For many people, success as an entrepreneur is this mysterious, elusive milestone. At times, it seems impossible, despite your good ideas and effort.
But then, there are those people who make it look so easy. They aren’t geniuses. They don’t have some unique, multi-million dollar idea.
So what’s going on here? Why them, and not you?
I’ve come to the realization through the dozens of interviews I’ve conducted (actually, we’re approaching 100 interviews now on The Daily Interview) that one of the biggest barriers to entrepreneurial success is…existing success.
If this sounds a bit confusing, allow me to explain.
The Benefit of “Unfortunate” Circumstances
Ignore for a moment the people who were “born” as entrepreneurs. You know, the people who were building multi-million dollar companies as a fetus. But seriously, there are many successful entrepreneurs who only know entrepreneurship (and have never worked a “normal job” before).
Ignore these folks for a moment.
What you’re left with are a lot of people who became entrepreneurs as a result of some unfortunate (perhaps even chaotic) circumstance. As I’ve found with many of the entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed, they started their businesses (or “side hustles”) simply because they weren’t making enough money at their day job.
In some cases, this is due to having a college degree that doesn’t translate to a well-paying job out of college (i.e. many liberal arts degrees), but in others, it’s simply because they don’t feel they earn enough to support the lifestyle they desire.
And it’s not always about money either. Sometimes, they hate what they do (especially if being forced to work a job that doesn’t align with their area of interest/study in college), or they hate the people they work with. There are a number of possible factors, but one way or another, they’ve been unsuccessful with their current employment situation. For a lot of these people, this is what really lights the fire for entrepreneurship.
But beyond motivation, their current “unsuccessful” conditions set a much lower threshold for the success required to make the leap to entrepreneurship. For example, if you’re making $35,000 a year at an entry level job that you hate, right out of college, it’s going to be a lot easier to make that leap to your own business compared to a lawyer who has spent 7-8 years in higher education and now earns a 6-figure paycheck.
So, back to my original question: Is your current success preventing you from succeeding as an entrepreneur?
Personally, I think that’s a big factor in my life. Although I’ve only been out of college for 6 years, I’ve built a solid foundation in my career and now work a job that pays very well and isn’t overly stressful. This is great, and it’s something a lot of people strive for. But from an entrepreneurial standpoint, it makes it that much harder to build a business that I can deem “successful.”
In order to get to the point where I can feel comfortable replacing my job (which I currently have no plans to do), I need to really bust my ass with my online projects. In a lot of ways, I need to work even harder than the person who hates their low paying job, or even the person who was unfortunately laid off.
It’s weird to think about it that way, but it’s true. Comfort can be a dangerous thing if you’re trying to build a business. You need that fire. You need the “threshold for success” to be lower, so you can reach it quicker.
For truly successful entrepreneurs, the “threshold for success” isn’t fixed. It’s always creeping upward. Even if you started as someone who was laid off and just need to scrape by and make ends meet with your basic living expenses, that doesn’t mean you’re done once you’ve reached that point. The threshold keeps increasing, and with it, so does your level of success.
But that initial threshold – that’s what holds a lot of people back.
There’s No Substitute for Hard Work
Although being successful may be what’s holding you back, don’t think for a moment that being unemployed and having a “fire in your belly” is all it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Working hard and being persistent is probably still the #1 driver for success.
In fact, the reason some people are unemployed (or work a low paying job that is “below” them), is because they didn’t work hard enough in the first place. Or they simply aren’t motivated to do much of anything.
These people won’t magically find a way to be successful in their own businesses, because starting and running a successful business typically requires a lot more work than being a low-responsibility employee.
So How Do We Resolve the Problem of Being “Too Successful”?
I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years.
As I said before, people with lower paying jobs (or jobs they have no interest in) have an easier time quitting their jobs. It would be foolish of me to do the same thing, especially now that I’ll have a big mortgage payment soon (and other expenses that come with having a job that affords you that lifestyle).
What are some possible solutions?
1. Lower your standard of living and build a financial cushion.
Here’s an opportunity to use your higher income to your advantage. Sell your home and your car. Buy a less expensive car, rent a cheap apartment. Don’t go on any fancy vacations.
Get to the point where you’re saving a substantial portion of your income (50%+) and build yourself a buffer that allows you to live without a steady income for a year (more or less depending on your comfort level). Because you’ve lowered your standard of living and are saving at such a high rate, it will be fairly easy to build that buffer.
Once you’ve done this, you can quit your job, take your “fire” and hard work ethic, and actually build a business not only because you want to, but because you need to (given that you don’t have a job!).
2. Become a complete workaholic.
A lot of people seem to choose this route – you work 8 or 9 hours a day at your normal job, and come home to spend another 4-6 hours working on your business.
It’s easy enough to do when you aren’t in a relationship and don’t have a family. Hell, some people do this even when they do have a family. Again, it’s a temporary sacrifice in order to achieve your goals.
If your business succeeds, you can quit your job. If your business fails, you at least still have your day job, and your financial situation hasn’t been impacted too negatively. Not a bad option for those who are willing to work a lot.
3. Grind away at your goal, little by little.
This is another popular one, and it’s the most feasible option for those who aren’t in a hurry and don’t want to put too much of their lifestyle at risk.
The biggest downside is: you may never reach your goal.
This is the path I’ve taken, and I’ll be honest, it sometimes feels like I’m running in place. There have been some small wins here or there, but I still haven’t succeeded in building anything too substantial. With that said, I still believe I will eventually get there, and I’ll be able to do it without sacrificing my lifestyle (both my standard of living, and time with my family).
This is a pretty manageable option if you can tolerate your current job and you aren’t in a big rush. Just beware – this is by far the slowest option.
So What Do YOU Think?
This is obviously all my opinion, as I’m sure many of you have experienced something different.
What’s your take on this? Are you in a similar spot as me, where you feel like your current success (at your “regular” job) is preventing you from succeeding as an entrepreneur?
Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it.