The Agony And Ecstasy of Entrepreneurship

Given my recent news of making the leap once again, I figured it was fitting to dive further in detail on what entrepreneurship is all about. This piece was written a few months back for a project I will talk more about once it becomes public, but should give you a good idea of the ups and downs of founder life.

Many people wonder what it takes to launch and grow a successful business today. Many also question what actually goes on in the mind of an entrepreneur.  Pure ambition, hopes of everlasting wealth, or recognition for changing the world are often cited as driving forces behind founders of successful companies. On the other hand some perceive starting a company as the epitome of stroking our own selfish and egotistical desires at the expense of others. Regardless of perspective, entrepreneurship is an enigma in our world – something we observe everyday yet still perplexes us as to what it actually is and why people choose to embrace it.

These questions got me thinking about what we do and why we do it, and how to best describe entrepreneurship. What most will discover is the challenge of entrepreneurship is not necessarily one of execution as it is psychological balance. I often talk about The Agony and The Ecstasy of Entrepreneurship, the never ending yo-yo effect of running a company and the toll it can take on the person who is not prepared. The agony can be described as an immense downward pressure, something akin to gasping for air when lacking oxygen. Starting a company requires creating almost everything out of thin air and demands extraordinary feats to pull off.  Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Your progress will take twice as long as you expect and if you are an impatient person like myself it can be extremely difficult.  If entrepreneurship can be described as a roller-coaster ride, the agonizing times are the extreme downward dips a company founder and their stomach must constantly endure.

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Those who make it out of the dips shoot straight up to the highs and experience periods of ecstasy and bliss.  Similar to a chemical induced euphoria these naturally created feelings are what keep founders plowing through the entrepreneurial journey. A great meeting with a high profile investor, media coverage about a new product release or acquisition, and landing a new customer or partnership leading to a potentially lucrative deal are all exciting and exhilarating experiences. These euphoric feelings are what we live for as entrepreneurs.  And they are addictive.  They are additive because these types of positive experiences release dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain which result in a heightened state of emotion, and become what founders heavily rely on while they keep pushing forward.

What makes the journey so crazy is the shifts between ecstasy to agony seem to creep up like little critters in the night. One day you are on top of the world, thinking there’s nothing between you and one billion people touching your product. The next day you don’t know what just happened and if you are still leading a solvent company. Amazingly that same chemical process takes place as we experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol, as well as what is found in people who are diagnosed with mental disorders. I find it interesting how entrepreneurship and mental disorders are so close in relation yet looked upon from society in such extreme opposites. It’s important to keep in mind how damaging the cycle of Agony and Ecstasy can be to the entrepreneur if not identified and dealt with appropriately.

If entrepreneurship is analogous to a disease then it is a collection of many mental disorders found in appropriate combinations brought together to form a uniquely talented individual. Consequently, this individual has a choice on how they wield their sword. Entrepreneurs are all in – all the time. Entrepreneurs love what they do and obsess over it to a fault. It is a predisposition; a path that has already been laid out for chosen individuals. It is a character trait, a labor of love, a zeal that cannot be trained, a condition that cannot be treated, an illness that cannot be caught. And like any disease, if not treated appropriately entrepreneurship can be very damaging to oneself and others. If you find yourself holding the sword you must take precaution in how you use it.

Don’t be fooled, running a company can be one of the most difficult things a person will ever do in their life. If you are an entrepreneur – or choose to become one – prepare to be challenged more than you ever have in your life. You will be challenged physically. You will be challenged emotionally. You will also be challenged psychologically more than you ever thought possible.  You will ask yourself why you are doing this and to what cost is it worth. Technically, socially, professionally, psychologically and financially you will be stretched way past what you ever thought you could deal with.

Yet, it is also one of the most rewarding things a person can choose do with their lifetime. If pursued correctly, entrepreneurship is the gravity that pulls out greatness within each person. It is the grand stage on which we display our unique gifts and talents to the world. And it allows an environment for us to teach and employ others so they may also live healthy and fruitful lives. I have discovered it is the crucible we enter as rough, ugly and jagged only to emerge in time polished, beautiful and priceless.

So what is entrepreneurship again? I have found the crux in the entrepreneurial path is self actualization –  the place where the founder comes full circle on what, how and why they have embarked on the journey in the first place. Their life only make sense when they look back upon what they’ve done and connect the dots from where they have come.  It is in this place true entrepreneurs are born and true greatness can be achieved.

I don’t know… we may never know for sure what entrepreneurship really is but what I try to illustrate is how vital the entrepreneurial journey is in discovering yourself, your vision and your legacy. I hope this doesn’t scare you. In fact, I hope you are intrigued and invigorated. In the end, through entrepreneurship I hope you can gain a better understanding of who you are and how you will choose to leave your lasting legacy.

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