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The Reality of Entrepreneurship: What to Expect

A stressed female entrepreneur.

So you’re tired of the 9-5 grind and you want to be your own boss. Welcome to the club of over 31 million American entrepreneurs!

But before you make that leap, you should be prepared for the reality of entrepreneurship, because truth be told, it’s a lot different than what’s shown on TV.

The problem is that most of us only ever see the end result of what successful entrepreneurship looks like. We admire the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk. We see their mansions, fancy cars, yachts, and we feel inspired. But what we don’t see are the challenges they faced early on in their careers. And that’s what this article is all about.

It’s not that we want to dissuade you from launching your own companyquite the opposite! We want to prepare you for the challenges that lie ahead so you’ll be better equipped to handle them. Because when the going gets rough (which it will) you’ll find strength in knowing that you’re not alone. 

Without further ado, here’s what you are signing yourself up for:

Things Will Not Go According to Plan

So you’ve got a solid business plan in place. All you have to do now is follow it like the yellow brick road and you’ll be living the dream in no time. 

Heh. If only it were that easy.

Things will go wrong. We can promise you that. However, we can also promise you that you’ll learn something new every time something goes wrong. Also keep in mind that the missteps along the way just may be what sets you on the right path.

Take billionaire Richard Branson, for example. 

When he was 16 years old, Branson dropped out of school to start his first company: Student magazine. Like most budding entrepreneurs, he had lofty ambitions for his business. In his mind’s eye, he pictured the magazine being the voice of his generation. And while the magazine did score some high profile interviews, it wasn’t earning a lot of money, so he began looking for other ways to generate revenue.

That’s when he decided to launch a mail-order record business. What began as a means to fund the magazine turned into a billion dollar recording company known as Virgin Records. 

That then kicked off a series of other business ventures (some of which were successful, some of which weren’t). Today, Virgin Group operates more than 400 companies, and Branson is worth approximately $5 billion.

“Learn from failure,” Branson advised. “If you are an entrepreneur and your first venture isn’t a success, welcome to the club.”

You’re Going to Lose Money

Knowing that you’re going to lose money is a tough pill to swallow. For many, this fear alone is what prevents them from starting a business in the first place. 

In order to move past it, the first thing you need to do is recognize that it is perfectly normal to feel this way. In fact, there’s actually a scientific explanation for it. 

Studies have shown that losing money has a greater psychological impact than gains of the same amount, a phenomenon called loss aversion. In essence, the pain of losing $1,000 outweighs the joy of winning $1,000.

Researchers believe loss aversion stems from thousands of years of evolution, in which humans learned to conserve as many resources as possible in order to survive. In other words, it’s hardwired into your brain. 

One tip for overcoming this mental roadblock is to reframe monetary losses as a necessary and inevitable cost of doing business.

If it makes you feel any better, even billion-dollar companies suffer short-term losses for long-term gains. In 2017, for example, Amazon reported a 77% decline in second-quarter profits due to its investment in video content and global expansion

You’ll Put in Long Hours

Some people are drawn to entrepreneurship because they think it will reduce their working hours, but oftentimes the exact opposite is true. 

Elon Musk, for example, regularly pulls 80- to 90-hour work weeks. He reportedly pressures his employees to work long hours as well. After facing scrutiny for his company’s demanding work culture, Musk famously wrote, “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”

If the thought of working 80-hour weeks makes you cringe, keep in mind that it won’t necessarily be like that forever. Jeff Bezos, for example, used to work 12-hour days 7 days a week. However, he significantly reduced those hours after his company joined the $1 trillion dollar club. According to Observer Magazine, he now begins work around 10 a.m. and wraps up at 5 p.m.

One other thing to remember: work feels a lot less like “work” when you’re doing something that you’re passionate about. 

You’ll Experience Mood Swings

We hope you like amusement parks, because entrepreneurship is the epitome of an emotional roller coaster. One minute you’re on a high because you sold a bunch of products, the next minute you’re on a low because those same products ended up getting returned. 

Sometimes, the stress of such highs and lows can become too much to bear, as with the case of Ilya Zhitomirskiy.

Zhitomirskiy was a software developer and entrepreneur, best known for co-founding social networking site Diaspora. In 2011, at the young age of 22, Zhitomirskiy committed suicide.

Sadly, he’s not the only one. Longtime web entrepreneur Jody Sherman killed himself just two years later, in 2013, at the age of 47.

Psychiatrist Michael Freeman has spent years studying mental health and entrepreneurship. As a former entrepreneur himself, he knows how easy it is to neglect your own health when starting a new business. Common examples include eating too much or too little, not getting enough sleep, and failing to exercise.

“You can get into a startup mode, where you push yourself and abuse your body,” said Freeman. “That can trigger mood vulnerability.”

To prevent this from happening, make sure you make your health a top priority. You may also consider scheduling weekly check-in visits with a mental health professional. 

If you made it to the end of this article, the good news is you’ve already demonstrated the type of focus and commitment needed in order to succeed! It’s a lot to take in, we know. But now that you know what you’re up against, you can make an informed decision as to whether this is the right career path for you. 

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