I’m back in the “rat race” after years of entrepreneurship and I thought I’d share a few things about my journey; particularly, reasons why you shouldn’t envy that entrepreneur you wish you could become. (Exodus 20:17 would be a wonderful place to start.) Granted, owning a business takes guts, and the potential is endless (do I hear a cha-ching!), but there is a side to it all that very few know about or seriously consider before they jump in with both feet.
Wanna hear a few reasons? Why, I thought you’d never ask! Here we go:
1) It’s thankless and unglamorous.
Entrepreneurship has lost its glamor. Once upon a time, it was a big deal. Nowadays, everybody owns a business on the side. Well, at least every African that I know does, or plans to. If you’re looking to own a business, then scratch recognition from your 5-year plan because it probably will not happen for a long time or without a lot of aggression, which I will address later.
2) Long hours are not the only hard part of it.
If anything, long hours are the easy part of entrepreneurship. I’d describe running a business as a chaotic, emotional roller-coaster. You live on edge until that big check comes, then you decide to pay your staff and bank the rest for a rainy day, but the rainy day comes sooner than you expect. Or, you disappoint a client, or have to take one to court. With entrepreneurship, when it’s good, it’s really good. When it’s bad, it’s reeeeally bad. That has been my experience.
3) Survival for the… most aggressive.
Entrepreneurship is not for softies. Lady or not, you’ll have to find a way to become aggressive. I’m in my late 20s, but apparently I look like I’m 19. I have been bullied, patronized, questioned, and judged. Add to this the fact that I’m female – yes, it’s the 21st century, but chauvinism is more rife than we like to admit. I had to work twice as hard to be able to win clients and then even harder to be able to keep them. After being ripped off a couple – or a couple hundred – times, it’s easy to become cynical, and it’s necessary to become aggressive to survive.
4) Success often comes after a series of failures.
Sometimes just the boredom is a failure in itself. Entrepreneurs have to be willing to fail and fail and fail. God forbid that I try to edit His Word, but if I were to add a part “c” to Proverbs 24:16, it would read: “The entrepreneur faileth seven times, and starteth again, but the faint of heart shall return to the rat race.” Remember that saying about success being the ability to move from one failure to the next without losing enthusiasm? Yup. That must have been by an entrepreneur.
5) The risk might not be worth it.
Figured I’d say that while we’re speaking about failures. The predictability of the rat race is safer in many ways. Ryan Beckland, co-founder and CEO of Motivation Science, says entrepreneurs must be willing to die broke. When your electricity bill is due and a client who was supposed to pay 3 weeks ago has gone under the radar, a $12/hr job looks lucrative. If you go into business ownership expecting exponential growth within 3 months, you might be setting yourself up for serious disappointment – and these disappointed days are a major ingredient in the roller-coaster I’ve mentioned above.
6) You don’t know the full story…
… and probably won’t for a while. There is a reason why entrepreneurs’ interview responses often begin with “Ten/twenty years ago…” It’s because it takes a while to build a business.
That $50,000 capital that your friend pumped into her fashionable business in Kenya could actually have come from a student loan that she then defaulted (and yes, I know a couple of people who have done this). That means that while she may – hopefully – have an enviable business back home, she cannot become anything worthwhile in, say, the US. And everybody knows flexibility is one of the perks of successful entrepreneurship.
People do strange, strange things to make money. People also go through struggles – such as unpaid bills, dysfunctional relationships, ruined friendships, nonexistent social lives – to be able to run their businesses.
7) Entrepreneurship blurs the lines between family and work.
This is especially true for entrepreneur couples. They are extremely hot, if you ask me. I would love to be one half of an entrepreneur couple. But if you listen to the stories of couples like Mike and Sue Muraya and Gbenga and Lara George, you hear that couples have to make a deliberate effort to refrain from discussing business during dates or family time. The thing is, entrepreneurs have to put in more than 40 hours a week, especially during the days when they are laying the groundwork. Family will suffer on some level.
8) Owning a business and making money are shallow goals to have.
It’s not about owning a business for the sake of owning one, or just so you can have a particular title. It’s about providing a good or service that you are passionate about, and making a difference. I tell people that if they can meet the same financial goals by being employees, then by all means, they should do so. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being employed.
9) The people we compare ourselves to usually have a major headstart…
…academically, financially, or geriatrically. It makes absolutely no sense to cry at 19 because you are not on the same level as 83-year-old Manu Chandaria. A PhD or a Masters degree will get you access that a GED won’t. A good personality could get you access that a Masters won’t. It’s good to dream, but it’s also good to be realistic. Sure, a university dropout can start a successful business, but for each one, I am sure there are thousands who regret their decision. No human being should be any other’s benchmark.
10) If you do get back into the rat race, you’ll start at a lower level…
…than you would have if you didn’t quit the rat race in the first place. I have come to learn that employers generally don’t trust entrepreneurs, for two major reasons: a) They are looking for people who are willing to be led, and they know that being the boss is a hard habit to shake, and b) The fact that you have run a company might make them uneasy because they don’t know if you’ll want to take their jobs.
You’ll be competing with people who have more experience in the particular position for which you are applying. The “references” section of a job application usually contains a field for your supervisor’s contact information. As a CEO, you don’t have a supervisor. Getting back into employment is difficult. You’ll have to customize your résumé, either downplaying your current position or omitting it altogether (remember the thankless part of this?) and you will have to be willing to settle for thousands of dollars less a year than you want to make, at least at the start.
I am back in the rat race now, and boy, do I miss my Mondays and Thursdays off. I came very, very close to getting something “ratracey” that would be at a perfect level position wise and paywise, but that fell through. Now, I work at least 42.5 hours a week in a repetitive position with coworkers whom I am struggling to like. It could be worse. I’m thankful for the benefits and many other perks. I have to let my light shine and refuse to think of myself as better than any of them. Judging by my (admittedly flawed) human sight, there is no promotion on the horizon. I have no time to run a business on the side. Quitting crosses my mind every day. So does “I really don’t need this… I’m better than this.” But by the grace of God, I will pull it off. I know that this is temporary, yet the application and interview process is quite draining and I’m dreading having to get back to it.
So… there you have it. Still want to start a business knowing all this? Then by all means, you are a real entrepreneur. Go for it! There are very many beautiful things about entrepreneurship. The journey of self-discovery is among the top for me. Another wonderful reason is James 2:15-17.
It takes big bucks to make some kinds of differences. But we can all make small differences in a big way.
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