I’m sure all fellow founders, or entrepreneurs, as many people prefer to be called, feel similarly from time to time. We look back and think about how the business we’ve poured our heart and soul into shapes us, and what our lives would be like if being an entrepreneur had not been the path we’d pursued. All of us entrepreneurs, we like the idea of having our own businesses. After all, who wouldn’t? We have no boss. We work the hours we want. We set our own salary. Our work and our passion; they’re the same. Above all, we get the “it’s all mine” factor – akin to having bought our first house – that sense of pride and accomplishment. And we like the reality; the pressure, the decisions, the unknown, the journey. Ultimately we like the risk. We like the fact that it’s our future we’re gambling with. It’s our adventure. I was at a reunion at the weekend, with wonderful old friends from 25 years ago. We’d all followed different routes in life and are all completely happy with what we are now doing. There was no success gauge between us, no competition, no one-upmanship. We’d all known each other at exactly the same time and stage in life. We knew each other for who we were, and what mattered most – certainly after a few scoops in the bar – was that we were all still exactly the same. Being an entrepreneur, I initially found myself (prior to the third pint milestone) wanting to talk about work. It’s what makes me feel most comfortable. It’s the area that I know more about than anyone in the world. It’s the thing that defines me and, more often than not, what people want to talk to me about. But here it was different. No one cared. They wanted to talk about the old days, the giggles, the sense of total freedom, life before children, before we settled down to the grindstone. This got me thinking. How much better off are we entrepreneurs – for all the risk, all the sweat, all the gambles? In that bar, with a completely level playing field, was I happier because I knew I’d forged my own path? With the benefit of hindsight, how many of my former classmates would want to turn the clocks back and put their houses on the line, live on a shoe string through their thirties, have to have their mobile by their side on holidays, just so that they could have a few more notes under their mattress now? Yes, it has produced the trappings, but if we’d met up 15 years ago, I’d have been sleeping in the back of the car to save hotel bills whilst they’d have partied without fear or hesitation. I think the answer is that yes, we are happy. But, we’re no happier or more fortunate than people who didn’t follow the entrepreneurial route. To think that would be at best arrogant, at worst, downright idiotic. We’ve followed a career path, just like everyone else. It’s certainly not better. It’s more appropriate for us – as a doctor, a sales person or a mechanic could have been appropriate for others. The point is that, at the end of the day, being an entrepreneur is just a job. And I’m as passionate about my job as any one of my former class mates are about theirs. Whether people work in, on, or for a business in any role, it makes no odds. What’s valuable is the smile they get out of it. I sometimes assume that everyone wants to be in the top chair. This is, fortunately for us, not the case. We all simply want to do things that we enjoy. Different jobs or roles give us different degrees of happiness. Mine just happens to be setting up a business and watching it shine. And success when we meet up at reunions, that’s measured in the size of our smiles, nothing more. My old classmates, with their enormous grins, were the most incredibly successful bunch you could ever imagine (and I’ve got the sore head to prove it).
This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.
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