Every entrepreneur wants to enjoy a successful and happy life, but not all visions of success look the same. Just because someone found their promised land on a certain path does not mean that the same journey is right for you. 

Startup founders receive plenty of advice about how to grow their companies -- some of it welcome, some less so. All those would-be mentors mean well, but they can only speak from their personal experiences. When their experiences don't mesh with your reality, you have to make the difficult decision to reject the counsel of someone you know and trust. 

Peers may tell you to pick a "better" industry or trade your home life for faster business growth, but no one quits their day job to follow someone else's dream. Rather than let others define success for you, take a step back and think about what it means to you. 

Know When You Have Enough

"There is a lot of chatter in the entrepreneurial landscape that wants people to believe things like 'bigger is always better,' that you should 'sleep when you're dead,' that a bigger bank account, more employees, or a bigger exit are the only metrics of success," says Darrah Brustein, founder of Mind Your Business Accelerator and a friend of mine. "Ultimately, I think it's time that we destigmatize lifestyle entrepreneurship and offer examples and tools to people who want to have a business and a life ... not a business that is their life."

Is do-or-die entrepreneurship really what you signed up for? The sort where you either start company after company until you become the CEO of a unicorn, or you die trying?

Many successful entrepreneurs don't want to live that way, and there is nothing wrong with that. The best things in life -- family, fun nights out with friends, great books -- have little or nothing to do with the number of commas in your bank balance. The people you care about will stick around regardless of this quarter's revenue figures. 


Someday, financial success may become more important to you. You may feel like working more when your kids leave the house, then less once you have grandchildren. When your life changes, your goals and priorities often do as well. 

Space Provides Perspective

Call it a vision quest or a technology detox if you want, but don't discount the value of separation from your daily grind. Business owners spend their lives in a constant state of connectivity, taking calls and managing their companies from all directions. Getting away from that grind for a moment allows you to consider your lifestyle from a distance and identify areas where you may want to make changes.

Some busy founders barely have time to eat, let alone time to take a short vacation, but distance is a critical part of this process. What if you step away and discover that you are pushing your company in a direction you don't want to go? One day of reflection could save you years of regret.

Follow Your Own Footsteps

You can respect someone without wanting to live the same life. Your mentors and friends may be household-name founders, but they have built their lives in ways that you may not want to build yours. Instead of singling out the wealthiest people in your circle and doing what they did, look to the people living the same kind of life you envision for yourself, then imagine what your version of that success might look like. 

"Creating your own version and living up to that is different from pretending," says executive leadership coach Katrin Bitterle. "It's about owning who you are -- and that's highly authentic. It's your personal, very unique way of leading and doing business."

Feel free to combine the examples of others into one that better fits your lifestyle. You might like the family commitment of one person, the sales focus of another, and the customer-centric philosophy of a third. You don't have to pick one person and follow that example against all others. Use your creativity to construct a role model of your ideal future self, and follow that personal vision as you grow.

Entrepreneurs face more pressure than most to succeed. Don't get swept up by someone else's dream for your future. Know your goals, and insist on achieving them on your own terms. 

Published on: Nov 24, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.