As awesome as it is, entrepreneurship can suck.
Not every business turns into an Uber unicorn. Not all of us are Elon Musk. Not all our ideas will emerge as the next Google or PayPal.
Fact is, entrepreneurship is a life choice that is punctuated by more failure than success, more discouragement than elation, and more poverty than riches.
Consider an example from Y Combinator, a startup incubator. Y Combinator admits only 3-5% of applicants--only the ones that they they deem "most likely to succeed." They invest in them, mentor them, coach them, invite investors to fund them, and help the company get founded. In other words, startups who get tapped by Y Combinator have success potential.
And what happens? The startups that emerge from the Incubator have a measly 7% success rate. We hear all about the Reddits, Dropboxes, Weeblys, and Airbnbs (all Y Combinator startups), but we don't hear about the 93% that couldn't.
My own journey in entrepreneurship has included ups, downs, inbetweens, and a whole lot of stress. Here are the things that have helped me pull through.
1. Stay hungry.
Someone who's hungry will do anything he or she can to get food.
Entrepreneurs who don't cave are those who can feel that hunger in every fiber of their being. It's kind of like being nervous, edgy, and jumpy all the time.
What you're feeling is normal, at least for the abnormal among us like entrepreneurs. It's the hunger for the next client, the next closed deal, the next rockstar hire, the next killer product, the next advancement, the next whatever.
2. Have a vision. Write it down.
Vision statements are those corporate-ish paragraphs that someone writes down, puts in a frame, places in a reception area, and forgets about.
That's not a real vision. True vision is something that will help you to regain your perspective and passion when it's ebbing low.
Often, a vision is what gets a company started in the first place. It's the same thing that can help you leap out of a slump.
Go back to your vision, and get your head back in the game.
3. Question assumptions.
Most people would scoff at the idea of colonizing Mars or vacationing in space. Elon Musk didn't scoff. He said "why not?" and is in the process of bringing the dream to fruition.
It's part of the entrepreneur's anti-burnout mentality: Questioning life's assumptions.
Prior to 1998, people would have scoffed at the idea of safe, instant, and reliable online money transfer. And then PayPal happened.
Here's how Musk describes his approach:
The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [When reasoning by analogy] we are doing this because it's like something else that was done or it is like what other people are doing--slight iterations on a theme.
You? You don't do what other people are doing. You don't iterate on a theme. You create a new theme. You question assumptions and move forward.
4. Accept stress as part of life.
Stress is part of the game.
You can try to manage it. You can try to relieve it. You can try to justify it. But here's the reality of life for entrepreneurs: It's freaking stressful.
Your stress is not a bad thing. It's a normal thing. And it just so happens that it could make you more successful.
5. If you don't know, teach yourself.
Entrepreneurs teach themselves how to do things.
There are plenty of things in the world that you don't know how to do. In order to succeed, you'll have to learn how to do them. You could go back to business school and get an accredited degree.
Or you can spend a few hours on Google, spend a few late nights on your computer, and make some very fumbling first attempts. And guess what. You're going to figure it out.
6. Defy expectations.
Your culture, regardless of where you live, has certain expectations about you. According to your culture, you ought to live in a certain way, dress in a certain way, drive a certain car, talk a certain way, and do a certain thing.
As long as you're living life by others' expectations, the outcome is guaranteed: You're going to have a certain limited life, stifled by what other people think you should do.
That's going to crush your soul. You were meant to live different. You're an entrepreneur, not a mold filler.
In order to defy expectations, you'll need to quit worrying about what other people think. It no longer matters. Welcome to a non-soul crushing existence.
7. Have a cofounder.
Much of the success I've experienced hasn't come from flying solo. I've benefitted from working with a talented and intelligent co-founder.
A co-founder is an asset in any entrepreneurial venture. It's misguided to think of entrepreneurship as a Lone Ranger event. Instead, it's an activity that you do with allies, partners, and friends.
These people will encourage you, push you, and keep you from burning out in an overstressed and discouraged blaze.
If your soul is being crushed, I recommend recruiting a cofounder to the cause.
Hate to dish up the bad news at the end, but here it is: Entrepreneurship is going to suck.
But entrepreneurship is also going to be outrageously fulfilling. Would you seriously be just as content to dwell in a cubicle, fulfill someone else's dream, and bury your ambition under your pillow?
Heck no! Swallow the pain, crush the complaining, and do the next thing that's going to push your business closer to success.
How do you keep going when entrepreneurship threatens to do you in?