Tap the following words into Google: have you got what it takes…
And before you finish ‘takes’ – at least on my computer – Google’s filled in the rest: to be an entrepreneur.
Just short of 30m results so I’m clearly not the first one to ask the question. And here’s just what I’m looking for, second on the list. Courtesy of This is Money, the Great Entrepreneur Quiz.
There at the top is the obligatory picture of the Dragons, followed by ten questions. They’re exactly what you’d expect: ‘why do you want to start your own business?’ ‘How committed are you?’ And if you answered mostly A’s…
I suspect a large proportion of the 29.9m search results will lead you to a quiz like that. And I’ll wager quite heavily that not a single quiz will ask one of the most important questions every entrepreneur faces as they build their business:
How well do you cope with loneliness?
Make no mistake, from the one man creative to the owners of the Sunday Times fastest growing companies, every entrepreneur feels alone at some time. They recognise with absolute certainty that ‘the buck stops with you’ doesn’t only apply to American presidents.
I was introduced to someone last week: one of the most focused young entrepreneurs I’ve ever met:
It was fine when we started. All one big adventure. And I’d go out and play Frisbee with them all. Now they’re still playing Frisbee and I’m in the office driving it all forwards. But suddenly there’s so much more responsibility. Some of them have mortgages now. We’ve just hired our first guy with a family. And it’s all down to me…
There’s not much I can add to that. Even if you’re a director, you might well have started as ‘one of the lads.’ But gradually, the distance grows: you realise that you can’t be their boss and their best friend.
Naturally they’ll still go for a drink with you. But nothing sums it up quite like this quote from Carmela, wife of successful (but not entirely legal) entrepreneur, Tony Soprano. I found it in an Inc article by Tim Askew, the CEO of Corporate Rain.
Carmela tells Tony:
[They] go around complimenting you on your new shoes, telling you you’re not going bald, not getting fat. Do you think they really care? You’re the boss! They’re scared of you. They have to kiss your ass and laugh at your stupid jokes.
Askew repeats what I’ve said many times in this blog – almost no-one else understands the pressure of being an entrepreneur, of building a business. Not your wife, your brother, your best friend from school or even the girl that cuts your hair.
Almost no-one. Where has Askew found some solace? …Through my affiliation with the Inc. Business Owners Council … a growing concentration of peer friendship, humor and allayed loneliness.
The parallels with TAB are obvious. It’s easy to think of all the positives of being an entrepreneur: in control of your own time and your own destiny; building a business and the material rewards that come with success. But there’s a darker side to it as well: being responsible for other people’s lives can be a tremendous strain, as this article in Forbes discusses. Entrepreneurs are not immune to depression, anxiety and even addiction. I’ve seen plenty of very successful people with ‘withdrawal symptoms’ when they’re not at work.
So from time to time you’ll need a group of your peers. People who’ve been there, done that, worn the t-shirt and almost certainly suffered the same loneliness. It’s easy for us to sit round the TAB table and applaud when the goals are achieved and everything’s pointing in the right direction. But it’s when you’ve a real problem – when you need friends who understand – that you see the full potential of peer support.