How entrepreneurship gives life meaning
By Jonathan Frenkel
It may sound passé that if you love what you do you do not have to work a day in your life, but it is a popular expression for a reason. Life goes by so quickly regardless of whether you are enjoying what you are doing, so you might as well make the best of it. The reality, however, is that you are not going to love every moment of work. There are going to be days when you feel like getting out of bed is a chore, times when you must deal with difficult customers, and annoying mind-numbing tasks to which you must attend. But on a day to day basis, if you feel what you do is giving you energy rather than diminishing it, you are probably on the right path.
Reframing our view of happiness here in Western culture, Americans on average work more than most other countries, and signs of leisure such as cafe culture are not seen as status signs. According to this article “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” Does that make us the happiest nation? No, far from it, but there is a cost for the output the country produces. Additionally, it is important to define happiness. We look at our lives as aspiring to be a constant cascade of positive and pleasant emotions without any obstacles or struggles. But how is that realistic? As we are finding out during a pandemic life comes at you hard and fast sometimes, and there is so much out of our hands. A way to optimize for living is to not only appreciate the difficulties but to embrace them, and if we are going to spend the bulk of our lives working, we may as well find meaning in it.
There is no better feeling than seeing the mountain from the bottom and going through the process of climbing it, and by our fingernails if need be, to reach that peak. Through the champagne glass tinted view of success many entrepreneurs look back and state unironically that they had the most fun on their journey to success. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but it can be a deeply spiritual endeavor as it will force you to bring your best to build something of value for the world.
You are building something of value
People who gravitate to entrepreneurship are driven by the idea they are building something to solve a pain point for a segment of the population. This desire to create, to build something is part of our human DNA. While historically our species may have had a shameful past in some cases, overall, we have built and created what is today’s modern society.
In America’s case, entrepreneurship has been a part of the DNA that has propelled the country to thrive as a tech and business powerhouse. I can state from a personal perspective that building and creating was always something that gave me meaning and was the reason I got into building my own business. It may be the restless energy or the need to prove myself but even when I encountered setbacks and licked my wounds I bounced back and started a new project. There have been times when I have had to do something difficult, like land a customer or give a difficult speech. After I overcame the obstacle, I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Nothing could take away that feeling of winning that hard-fought war with myself. When people state that they are chasing a feeling and not money, that is what they mean.
You are employing others and contributing to society
When you are building something, a business, an agency, or any endeavor where you need to hire skilled and talented people, just remember that you are not just providing your customers with a solution but also employing people. This is a strong reason to get out of bed in the morning, and to continue on even when you don’t feel like it; you’re not just taking care of yourself but also of the people who work for you and their families. Entrepreneurship and building small businesses help employee millions of Americans across the country, “small businesses employ 58.9 million people, which makes up 47.5% of the country’s total employee workforce.”
Organizations that have an intense level of caring in their DNA, real ones, not toxic work cultures who throw the word ‘family’ around, become a second home for their employees and give meaning to their work. The reality is that you can ascribe meaning to anything, and I suggest that you remember you are helping provide someone’s livelihood as it will give you something to lean on when things get tough.
Particularly during COVID times, entrepreneurs who can create successful endeavors can be a part of this wave of businesses that rise from the ashes of those who had to close because of the coronavirus. As we are living through history right now is the time to consider what role you will play in helping get the economy back on its feet.
You are learning new skills
There are several soft skills that you will not learn until you start your own business, including selling and marketing, building thought leadership (which means communicating effectively), and leading people. There are natural strengths that you may parlay such as creativity, but at the end of the day even if you fail at your business, you are still the wiser for having tried. As the saying goes, “sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”
Personally, the idea of building a consultancy was straight forward. I was not wed to the idea of being a full-on entrepreneur, I was very much OK working in a company whose culture I admired. I made a list of companies I wanted to work for, reached out, and realized that I would not be a good fit. At that point I planned out 6 months from that point, thinking either I would spend the time looking for a job, or start my own endeavor. One of the factors for me to start my own agency was the knowledge I would accrue from the experience of building a business.
And that did come to pass, as I learned more about improving sales, different forms of digital marketing, and how to build effective partnerships. Experience really is the editor of mistakes, and there is no substitute for going through the process. How else would I be able to make the decisions I made or have the experience to make the choices I make daily? These are not things which can be read in a book; you need to just live them to understand what to do.
You will be challenged and learn about yourself
Do not start a business as an experiment in self-development. There are plenty of other ways to learn about yourself. But a side ‘benefit’ of launching and building a business is that you will face a lot of difficulty and learn how to act under pressure. There is the idea that the grittiest survive, and that it is just about being the last one standing. If that is the case then you are going to deal with a lot of sleepless nights, thinking about how you make payroll, what will happen if the funds dry up, and especially what people might say if things don’t work out.
Your confidence may be shaken, there are real human aspects to this journey, and you should embrace the idea of the Hero’s Journey which is key to giving your struggle meaning. I recall listening to a recent podcast where Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang spoke about how it took him a year to regain his confidence after one failed endeavor. One year! That seems like a long time and is about right. But the important thing is that he did recover, he did get back up, and he put one foot in front of the other. The question you need to ask yourself is: are you really leaving it all on the field? If the answer is yes, then you will be OK with whatever the outcome is, as you know that you will rebound.
Not many people look at building a business as a deeply spiritual or philosophical pursuit, as something with religious dimensions. For some it is about the money, the prestige, or even the freedom of self-actualizing and doing what they want to do. But it is a lifestyle, something that can be done successfully. You need to devote most of your waking hours to really get anything off the ground. And you need to be OK with the high chance of failure, the lowest lows, and some highs that do not come often enough. But that is why all the fun is in the journey itself.