Do you need to be an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial?

Whenever someone asks me what the best thing is about having my own business, or equally what the hardest thing is about being an entrepreneur, my answer is essentially the same: the fact that I have gone it alone. That is to say, I am operating outside of an existing company’s frameworks. I don’t have peers, in the sense that there is nobody in the same organisation with a similar job description as me. I don’t report to anyone, I don’t have performance reviews and I don’t have training courses to attend.

One of the reasons this was so appealing to me before I made the jump was that I have a fiercely independent personality. I am happiest when I know that I am free to make my own decisions about the trajectory of my life, and deeply unhappy when I feel constrained or controlled. I would rather be self-sufficient than dependent on others, no matter how dependable they may be. I would rather operate autonomously in a small sphere than struggle to have an impact on a large one. (Of course, the dream is to have a huge impact on a huge sphere, but we can’t all be Elon Musk.)

And regardless of whether we personally have an inclination to lead, we all admire leaders. It is the trendsetters, the pioneers, the trailblazers whose stories are told again and again, and who we teach our children to look up to. Even the words we use to describe those who start companies are inspirational: ‘founder’ (more often than ‘MD’ or ‘owner’) implies the starting of something special, and ‘developer’ (more often than ‘coder’ or ‘engineer’) indicates creating and building rather than simply enabling through technology.

So why do more of us not take up that mantle, if it is so universally respected as a role in society? Can we still be entrepreneurial, if living as an entrepreneur isn’t quite right for us? What holds us back?

I believe there are two major barriers for most of us: first, of being alone, and second, of being different. You might think there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of these, and I agree, but cultural norms still make it hard to go down a path so heavily characterised by both.

As an entrepreneur, you will likely spend a lot of time alone. That might be in a very literal sense, of working from home to save money in the early days before you have a team. If you are a solo Founder, you will need to make huge, long-lasting decisions without much input from others. Even if you have Co-Founders, you will likely divide up responsibilities so as not to overlap significantly, and end up spending most of your time doing very different activities – perhaps one of you will typically be out doing sales meetings, while the other builds the technical platform. You are likely to feel isolated and unsupported at times.

But there are joys in that reality too. With open plan offices now the norm, how often do you find yourself craving some silence, privacy or solitude at work? The ability to choose your own work environment, and when you start work in the morning? Flexibility in the hours during which running personal errands are acceptable? A bit of peace and quiet when you need to focus on something without distraction for an hour or two? Being able to wear what you want, and sit how you want, and eat what you want, without judgment from co-workers?

And you don’t have to be without human contact if you do have extroverted needs. In most cities, it’s easy to find cafes or public spaces with wifi, tables and power sockets. Shared workspaces offering membership for hotdesking ad hoc or for a set number of days per month abound. Startup communities are usually easy to form connections in, as everyone recognises the value in strong personal networks where budgets are low for recruitment, sales and advice. Beyond your Co-Founders, employees and investors, acquaintances and informal mentors will likely surprise you with their willingness to help.

And so to the second fear, of being different. Yes, that is necessary in order to be an entrepreneur. On a practical level, your income security, career progression, and day-to-day schedule is different from most people around you. But more deeply than that, you are literally working on something that has never been done before. Sure, a company selling the same thing as you might already be in existence (and probably is), but not in the exact same set of circumstances, with the same resources, or the same obstacles. An entrepreneur therefore needs strong conviction in their vision, and to take often unconventional approaches to get there. Being someone who makes a living out of going against the grain is hard work, no doubt about it. It can be emotionally draining, and there is pressure to constantly defend your position. Even the word often used to describe the personality of entrepreneurs, ‘maverick’, often has negative connotations.

But this is merely a slightly more intense version of what we all do anyway. Whenever we complain about the processes, tools or people in the company we work for, we are challenging the established way of thinking about or doing something.  We can’t help but see the opportunities to improve something – it’s what makes work exciting, and full of possibility. In our minds, we all stand out from the crowd every day, and have our own distinct lenses on the world. The fear of being different is unfounded because we all think differently from each other given the right stimuli, and that is something to be celebrated and encouraged.

Smart companies harness that individualism to improve the organisation. There are lots of ways to do this internally, for example employee surveys that lead to change programs, or hackathons that lead to innovation projects.  But reaching out beyond the organisation is also vital; employees can only truly get out of their bubble when they have a meaningful conversation with someone in a completely different role or even industry. At Chime we do just that – we put companies in touch with experts they have no prior connection to. After their conversation, we often receive the feedback that it helped them gain a new perspective on the potential of their assets, or an idea for a different approach to competing in an industry that is being disrupted.

While going it alone may or may not be right for you, that’s not a prerequisite for tapping into your entrepreneurial spirit. By proposing new ideas and taking the lead on projects that change the status quo, you are exercising that spirit. Never stop.

Original article taken from:  

Twitter: @ChimeAdvisors

By Angela Bradbury
Twitter: @angelakbradbury
LinkedIn: Angela Bradbury