Hustle porn tells us that “Entrepreneurship isn’t for the weak!” And, it’s true: it’s not.
But it’s also not for the strong either. Being single-focused, blindered, unwavering won’t get you far. Or, at least it won’t keep you there when it does.
As a serial entrepreneur and life-long mentor and coach to entrepreneurs, I’ve seen one lesson play out over and over again: Entrepreneurship isn’t for the weak or the strong. It’s for the flexible.
Entrepreneurship is a holy shit storm of unexpected and cataclysmic realities, flying monkeys dispatched from the depths of hell, cackling their way through your best-laid plans like toddlers on acid. To determine from the start that “success” is getting from A to Z in a specific way discounts the other 24 letters in the alphabet that are just dying to reorient you to what success might actually mean for you. In every business, philanthropic group, public service program, or political campaign I ever started, success, it turns out, was re-calibrated more times than the Kardashians have had plastic surgery.
I built an internationally reputed executive search firm. About twelve years into it, we had a well-respected business guru come in to facilitate our annual retreat. She started the retreat by asking each of us to stand up and state what we considered to be the ideal number of staff for a successful firm.
“24” one employee said, reflecting our current size.
“100” another said.
“50…,” “35…,” “72…”. The numbers were all over the place. “Success,” it seems, was dictated by the idea of growth, getting from A to Z. Bigger staff, bigger book of business, bigger revenue, bigger firm.
I spoke last. “I reject this question because it is stupid,” I said. “What do we get with 100 staff, or 50, or 24? Sure, our portfolios are bigger, our revenues are bigger. But so are the struggles, the workload, and the stress. Can you tell me that we will have more impact on the world with a bigger firm? Can you show me where these numbers translate into the reinvestment in overhead to support continuous quality improvement on behalf of our clients? Can you tell me that the top-line revenues will create more profit in each of our pockets?”
The room fell silent. Everyone stared at me.
“I don’t want to talk about random numbers, this all-out pursuit of growth for growth’s sake. I’d rather go around the room and talk about what each of us considers success. If it’s more impact, let’s build a firm to support that. If it’s more money in your pockets, let’s build a firm to support that. If it’s more agency in your daily lives, let’s build a firm to support that. And that might mean growth, but we have to be flexible about the idea that it might not.”
Resist the urge to fall for the purveyors of hustle porn, preaching that bigger, better, faster, more is best. Determine what success means to you — specifically, uniquely, quirkily you — and go out and hustle for that kind of business. Maybe that will make you the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or Richard Branson, and that’s cool. Or, maybe that will make you unknown, fulfilled, and still happy. And, that’s cool too.