As much as we like to think of ourselves as rebels, renegades, or just generally above going along with the crowd, much of what we do is simply conforming to big, socially accepted ideas about how we should act or the goals we should pursue. The clothes we buy, the food we eat, the cars we drive are all choices made by us, sure, but they’re choices from within a band of options deemed acceptable by whatever subset of society we exist within. None of this is to denigrate the choices that we make, or to push iconoclasm, but to illustrate how easy it is for all of us to go along with accepted norms without so much as a second thought.
Businesswoman explaining coworker over computer at desk. Female business professionals are … [+]
Business can be much the same, with a fairly rigid set of notions about the ideal career path, even as both conceptions and reality are beginning to change. For some, it’s climbing the professional ladder, and for others, it’s the lure of diving into entrepreneurship and having their own business. The appeal is obvious: freedom and control to pursue your ideas where they take you, and if you happen to hit on an exceptional idea you can make considerable money in the end. Starting your own business is often held out as an ideal, and the small business owner is applauded and lionized from business publications to stump speeches. Given that, it’s not hard to see why it appeals to so many, and why it can feel to most as the provenance of a more gifted class far beyond our own abilities.
The question of who can run a startup isn’t so simple, however, and is more like two separate questions: who can start a business, and who should start a business? As to the former, the startup world is likely far more open than most would consider it to be. Most successful founders would likely say that they had as much doubt as they did confidence and drive when they started their business and had their share of mistakes and shortcomings to work through along the way, so in that sense, they’re not so different from any other prospective entrepreneur worried that they don’t have the elusive “it” needed to succeed. Besides, “it” is something ascribed post facto, an explanation drawn from success rather than recognized from the beginning. So for those who doubt they could be a successful founder, they share that trait with pretty much everyone that’s actually taken the plunge and started a business.
But should you start a business? That is the trickier question to unpack. For some it’s no question at all; they need to make their ideas into reality, or to be the one calling their shots, and so it’s seemingly a matter of when and not if they start their own company. For others, there are very real considerations that go into that decision. There’s the thought of time and money and the very substantial work that goes into getting a company off the ground, and that’s not taking into account the work required to keep it going. There’s hiring and managing people, developing your products or services, and of course the dreaded prospect of fundraising.
Some might delight at the prospect, relishing the challenge, while plenty will balk at what’s required, and those who rise to what we’ve deemed a greater cause will be given due admiration, even if their venture is ultimately successful. And that’s fair — startups are a challenge, and it takes some amount of courage to take on that challenge. But there’s often an undue shame placed on those who don’t climb as high as possible, who don’t seek to achieve at the highest level possible for themselves, often perpetrated by those on the other side of things. There should be nothing wrong with recognizing your own limitations of what you’re capable of or what you’re willing to do; indeed, we’d all probably be better served if not everyone was convinced that they’re going to start the next unicorn. Terms like “middle manager” are thrown around to impugn, but we forget that the world needs many middle managers and paper pushers to keep the wheels of business spinning.
None of this is to say that you should set your sights and ambitions lower or to dream smaller. By all means, as crazy as your business dreams might be, keep pursuing them for as long as you can. But there should be space for those who look at the prospect of starting a business and decide it’s not for them to feel that they’ve made the right decision rather than thinking they don’t measure up. #onwards.