Follow Your Own Path

How did I get here?

I sat with my head in my hands and looked out at the dark November sky. When did the business slip out of my control and become this company that now runs me? The company that I had struggled, toiled, and troubled over had turned out to be something I didn’t plan – or want. How did this happen?

My guess is it started with just a small gear shift. Someone brought forward an opportunity and I thought it made sense, so I went for it. How much could it possibly matter? But then there were more jobs we just couldn’t pass up and the morphing into something I didn’t want began.

There are so many pressures to make your company work and keep everyone happy; it’s so easy to say yes to things you know you should refuse. And each time you slip in one of those things that don't fit, it starts to create something with a life of its own – a company that starts to own you.

Many entrepreneurs I talk to say they have faced the same dilemma. You are going at break-neck speed, and sometimes the wheel just gets away from you. So, now what?

Whether we are just starting out or in the midst of growing our business, we face constant choices. Which of these paths are on course and which will be learning experiences? There is always plenty of advice (all well intentioned) that can excite and energize us, or discourage and create anxiety. The question that really matters is: What is best for us and the meaningful business we want to create? We became entrepreneurs so we could follow our own path – not the road laid out by others.

The one question we must answer honestly and independently is “Where do I want to go?” For entrepreneurs, our business is so personal. We must be clear on what will satisfy our own goals first. It isn’t being selfish but just being clear on committing our energy and resources to what really matters. Otherwise, it won’t be worth all the effort.

How big, how fast and how far needs to fit with what works best for you. Trying to meet the expectations of others (investors, advisors, employees, or friends and family) only leads to stress and tension. It is your game, so set your own rules.

Being effective as an entrepreneur is founded on two core values – achievement and independence. We want to do something that makes a difference. We want growth. But the achievement must be balanced with our ability to maintain our independence or the result will ultimately lead to deep unhappiness.

The stories of entrepreneurs who have built businesses that have rapidly gone from zero to millions or billions have created a tremendous expectation in creating companies that scale quickly. We think we need a business that would have the judges on Dragon’s Den salivating. Investors are panting for larger and faster. Entrepreneurs who make it big quickly are becoming the new movie stars of our era. And this glorification is attractive and distracting at the same time.

We believe we should want the same because of the expectation. But, just like in the movies, fame can be fleeting and the number of actors who actually become stars is miniscule. The lights can go out quickly, particularly for stars who take roles that don’t fit. Entrepreneurship is about innovation, growth and a committed passion in order to create a solution that provides value for the customer and the entrepreneur. Unlike most actors, entrepreneurs must write, direct, and star in their own movie. We have to build businesses that mean something to us.

There is a spotlight on entrepreneurship today. We want to create a more competitive economy and entrepreneurship is the backbone of that goal. However, the pressure to perform and the excitement of the potential win may now overshadow what we as entrepreneurs really want to do.

I believe the real win for entrepreneurs and the economy will be when we build businesses that we are meaningfully committed to, fit our personal goals, and are founded on a sound strategy. Growth will happen at the pace that fits the entrepreneur and supports the building of something that lasts.

We need to have boundaries and protect our business visions in the right way. It matters that companies are founded and grown based on passion and drive, supported by sound business principles rather than the pressure of others’ expectations. A vibrant and prosperous economy will result when entrepreneurs and our business are on the same path. It should be more about pull than push. We should make the choices that propel us toward the next step, rather than being pushed down the wrong road to try and make the numbers.

Getting the business we want is exciting, energizing, confusing, tiring, stressful and rewarding. To improve our ability to build and grow the right business for us, entrepreneurs must honestly and independently answer three critical questions:

  1. Where do I want to go? What type of business you want, what part you will play, how fast you will grow, how big you will get, how much risk you will take, and how will it work best for you?
  2. How will I get there? Now you are making choices about the best route, how will you play to win, how you will make money and create value and how do you scale the business to fit you and the opportunity?
  3. Can I do it? Only you can answer this question and consider what structure, what people, and resources you need to get the job done.

Being an entrepreneur is a career that provides meaning – for us, those around us, and for our part of the world. Your choices are important. This is a path where you can make a difference in a way that matters to you. The journey will have many turns and obstacles, as well as multitudes of opportunities. What is essential is that you are the author of your story. Edits and suggestions are welcome but the choices and the win will be yours.