We live in a society that idolizes entrepreneurs. However, very few people understand that entrepreneurship is a handshake between joy and suffering, risk, and reward.
Most simply want to be “half-entrepreneurs,” ditching the formalities of corporate America for the freedom of independence. The trouble is, these half-entrepreneurs never fully untether the safety net of working for others, and often flee at the first sign of trouble.
Authentic entrepreneurs, however, find the strength to muscle through the hard times and persevere. This perseverance is an admirable trait, but it’s important to remember that it often comes at a high cost.
If left unchecked, the individual entrepreneur’s identity can become so entangled with the business that all perspective is lost. Relationships wither, and the personal joys of life outside of work become forgotten memories.
Fortunately, I’ve also learned that it’s never too late to turn back. Balance is achievable if entrepreneurs have the self-awareness to recognize problems when they arise.
Here are three lessons that I’ve learned throughout my journey.
Take time for introspection
Real entrepreneurship takes grit, dedication, and a maniacal degree of passion. Unfortunately, the traits that create successful entrepreneurs can be a double edged sword.
It is all too easy for entrepreneurs to lose themselves in their creations.
Grit, passion, and dedication can easily morph into an obsession. When this happens, the very traits and behaviors that propel us become the things that hold us back.
The key to avoiding this is perfecting the art of introspection. In today’s day and age, we’re bombarded with an excessive amount of external stimuli. From text messages to smart alerts, the average person is connected 24/7.
Of course, this constant flow of information is multiplied tenfold for entrepreneurs. We spend so much time responding to things that we often neglect to reflect on our thoughts and feelings.
If we train ourselves to embrace silence, quiet our minds, and converse with ourselves, everything changes.
Deep, authentic introspection allows us to differentiate between passion and obsession and identify the flaws in our behaviors.
This level of self-awareness is key to carving out an identity that is grounded in reality and separate from your business.
Reconnect with reality
The realization that you’re disconnected from reality can be terrifying, but it’s an important step towards finding balance in life.
When I struggle with getting caught up in my business, I often think back to the Allegory of the Cave as expressed in Plato’s Republic.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Allegory of the Cave describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave. The only things that these people can ever see are the shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them.
Since these shadows are the only things they know, they become their reality. For example, the shadow of a dog passing by is, to the people in the cave, a dog.
Now, of course, for anyone outside of the cave, the shadow is just a crude imitation of the real thing. It’s easy to laugh at the simplicity of those who mistake shadows for the real thing, but we must remember that we fall into the same trap every day.
As entrepreneurs, we often chase these shadows, mistaking them for things of true value.
We mistake the accumulation of money for true success, fame and recognition as love, and mission for true purpose.
Put simply, if we look to our business as the source of love, purpose, and self-actualization, we are no better than the people in the cave. We are both staring at shadows.
Instead, we must challenge ourselves to seek out the truth in all things. Fame means nothing if it costs you the love of your family, and money is ultimately unsatisfying if you compromise your values to achieve it.
As entrepreneurs, we must be careful to avoid chasing transient shadows. Instead, we have to make time to reconnect with reality.
Remember that all things pass
When we as entrepreneurs get so caught up in what we’re building, we lose sight of why we’re building it.
For some, it’s matter of providing a comfortable life for their families. For others, entrepreneurship is a way to put a dent in the universe.
Very few, if any, would say that they became entrepreneurs just for the sake of it. Without purpose, the hard work, risk, and sacrifice would be hardly worth while.
We must remember that nothing lasts forever. The businesses we build will eventually disappear or evolve beyond our recognition. The reasons we built those businesses, however, will far outlast them.
If we allow ourselves to get lost in the creation, rather than the reason behind the creation, we will ultimately end up alone and empty-handed.
I firmly believe that entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful forces for good in this world. However, we must recognize that the act of creation is a seductive one and that it is all too easy for entrepreneurs to become lost in their work.
My advice to fellow entrepreneurs is simple: Only through deep introspection can we recognize reality for what it is and keep things in perspective.