You might be an entrepreneur if…you spend 90% of your time feeling like a failure but you keep working anyway.
What does persistence have to do with being an entrepreneur? Is it wisdom or foolishness to continue on with something that doesn’t seem to be working out that well? Sometimes you have to know when to fold ‘em, right? Then again, sometimes you have to know when to hold on. When I was a student at BYU an entrepreneur visited and told about his diamond manufacturing business, the name of which escapes me, that failed for 13 years before it succeeded, and succeeded big time.
What I’ve noticed about entrepreneurs is that they are convinced they are going to succeed, in some cases right up to the point where they are forced into bankruptcy. This can be frustrating to those around them who look at this and say “Hey, last week you said everything was fine, and now you’re out of business?!” But what’s the alternative? For the entrepreneur to go around telling his employees, clients, and partners “Hey, I think I might go out of business next week, I just wanted to warn you.” If I had told everyone around me that I was going out of business every time I thought we might then people would have gotten tired of hearing it and start thinking I had some sort of mental issue. Plus I probably would be out of business, since that kind of attitude wouldn’t exactly inspire confidence in those same employees, clients, and partners. Sometimes a positive attitude, even an unrealistically optimistic one, saves a business whereas if the only thing that changed were that attitude it would spell disaster. That’s part of why I keep working, even when I feel like a failure.
And what do I mean when I say I “feel like a failure”? It’s really the emotional side of my brain talking. The facts aren’t as bad when taken as a whole. As far as revenue is concerned, we’ve already brought in more than we did during all of last year, and we should end the year with something like 20% growth from last year. We’ve done some good work during 2006, got in with some larger clients, and introduced a new service offering successfully. But while those things all sound good, then there’s the other side of things where I’m struggling to make payroll, trying to pay off old debts, trying to keep employees on board, having to let other employees go, and such. Then there are the smaller things like forgetting to call someone back, losing an email, saying something you wish you hadn’t, etc.
Yesterday was something of a culmination of “little things” for me. Not only were there a number of work related items, but my car is in league with the devil and is also trying to destroy me. I got The Innovator’s Solution from the library along with The Lexus and the Olive Tree, both of which I’ve been meaning to read for some time. One is on tape and the other is on CD. My CD player has been having some issues lately, but I thought it was just due to the last book on CD I was listening to. But when I put in the new CD it was skipping all over the place, and I could tell it wasn’t the CD but some dirt or something in the player itself. So my CD player is virtually useless. So then I put in the tape and the tape got stuck and I can’t get it out. Yesterday I spent some time trying to fix both issues, but I couldn’t and the more I tried the more frustrated and depressed I got. And even though those were little things, on top of some of the stress I’ve had at work lately they were the proverbial straw laid on the camel’s back that got me down in the dumps.
But thank goodness for wives. My wife just started reading the Grapes of Wrath and found a passage she liked because it illustrates how she has felt many times during this entrepreneurial experience of ours.
Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust. The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men – to feel whether this time the men would break. The women studied the men’s faces secretly, for the corn could go, as long as something else remained. The children stood near by, drawing figures in the dust with bare toes, and the children sent exploring senses out to see whether the men and women would break. The children peeked at the faces of the men and women, and then drew careful lines in the dust with their toes. Horses came to the watering troughs and nuzzled the water to clear the surface dust. After a while the faces of the watching men lost their bemused perplexity and became hard and angry and resistant. Then the women knew that they were safe and that there was no break. Then they asked, What’ll we do? And the men replied, I don’t know. But it was all right. The women knew it was all right, and the watching children knew it was all right. Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole. The women went into the houses to their work, and the children began to play, but cautiously at first. As the day went forward the sun became less red. It flared down on the dust_blanketed land. The men sat in the doorways of their houses; their hands were busy with stick and little rocks. The men sat still – thinking – figuring.
Hardline feminists probably wouldn’t like this passage since it seems to portray a dependence on men by women, but they’re missing the point. The point is that this was the reality of the situation, this is how my wife has felt at times, and this is how I’ve felt at times. There have been many times when I’ve “sat still–thinking–figuring” and then I do whatever needs to be done. In less than ideal circumstances the real entrepreneur might quit because he sees a better opportunity and decides it is truly time to “fold ‘em,” but he won’t quit just because he feels like a failure, nor will he quit easily for any reason. He always sees the possibility of success on the horizon, and that hope is often what make the possibility a reality.