When I was a brand new entrepreneur, I had the good fortune of receiving a lot of great advice from people with more experience. I also learned a lot through trial and error.
In the spirit of sharing and camaraderie, these are the lessons I’ve found to be the most helpful:
1. No one does it alone
We live in a society that loves to perpetuate the myth of the bootstrapping, “self-made” entrepreneur. In truth, there is no such thing. Yes, there are many successful entrepreneurs who came from impoverished backgrounds and had very few advantages in life. It’s also true that all of these people had to work incredibly hard to get where they are. Without a doubt, these individuals deserve to be recognized for their tenacity and hard work, but they still aren’t self-made. No one is. Every single person who experiences any degree of success has a long list of people to thank. Get into the habit of doing so early and often.
2. You’re going to have to do scary things
Whether you have a fear of talking to strangers, setting prices that reflect your worth, or taking financial risks, being a successful entrepreneur means coming up against your fears again and again — and doing what needs to be done, even if you feel like throwing up while you do it. Every time you do something that needs to get done, despite being terrified, you’re committing an act of bravery. Over time, the things that scare you now will become easy. You’ll develop new fears. And you will overcome them, too.
3. Freedom comes with a price tag
There is a lot of freedom in being an entrepreneur. When you’re working for yourself, you call the shots. You can take time off to go to your child’s school play or to travel for a family reunion. The depth and breadth of what you can create is limited only by your imagination. This is the part of the story that gets talked about a lot, and with good reason. These things are awesome! But it’s only fair to remind you that in exchange for these freedoms, you will have to put in long, hard hours. You may find yourself working harder than you have ever worked in your life. When it is time to make big, life-changing decisions, it is all on you. You may lose money. You might fail. It will be worth it.
4. Being kind is not a weakness
There are people who will tell you that this isn’t the case. There are people who truly believe that they have to be ruthless and cutthroat to succeed. They are wrong. To put it bluntly, the only people who like jerks are other jerks. Sure, there have always been successful jerks, but there have also always been successful people who were kind and caring. The former live a lonely existence at the top, while the latter will never have a shortage of friends and loved ones cheering for them.
5. You don’t have to step on other people to make it to the top
This goes hand in hand with not being a jerk, but it deserves its own special subcategory of jerkdom. There is never a justifiable reason to speak ill of your competitors or leave the people who have helped you in the dust. One of the most satisfying things you can experience as an entrepreneur is uplifting other people, rather than pushing them down. We all do better when we all do better.
6. You have to learn how and when to say no
The ability to say no is crucial. If this is hard for you, remember that every time you say no to one thing, you are actually saying yes to something else. If you don’t master the art of saying no, sooner or later (probably sooner) you will be burned out, resentful, and exhausted. You’ll let people down if you attempt to keep up with everything. Reclaim your time and commit only to the things you want to do and have the time to do well.
7. Being the dumbest person in the room can be a good thing
It feels great to be the smartest person in a room, but if you carefully orchestrate your life so that this is always the case, you’re inhibiting your own growth. Make it a point to surround yourself with all kinds of people, especially those who are more knowledgeable, experienced, and successful at the things you want to do well. You’ll gain valuable insights, fresh perspectives, and a wealth of knowledge.
8. Flexibility is crucial
There are going to be times when things don’t go according to plan. Lots of times. Think of your business plan as a road map, and remember to leave plenty of time and space for detours. Rigidity is a surefire path to failure. If you can’t bend, you will break.
9. Not everyone is going to love you
You want to be loved. Who doesn’t? It’s human nature. The bad news is that you can’t control whether or not other people like you. (This may be the good news, too.) No matter how you act or what you’re selling, there are going to be people who can’t stand you, and they might think your product or service is ridiculous. Nevermind them. They’re not your customers. If you are kind, ethical, and offer something of value, you’ll find plenty of people who will be absolutely thrilled to work with you. These are the people who deserve your time and energy.
10. Commitment is a daily decision
You don’t just commit to your idea or business once. You do it over and over and over again. In fact, saying that it’s a daily decision probably isn’t strong enough. There will be days when you have to recommit yourself to the process over and over again. Doing what you love for a living sometimes means doing things you’d rather not. Set up a system of rewarding yourself for completing the boring, tedious, and frustrating tasks that are necessary to achieving your goals.
11. You have the same amount of time as everyone else on the planet
We all have busy lives, but most people aren’t nearly as busy as they believe they are. We tend to overestimate the amount of time we spend working and underestimate our downtime. The problem isn’t that you don’t have enough time, it’s how you’re spending it. If you find yourself thinking that you don’t have enough time to devote to the things you need to do to make your entrepreneurial endeavors successful, try logging everything you do for a week or two. See how many time-sucks you can eliminate to make room for what you want to accomplish. How we spend our time is how we spend our lives.
12. Nearly everything is a choice
There are some situations in life that are completely beyond our control, but they are fewer than most people would like to admit. Allowing ourselves to fall into the trap of believing we don’t have any choices is a form of self-victimization. When you reclaim your ability to choose, you reclaim your power.
These twelve lessons are just a drop in the bucket. There are a lot of brilliant people out there!
What have you learned that has changed the way you approach entrepreneurship? Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments so we can keep learning from each other.
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