some people simply don’t have the personality or choose to utilize their personal power to manage employees effectively.

Stop denigrating them for their choices.  Stop telling them where to go, or how to be.  Lead if they want to follow; let them go if they don’t.

Small business may save us–and I hope it will–but it will be because those businesses are started and filled with strong, capable people who share a common purpose and understanding, who want to collaborate and create something together, not because it’s seen as the only REAL choice for any creative person.  There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.  Take your path, and let the others go where they will.

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