Since I was a small child, my dad has had his own business, and he's always been honest with me about what it takes to run it successfully. Because of this, I've been fortunate to learn about the highs and lows of entrepreneurship before actually jumping into the fray. And this up close look at the reality of entrepreneurship was one of the reasons I wanted to join a startup during my career.
It's simple to idealize entrepreneurship, but it isn't always easy--as evidenced by the three lessons I learned from my dad:
1. Risks don't get less scary with experience or age
My dad recently took out a real estate loan to purchase a new building that is four times the size of his previous building. Even though he's been running his business for over 25 years, he told me this is one of the scariest business decisions that he's ever made. And while he knows this is the best move for his business, he's still worried about the prospect of failing.
This is a common fear among people of all ages and backgrounds, but especially among entrepreneurs. Even veteran CEOs of large companies will admit that they fear underachieving or not knowing what to do.
Although taking a big risk will be intimidating regardless of your background, experience can help you take better, calculated risks. Experience gives you the ability to understand the odds of success and to mitigate the chances of failing. And that's an invaluable tool.
2. Some people are naturally entrepreneurial (and others aren't)
Some people are born with the ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities that no one else sees. Others have to develop and hone this trait over their lifetime.
My father is definitely the former. When he was a teenager, he began raising pigs and cattle to buy his first car. If you know anything about raising livestock, you know that it requires early mornings, long hours and discipline--which is pretty impressive dedication for a teenager.
If you're aren't naturally entrepreneurial, you can still sharpen your entrepreneurial eye. One of my favorite ways to do this is to keep a journal of random ideas or problems you encounter. There are still many problems in the world that haven't been solved or have less than ideal solutions, from trivial problems (why hasn't someone invented something better than an umbrella?) to major problems, like global poverty or human rights.
I find it's best to keep your journal easily accessible, such as on your phone, for when the moment or idea strikes. Doing this exercise regularly will help you get better at generating viable ideas or identifying those opportunities you were missing before.
3. Entrepreneurship requires sacrifice, which may not always be worth it
The overworked entrepreneur or startup employee is now a common stereotype, but it is rooted in reality. When my dad was starting his company, he regularly worked 80 to 100 hours per week. Even now, he occasionally puts in long hours and stays up late answering emails.
A few years ago, I asked him if he would do it all over again. His response? "I don't know."
While he certainly appreciates the freedom that comes with being your own boss, there are many aspects to running a business that aren't as enjoyable (and that people don't talk about as much). It's easy to glamorize entrepreneurship, but the truth is that there are long hours, setbacks and headaches.
It's up to you to determine whether that sacrifice is worth it. For some, it never is. For others, the prospect of running your own show trumps all other considerations.
The most important thing to know is that there's no right or wrong answer. It's merely a matter of preference.