Feb 09

Defining Entrepreneur

My boyfriend and I had a discussion about what it means to be an entrepreneur, and what being an entrepreneur is or isn’t.  We had different ideas about this, so we looked up the definition of an entrepreneur.  We know it’s someone who runs a business. But this definition could also describe a manager.

The definition continues to say that it’s someone who runs a business with considerable initiative. But a lot of people run businesses (their own or otherwise) with considerable initiative.  Neither of these points are the defining factor.

What makes an entrepreneur different is that he assumes risk. He puts his money, his time, his success, and himself on the line for what he’s doing.

Many people believe that the life of an entrepreneur looks pretty great:  The conceptions are that they can work from home, or anywhere really; that they can work whenever they want, for as many or as few hours as they want; and that they never have to answer to anybody but themselves.

Sure, you don’t have to answer to anybody but yourself. But you still have to answer for yourself. And it’s surprisingly difficult to have the guts to do this in a country where people don’t take responsibility for themselves.  In a society that seems to subsist on finding fault. Explaining problems away. When it’s just you, there is nobody to blame but yourself.

Also, you don’t have anybody telling you when you have to work or how many hours you have to work. But when you’re an entrepreneur, the work is never done. And the work is always yours to do.  Yes, you don’t have anybody telling you when you should be working. Which sounds like a good thing in theory. It also means you don’t have anybody to tell you when to take a break, because you’re working too much and you need a break.

And finally, you might even get to work from home! All the time! Let me say that again: all the time. It sounds magical, but I dare that sometimes, it might feel like a prison sentence. If you have ever worked in an office, you’ll know how liberating it feels to leave the office at the end of a long, hard, trying day. Now, imagine never being able to leave your office. Because your office is your home and your home is your office. (Of course, this is many people are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs get out of the house and promoting the trend of coworking. But that’s another story within itself.)

I was an entrepreneur in the past. Being a young entrepreneur didn’t just change my life; it literally paved my way.  But in all reality, I didn’t do anything that was hard. It was actually inordinately easy to be successful, specifically because I was so very young. I didn’t have to worry about putting a roof over my head and getting food on the table. I didn’t have bills or anybody to support (not even myself).

That’s the other small, minor, trivial part of being an entrepreneur that is usually overlooked completely. Being an entrepreneur, at least at the beginning, means you don’t always know when or where your next paycheck will come from. Or rather, more accurately, you don’t know when it will come. But you always know the where. And the where is you. And only you.

This is why post-college, it seems that I’m much more entrepreneurial than I am entrepreneur. I’ve kept the sense of drive, of proceeding with intent and purpose and considerable initiative, and I always have a constant radar for opportunities. But I also work for a company. Somebody else’s company.

I believe that entrepreneurs, and even entrepreneurial people, are an extraordinarily self-selected group.  I believe that the people who want to do it will do it no matter what. They are the people who refuse to accept the The Way Things Are.

My boyfriend believes that people need to be exposed to the idea of entrepreneurship, to the idea that it’s even a possibility to change The Way Things Are, in their own lives or the lives of others. Maybe that’s true. And I’m not really against this idea itself. It’s just that I still think that people who self-select themselves to be entrepreneurs don’t need to know it’s possible, because in all reality, statistically speaking, it’s not possible. But they do it anyway.

I worry about making people want to be entrepreneurs when they aren’t necessarily cut out for it. I worry about making people feel like they’re failing or somehow lesser human beings if they work for somebody else instead of starting a company of their own.  In what is probably my favorite movie of all-time, Searching For Bobby Fischer, there is a relevant quote: “To put a child in the position to care about winning, but not to prepare them is wrong.” And I believe that the only way you can prepare yourself for entrepreneurship is, well, to prepare yourself. Nobody can do it for you.

One way to prepare yourself is to keep your job and do it on the side. Dedicate all of your spare time to it, sacrifice sleep and fun for it. What is that you say? You don’t have time? Well, if you don’t have time to do it now, you probably don’t have time to do it full-time, because all of that sacrifice is quite an accurate preview of what it’ll be really like.

The reason being an entrepreneur is so self-selecting is because it’s really hard. You have to want to do it because YOU want to do it, because you couldn’t and wouldn’t do it any other way, otherwise you probably won’t make it. The point is, entrepreneurship is not the right thing to do, nor is it the wrong thing to do. There isn’t a right or a wrong, there is only what is right or wrong for you.

9 Responses to “Defining Entrepreneur”

  1. Penelope Trunk Says:

    This is a good, sobering post. I think, you might take it one step further and say that entrepreneurship is the wrong thing to do. It's largely self-destructive choice when you make the choice whole-hog — that is, no other job on the side. Entrepreneurs have an extraordinarily high rate of divorce and bankruptcy.

    We mostly hear about entrepreneurs who start very young and make it big early. However most entrepreneurs never make it big, and as they get older and older the risks of entrepreneurship are more and more difficult.


  2. Aaron Greenspan Says:

    I enjoyed this.

  3. Miakoda Says:

    I like the idea of an entrepreneur working at home, lot of benefits indeed. Thanks for your definition of an entrepreneur. For me it is someone who creates opportunities for income.

    Find out more about successful entrepreneurs in the YES movie brought to you by Louis Lautman. Check it out at the http://www.TheYESmovie.com.

  4. Jun Loayza Says:

    Hey Melissa, this is the first post I've read of yours and the topic really attracted me to it. I write about the realities of entrepreneurship over on my blog, so this is right up my alley.

    Being a young entrepreneur is pretty much one of the hardest things you can do in life. Jumping in straight out of college means you're starting your life out in Hard mode: you don't have an established professional network, your skillsets are limited to your college major and whatever extra curricular activities you did, and your friends and family call you crazy for not taking the high-paying corporate job.

    What young entrepreneurs do have on their side is energy, tenacity, and the dream of become “the next Zuckerberg.” Unfortunately, most young entrepreneurs don't realize that they WILL fail, and the true measurement of someone who will be successful is how much they're willing to get back up after failing.

    Curious: what was the startup you started? where do you work now?

    Great blog and I look forward to staying in touch

  5. Geeky: Melissa Sconyers » Optimize for Happiness Says:

    [...] with the assumption that I would be an entrepreneur too. However, as I’ve recently realized, defining entrepreneur is actually quite [...]

  6. Ben Casnocha Says:

    I like the distinction between “being entrepreneurial” and “being an entrepreneur” as you note. I always talk about entrepreneurship as more a life idea than a business one, more a way of mind than anything else.

  7. gl hoffman Says:

    HI M.
    I saw this link on Twitter. I have been doing start ups for 25 years or so, and I have put together a list that maybe you and john might find some common attributes.

  8. Aaron Says:

    Great article.

  9. Johnk113 Says:

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