There’s Still Time To Become Who You Were Meant To Be
“I’m alive! Holy shit, what a break.”
That’s my favorite line from my favorite Christmas movie, Scrooged. Uttered by Bill Murray’s Frank Cross when he realizes he still has a chance to change his ways, it’s the ultimate modern-day take on what that story, and the story it’s retelling, is about.
And whether you’re reading this over the holiday season and whether you celebrate Christmas or any holiday at all, those words have a hidden meaning. And it’s probably not what you think.
In the hundred or so startup advice posts I’ve written this year, my secret is that I’m not trying to advise you to start a company, or join a startup, or invent something world-changing. I just want you to understand that no matter what you do, where you do it, or who you do it for, you still have the time, the talent, and the resources to become exactly who you were meant to be.
Startup and entrepreneurism are just my ways of helping you get there.
Don’t let failure change your path
Yesterday, I got an email via my website from “Sam.” It went something like this:
“I’m in the midst of shutting down my failing first startup, after raising $1 million in venture capital and spending two years on it. I’m still young (25), but I’m trying to decide what to do next. Should I jump into my next idea? Should I work for a large tech company like Google? Should I work for a VC? Should I try to be a mentee for an early stage startup and learn from a founder who has had success? What would be the best way to move forward?”
Most of the time, I sit on the emails like this for at least a day or two to give them some thought (if I answer, I can’t possibly get to them all). But this time, I fired a response back immediately, which went exactly like this:
“This is gonna sound short but I totally mean it. Dude. You’re 25. Do whatever your heart tells you to do next.”
If I had thought about it a little more, I would have added something along the lines of:
There is no one sacred path to success. In fact, some of the best entrepreneurs I know never put a deck together, never raised money, never worked at a startup or studied entrepreneurism. In fact, with every single successful entrepreneur I know, they have one of two things in common, maybe both:
- They spent an entire career doing something they loved at first, but always felt handcuffed by whatever it was that made them go out on their own.
- They failed, at least once.
My point is, it doesn’t matter what Sam does next, as long as he believes it’s the right thing for him to do. The only wrong answer for Sam is if he goes and does something he thinks is required to be a success five or 10 or 20 years down the road. Corporate America works like that, startup does not. That five or 10 or 20 years will turn into time wasted.
Start down your path right now. Figure out what you want to do and start doing it. Believe me, what you think you want to do will change a dozen times before you get too far, but it’ll never materialize if you don’t get started.
Time is not running out
When older people (people my age) talk to me about startup, they sometimes slip in a variation of: “I wish I had gotten into entrepreneurship when I was young.”
Entrepreneurship is not a career. Youth is not a requirement. The average age of the first-time entrepreneur is somewhere between 35 and 45, depending on what study you believe.
Anecdotally, the entrepreneurs I know who are doing it for real — not for the cool points or the imagined fortune or because they just don’t know any better — they’re all in their late 30s and above. There are indeed a bunch who are younger, and they can be just as successful, that’s not my point. My point is that age, career path, experience path, none of that matters.
Again, you don’t have to quit your job to become an entrepreneur. You don’t have to risk your life savings and family’s security and the kids’ college education. If you‘ve told yourself that starting a company takes 80 hours a week and $1 million in seed money, you’ve done yourself a disservice.
If you want it bad enough, you’ll find and enjoy the time. If you do it well enough, the money won’t be an issue.
You’ll never find out if either of those things can be true until you start, and you’ll never start if you think you have to quit your job and drain your 401K.
It’s just not the right time
I totally get this. I do. There is never a good time to start a company. There is never a good time to be an entrepreneur. If I told you that you could raise $1 million seed money and go back to your job after two years, no questions asked, there’d still be some macro reason why it would be a bad idea.
The last time I started a company totally on my own, I had just had a huge consulting deal fall through and had gotten set back to zero. That was actually the motivation I needed. The time before that, we had twin toddlers and my wife was six months pregnant. But opportunity doesn’t call ahead to see if you’re dressed before it knocks.
We tend to put entrepreneurism in this big bucket of risk because that’s usually how we think of it until we do it. I’ll use another anecdote here. Last week another founder emailed me a series of questions, all of them boiled down to: “How do I get traction with limited funds?”
That’s a little like asking how to turn zero dollars into a million dollars overnight.
You’re not going to do that. You’re going to start small, create limits, prove you can do what you want to do, then do it again. Then again. At some point you’ll either have enough confidence to put some risk into it or you’ll realize it was a stupid idea and you can move on to the next one. Nobody will be the wiser.
I don’t have the time
Just because you’re entrepreneurial doesn’t mean you have to start a company.
We live in this glorious age when it’s never been easier to be rewarded for thinking and acting and living entrepreneurially. You can work for a startup, you can be an intrapreneur, you can take on a side gig, you can start your own side gig, you can just be the one person at your company focused on doing things a different way.
Just don’t give in to those impulses that are going to lead you to a life of daily regret, where you’ll look back after five or 10 or 20 years and realize you could have been doing things a different way, you could have been doing things your way, and been rewarded for that.
There’s still time. There’s always time. Start right now.
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