There seems to be a misconception floating around in the startup ecosystem that entrepreneurship is synonymous with misery and painful uphill battles. And while it is true that entrepreneurship is a uniquely challenging road, I take issue with the claim that it has to be a grueling and thankless one.
So, how do we keep ourselves happy and sane while we’re on the path to creating a better life for ourselves, and a better world for others? Simple: positive psychology.
Learned Optimism Keeps Us Going
Being an entrepreneur means that you are changing the status quo. Whether you’re building disruptive technologies, founding an innovative non-profit or providing a service, you have seen the need for something better, and you are bringing that vision to life.
The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.
– Charles F. Kettering
That means that you are going against the grain of society, challenging existing markets, and changing the hearts and minds of thousands – if not millions – of people around the world.
And that makes entrepreneurship the hardest job on the planet. Everything about this career lifestyle choice works against our basic human desires for comfort, stability and predictability.
As an entrepreneur, you are waking up each and every day and fighting deep-seated market inertia in the hopes of creating something better. As a result, you are placed at a much higher risk for encountering failure and rejection on a daily basis. Why? Because markets and consumers take a long time to change and adapt to new ways of thinking and being.
So how do we insulate and protect ourselves from the harsh realities of entrepreneurship, in order to keep forging ahead on the path to making our dreams come true?
Avoid the Convention to Dwell on Failures
Every morning at PaeDae, our team has a group huddle. We take the opportunity to share learnings, talk about upcoming challenges, and discuss how we will drive the business forward that day. Sounds pretty common, right?
Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. – Colin Powell
But every single day we end our team huddle with an exercise called ‘three good things,’ where each team member shares two positive work events, and one positive personal event from the day before. Not only does it allow us to bond as a team on a personal level by celebrating each other’s personal accomplishments – it also forces us to remember that even on the most difficult days, there are always ‘wins’ to be celebrated.
The idea comes from psychologist and author Martin Seligman’s book, Flourish. He explains that although from an evolutionary standpoint it makes sense that we dwell on and analyze our failures more deeply than we do our successes, this tendency negatively impacts our happiness and life satisfaction.
When we begin each day by reinforcing optimism and happiness – even in the face of adversity – we become more positive and resilient as entrepreneurs, and as leaders.
The Journey to Prosperity is Not About the Money
When many people think about the term ‘entrepreneur,’ the image of a hustling founder working herself to the bone for years in the hopes of striking it rich comes to mind.
But after founding six successful companies myself, I’ve learned that money and success are just byproducts of the entrepreneurial quest for freedom, meaning and self-actualization.
I have always found that my view of success has been iconoclastic: success to me is not about money or status or fame, it’s about finding a livelihood that brings me joy and self-sufficiency and a sense of contributing to the world.
– Anita Roddick
It’s no surprise that some of the greatest entrepreneurial minds of our time have signed on to the famous Giving Pledge, spearheaded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. While it’s true that they’ve amassed fortunes in the billions, they didn’t set out on their entrepreneurial journeys with the goal of becoming wealthy beyond their wildest dreams – they had a vision for changing the world. And since money was just a byproduct of changing the way millions of people live their lives… they have no problem giving it all away.
Don’t get me wrong – there is absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to wealth. But I think that what drives so many entrepreneurs to the brink is that they become so focused on building a revenue-generating company and looking for a lucrative exit that they lose sight of the reason that they started on this crazy journey in the first place.
That vision is unique to entrepreneurs. It keeps us up at night, it wakes us up in the morning, and it drives us. But, more than anything, it protects us. By nurturing that learned optimism and holding on to our vision, we become happier (and more successful) entrepreneurs.
About the Author
Rob Emrich is a serial entrepreneur, and is currently involved in his latest venture as the Founder and CEO of PaeDae. He has founded and led six ventures, including the nonprofit Road of Life (2002), Boundaryless Brands (2008), which was acquired in 2011, SpeakerSite (2008) deadpooled, and BULX(2010), which was acquired by Dealyard.com in 2011. He is a mentor at the startup accelerator Hub Ventures (Part of the Global Accelerator Network championed by TechStars) in San Francisco, and Founders Factory in Columbus, OH.