Should i be an entrepreneur?
Two years ago, I was having a dream job. Working as a senior manager in one of the best luxury hotel brands in the world, on track for my next role as an assistant director of sales. With 27, I was a Gold member on a world-class airline, traveling to almost all continents on business trips and staying in high-end hotels. I enrolled into a company-sponsored course on e-marketing. I was liked and respected within the industry for the efforts and results delivered over the last years. I was living in a nice apartment in the city centre of Abu Dhabi.
It would have been the perfect time to enjoy my blessings, be grateful and think about where I could go next. Working in the hospitality industry, one has the benefit of being able to move around the world and experience new countries, cultures and ways of working. It would have also been a good time to just invest more time in my hobbies, travel, family and friends.
Instead, I started feeling entitled and bored. I started looking at all the cons of the job: being stuck to an office and a fixed schedule, long hours and sometimes weekends, tiring travel, annoying colleagues and bosses (some of them), following the direction of a corporation, dealing with clients I did not like, doing things I did not feel like. I started asking myself: what is the meaning of all of this? what is my meaning in life?
At the time, I was dating a guy with a big entrepreneurial spirit who was ready to leave and start his own endeavors. I let myself pulled into his mentality and fed my own thoughts of “what is the meaning of all this” with Millennial dreams of entrepreneurship. We decided to leave and start our own business, excited at the promise of freedom, flexibility and purpose.
What followed for me were two years of life lessons which I want to talk about in hopes that other Millennials thinking that corporate jobs are crap and entrepreneurship is the only way to purpose and riches, make a more informed decision.
The first couple of months of being jobless were great. I went on a yoga teacher training to Goa and spent three weeks in the Dominican Republic, working on business ideas, website, logos, business cards and all those exciting things you do when you start your own business. We were lucky to get a first client from a family connection, and soon another one followed. That, plus my savings from the corporate job, kept me going through the first year.
As many times in the start-up world, the founders split up - in my case my co-founder was also my boyfriend, which meant I had two break-ups to handle at the same time, one emotional and one financial. But things worked out and two years into leaving my job and starting my own business, I am living out of it.
I work from wherever I want. I can go to yoga any time of the day. I can wake up whenever I want. Nobody really checks up on me, and I have no colleagues or bosses to annoy me. So, in a way, I've made it - my dream of being a flexible and free entrepreneur has succeeded. On most days, I am happy and grateful for this.
However, I started missing my old life. Being free and flexible is great, but there is no community I belong to, to share my wins and struggles with. Waking up any time I want is great, but it means I have nowhere to go or be at unless I push myself, every day. Doing whatever I want without having to pay attention to bosses, colleague and company politics is great, but what are the essential things to do? I can do anything, but find myself doing nothing many times. I have all the choices in the world, but sometimes they overwhelm me and I get confused. So the “new shiny thing syndrome” developed, being constantly fueled by the excitement of a new idea, a new project or partnership - without having the motivation or consistency to see them to an end.
And then, there is the purpose question. I though being an entrepreneur was going to give me the sense of purpose I was looking for, but what I found is that I am basically doing the same things as before, with the benefit of increased flexibility and the drawback that I have to pay my own taxes, insurance and accountant. All while being consumed by thoughts of how to develop the business and what are the actions I should be taking, actions I have to implement by myself, with nobody really caring.
As any confused human, I made a pros and cons list. I took the time to dig deep into my values. What was it that I really wanted in my life, now that I had the insights of both sides and some good and bad turns under my belt to understand myself better.
I quickly realized that I craved material safety and security, so I can focus on the things that mattered to me in life: building a loving family and a beautiful home, investing time in friends and travel, taking time for hobbies and personal development, living a happy, healthy and peaceful life. This is where I took my meaning and my purpose from.
On the career side, I valued things like opportunities for growth, advancement, and development. I wanted to make a difference, to do a good job, to be seen, liked and praised. I wanted to help people and work together with people. But I did not really get any kick from building a business.
Being a successful and fulfilled entrepreneur requires a mix of personality traits, a true passion for the cause and some outside factors such as opportunity and timing. There has to be a constant drive to succeed and an unshaken belief in the product or service that you are building. Being in it half-heartedly or for the wrong reasons (flexibility, freedom, status, money etc.) does not work, as when shit hits the fan or when procrastination kicks in - you need more than those reasons to keep you going. One has to be comfortable with ambiguity, with risks, and with lack of security. The desire to bring your idea to life and see your name out there should trump other desires such as free time and hobbies.
I am not saying that being employed is better than being an entrepreneur, or the other way around. Neither is better than the other. They are both great, and they both suck at times. What I am describing is a case of a Millennial who jumped on the entrepreneurial dream for the wrong reasons. I did not leave my job and start my business because I really believed in representing clients in their desired markets. I did it because I had reached a moment of being fed up with my corporate job and thought the grass was greener on the other side. My business did not start out of a passion for the service I was providing or for the need to be a disruptor. It started out of a false momentarily belief that I was too good for the situation I was in, and I could impress others with my new endeavors.
And I was naive. I did not think about the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur. I did not know myself well enough to understand what I valued and how I would react in certain circumstances. Instead, I let myself guided by external opinions and a collective belief that elates entrepreneurship and diminishes the value of a traditional career.
A corporate career can be fulfilling and purposeful. It can bring both material and personal wealth. Being part of a company can mean building a valuable network, having access to the latest knowledge and programs, being supported in your growth and adding your mark on the development of your industry, which in turn adds value to the development of the world.
No matter what you do, it is valuable. Any job, as small or standardised, adds value to someone. If you would not be doing it, there would be a gap in the cycle.
And your job is not everything in life, it is a means to provide for your livelihood. If you manage to make it your passion too, then you’re double lucky. But we need to stop overly promoting the idea that your passion should also be your job. That if your job is not mega purposeful, you are failing at something. We need to stop idolizing entrepreneurship so much and give credit to the millions of people who do their "normal" jobs right, all around the world. They are heroes too.
If I am to start a business again, I want it to happen in a more organic way. It needs to come out of a passion that slowly turns into something that could earn me a living. It should come out of a clear, informed and assumed decision regarding the "why" and "how".
I don't regret the process I've been through. It helped me grow, understand myself better and forced me to make some overdue changes. It was what needed to happen at that time, as will be the next stage of my life. And what I learned out of this past stage, is that I'll place entrepreneurship on hold while I take care of building the happy life I'm looking for, and promise to pick it up again only if it adds value to that life.
Do what makes you happy,