Five years ago, I quit my job as an executive at a trade association to start my own marketing and communications consulting business. When I did that, I became the first person in my immediate family to give entrepreneurship a try. The McKissen clan has a long history of criminal behavior and intimate familiarity with the various ways to use government cheese, but business ownership?
Not so much.
Then came me.
Then came my little brother, who recently started his own mobile mechanic business.
Over the next five years, my brother will likely hear variations of a comment I've heard since I started, and that comment goes something like this:
"It's basically the same thing as being an entrepreneur," said the person who spent a month in Tulsa getting the latest branch office of their Fortune 500 company up and running.
"We run just like a startup," said the person in Tulsa running a 50-person company that has a marketing staff of seven.
(Why Tulsa? I have a long and tortured history with that city. It's best not to ask.)
Opening a new branch of a business has unique challenges that I'm sure can nearly break a person. The same is true for running a midsize company in any city.
But do either of those experiences have much in common with entrepreneurship?
- Faking playing it cool in front of your kids over Christmas break while a highly valued client confronts challenges of its own, all while seriously questioning how much diarrhea one person can experience in a given morning before they learn how the deductible on their ObamaCare deals with stress-induced dehydration
- Confronting the realities of a financial system designed almost solely to serve individuals who receive a check signed by someone else
- Being reminded in a thousand ways that you aren't just your own safety net; you are also the owner of the safety net factory, and there is no net below that guy, either
Toward the end of The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) is imprisoned at the bottom of a deep pit by his nemesis Bane. He tries climbing out of the prison twice and fails both times. A fellow prisoner tells Wayne that if he ever wants to escape the pit, he must make the climb without a rope. Only then will he have the motivating fear he needs to make the final leap to freedom--a leap that, if he does fail, will result in a brutal death.
There is a moment right before Bruce Wayne leaps where he closes his eyes and lets his fear guide him.
Every (real) entrepreneur has some idea how that moment feels.
If 2020 is the year you start your business, know that you will have to make that leap, time and again. Along the way, there will be people who've felt the wind under their feet on a trampoline who think they know what the leap feels like.
They don't, but that's OK.
Take their attempt to relate as a form of kindness, even when it isn't--but make friends with a few people who've made the real leap.
Find a mentor.
Join a community of entrepreneurs.
Be humble enough to realize the frustration you experienced opening that branch in Tulsa will pale in comparison with learning how to build your own safety net factory.
And, more than anything else, like Bruce Wayne, keep making the leap.
Don't stop until your fingers grasp the edge, and you pull yourself into the light.