Starting and running a company is hard. Really. Dang. Hard.
I don't care how old you are--it's one of the toughest, most humbling things you can do. The journey is nothing like what you see in the movies. The likelihood of success is low. The probability you'll get your ego kicked, shredded, and handed to you in a trash basket is high. And trust me, there's no awesome soundtrack or Technicolor video motivating you to get up everyday and persevere until you catch your lucky break.
I worked in corporate America in my 20s and early 30s. I left and started a private consulting practice (just me) in my mid-30s. I probably would have kept doing that for the rest of my career and not started a company if this hadn't happened ...
The "Big C" Knocked on My Door
I had a cancer scare just before I turned 40. With two small daughters and an adoring husband, it was the longest two weeks of our lives. Thankfully, it was just a scare. At the time, I was still consulting and playing around with an idea for a website.
That's when I decided to go for it. It was late 2008. I saw the recession coming. I knew millions of people would need cutting-edge, timely career advice. As the layoffs came crashing down, lots of people would need guidance on the new rules for job search and career development. Thanks to what I viewed as a truly lucky health break (and one incredibly supportive husband), I had the ability to give it to them. I founded Careerealism in 2009 and then CareerHMO in 2012. I've been at it ever since.
Entrepreneurship Seems Better Suited For the Young
Fast-forward to today and here's something I've often thought to myself: Entrepreneurship is so much more doable when you're young. I think it's easier in your 20s. I regret not starting a business sooner. Every so often, I wake up and think, "You're completely nuts for starting this company in your 40s." Here's why:
1. I seriously can't afford to go into major debt. I'm past the point of saying, "If it doesn't work out, I can always get a job and make enough money to retire." I'm on the other side. I have to be saving for retirement and college for my children right now. I need to have insurances in the event something happens to me so my family is taken care of. I've got mouths to feed and bills to pay. My family and I can't live on a friend's couch if I fail.
2. I have lots of responsibilities outside work that need my time and attention. As a Gen-Xer, I'm part of the sandwich generation. I'm caring for two kids while worrying about both mine and my husband's parents right now, several of whom have major health issues we assist with. I'm trying to balance being a good wife, mom, daughter, daughter-in-law, friend, and colleague. Words can't describe how stretched I feel at times, but at least Sheryl Sandberg does a good job here of explaining why women like me want to throw in the towel some days.
3. The older I get, the more my reputation is at stake. There's this assumption that the older we get, the wiser we get. This seems to apply in our careers. We're expected to keep this upward trajectory. The moment you have a setback (i.e., get laid off, have your business fail, etc.), you're judged. What happened? Why didn't you see it coming? Weren't you wise enough to make sure you succeeded? Kids get to make mistakes; grownups don't. If that isn't enough, studies show we hold women more accountable for their mistakes in business than men and forgive men more quickly for their failures.
Given all that, why am I still doing it?
Because I can.
Age Gave Me an Advantage: It's Called Gratitude
I'm healthy and capable. I have a brain that can't stop thinking about how to solve career, recruiting, and workplace problems. I have skills and expertise that people need. I have the most supportive husband on the planet. I have two exceptional daughters who love me. I have friends who care about me. I have co-workers and colleagues who I feel privileged every day to work with.
In spite of how hard it is to start a company later in life, I've come to realize it's the gratitude for what I have that fuels me to keep going. So, I won't stop. I can't stop. I've had plenty of setbacks and failures. Each time, gratitude pushed me to stand up and keep fighting.
If you're over 40 and dream daily about starting a company, in spite of the three very good reasons above not to do it, I encourage you to go for it. As long as you've got gratitude on your side, you've succeeded--no matter what happens.