Often when reading the stories and descriptions of entrepreneurs or innovators, words like “purpose driven”, passionate, dedicated, inspirational and other variations on the theme are thrown around and put up in lights.
And often, they are the correct words. I am certainly inspired by people who have made their idea their business, I find my morale and energy is boosted when I work with people who are passionate and driven to do amazing things.
But I am beginning to realise, to a greater or lesser extent, the one thing entrepreneurs (particularly in their early stages) have in common and that is that they are selfish.
Taking the definition of selfish as “concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure”, the position of selfishness is not at all about the desire to do good in the world and make amazing things. Entrepreneurs are selfish in regards to their friends, family and support network.
I’ve made no secrets about the grind we are currently facing and how hard things are to ramp up. We are in that awkward and horrible position between a well honed idea and a sustained business. While I’ve stepped away from agency life to focus on our company, I am still beholden to the timelines of others – there is a lot of dead time.
Dead time is demotivating. I will admit that there is a lot I could be doing, but at the same time, I am plagued by the grind. I am not the eternal optimistic energizer bunny who can wake up every day and just do it all. I need something to progress, some little win to happen, so I can find the motivation to keep chipping away. And I know my team needs it too so I feel like I have to find more excitement and motivation to lift the spirits of everyone else.
Some days that doesn’t happen, and I sit at my computer, blankly staring at a slide or a spreadsheet and vaguely hoping that my inbox will ping with something positive. And equally, dreading the moment my inbox pings with another setback. I don’t want to face my team and say that ‘nothing progressed today’ but more often than not, that’s just the reality of this phase of growing a business (in my n=1 experience).
So on those down days, I need to find ways to kill time so I don’t drive myself insane with my own thoughts. I go for walks, I hit a lot of golf balls, I have literally finished Candy Crush. It’s not productive but it is distracting. And I also realised that it is selfish. This whole endeavour is selfish.
I walked away from a successful career to do my own thing. I have turned down full time, lucrative work to keep pouring my heart, soul and time into an idea. I feel pity from people when I say that my money is tight. I can’t plan holidays or bank up leave to explore the world. My friends may not invite me to do things because they know I’m unable to get away for any period of time.
I feel the strain on my relationships, and that I’m not contributing equally. My social time has evaporated because I’m both conscious of going out and spending money, as well as sometimes struggling mentally to want to be around lots of people. I understand the confusion mixed with quiet acceptance from my friends and family that they really don’t understand what I’m doing, but will support me no matter what. But I continue to push back with the belief that in another month, or two, or three, we’ll have cracked the code to get to the next stage and I’ll have found some breathing space. I’m selfish in my view that my drive and purpose is somehow more important than those things we know are important and valuable, without any real proof that it’s true.
However, that belief is important. Every one who has either gone through this (successfully or otherwise) or will go through this needs to acknowledge the strength of their own belief. It will be challenged time and time again and developing resistance to all the things that create blockers is as critical as anything to finding the outcome you want.
Believing in your idea and your vision is a good thing. Wanting to change your world and influence the things you can is important. I have found that and I will not waiver from it. But that is inherently selfish.
Recognising this creates a mental dilemma. As Einstein famously said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Having recognised that what I am doing is selfish (and probably also insane), but continuing to do so is confronting because I am more acutely aware of the impact of my actions than ever before, but need to continue doing the same thing with the insane notion that eventually it will be different. And in the meantime, find excuses (mostly to myself) that it is justifiable in the long run.
I suppose time will tell whether or not I’ve made the right decisions. I just think it’s important for entrepreneurs to recognise that they are selfish in some ways and that they rely on the goodwill of their support network (often unspoken) and one day they’ll have to level the playing field. I’m truly thankful for the people around me who have stuck it out for the last four years. I can’t promise it will be any different any time soon, but I have to believe that it will be. I guess I’m just selfish like that.