Million-dollar launches. First-class air travel. Magazine covers.
These are just a few of the images we see when we think ‘entrepreneur.’ But anyone who’s ever launched a business will tell you otherwise: startup life isn’t as glamorous as it seems.
Even for the entrepreneurs who “make it,” happiness is often more elusive than one would expect. For many, their road to the top has been paved with compromise: giving up on personal dreams, “selling out” to venture capital, working 80 hours per week.
They wanted freedom from their old job but ended up yoking themselves to a new master of their own creation. They wanted team spirit, but find themselves at odds with their co-founders. They wanted personal fulfillment, but feel emptier now than ever before.
Does that sound familiar? Are you struggling to reconcile your personal aspirations with concerns about your startup’s valuation? Has your entrepreneurial spirit been crushed?
If so, then I know you because I am you. I’ve been where you are and have helped myself and others rediscover their path to true happiness. Here’s what that looks like in 4 steps:
Understand why you became an entrepreneur.
The best place to start is the beginning: why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Did you want to be unique?
Were you looking to change the world?
Did you want to become a game-changer? A rainmaker?
Whatever your reason, there is power in knowing where you come from and why. The simple act of reconnecting with your foundations will not only inspire you to get up off the mat, but it’ll help you to re-assess and realign your business vision with your personal values.
Align your business with your core values.
Speaking of re-alignment… as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned the hard way just how devastating a lack of alignment can be to your personal and professional well-being.
In January 2010, I launched what would become a highly successful global brand in luxury shoe accessories. As I built the business, I “knew” that for the sake of our growth, I would have to raise funds. So, I secured Series A funding from a handful of top angel investors.
I paid a steep price for that money. I immediately felt powerless. Everything about that startup was mine, but then I gave up control. I could no longer run my business the way I wanted, and the burden of having to satisfy investors literally kept me up at night.
My point here isn't to rail against fundraising, but to caution entrepreneurs everywhere: don't commit yourself to the path you think you have to take. Instead, choose your own. And, if you’ve already found yourself going astray, stop right now and get yourself back on track.
Define what success means to YOU.
Failing to define success is like trying to win a race without knowing where the finish line is. As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” For too many entrepreneurs, “someplace else” means sleeplessness and depression.
Defining success takes honesty. If you want to be rich, then admit it. If you want to become a leader in your industry, then just say so. Whatever your motivation, acknowledge it. Then, take it a step further and put some real, concrete goals down on paper.
Whatever success looks like, I encourage you to think in terms of more. If your goal is to make $25k next month, then great. But, if you invest that goal with meaning—say, you want to make $25k so that you can build a new swing set at your neighborhood park—then hitting that target will make a much more positive impact on your psychological welfare.
For me, that something more is independence. Whatever dollar amount I bring in—as long as I can do it my own way and live my life on my own terms—will be plenty.
What’s your more?
Know your limits and when to say "no."
For entrepreneurs, blind faith is a liability.
In most cases, you only have seconds to react before you hit a wall and lose a major customer or experience a significant production failure. In the fragile ecosystem that is a startup, even the slightest mistake can take months to rectify—that is, if the business recovers at all.
As an overly optimistic risktaker, my ambition often got the better of me. I was always willing to take a chance, try harder, and push past failure. Sometimes, that’s just what you have to do. But most of the time, I should’ve admitted defeat, cut my losses, and regrouped.
When you let blind faith take the wheel, you lose your objectivity. You double down on losing hands. You make foolish decisions that bring your business to the brink of disaster. You begin to live in that place where you feel like every day is just another fight to keep the doors open.
So, look at yourself and your business. Be realistic. Listen to what your supporters (friends, family, clients, investors) have to say. Listen to your body, as well. Disease, insomnia, pain—these are all the body’s way of telling you to slow down and reevaluate your circumstances.
Depression is not a right of passage; unhappiness isn’t supposed to be the “price you pay” to become an entrepreneur. You can build a business without having to sacrifice your joy.
How do you do it?
Rediscover your entrepreneurial origins, bring your business back in line with the core values that drive you, define success, and start saying no to everything that doesn’t fit within those parameters. Do that, and you’ll set yourself free to find true happiness as an entrepreneur.
About the author: Claire Vidal
French entrepreneur in LA, marketing strategist, coach, corporate trainer