Small business or self-employed: finding the courage to trade

If there is anything I have learned in my life as an adult (as arguable as that second half of that statement may be), it is that everything is about the tradeoff. We swap our personal independence for love and comfort when we marry; we barter away more of that autonomy when we have children; and we make a zillion tradeoffs every single day of our professional lives. Some of these transactions (because that’s what they really are) happen naturally and organically as we mature and the requisites of our lives evolve, but others are truly arrangements of choice, the results of serious internal negotiation.

This is typically the case when a worker becomes an entrepreneur, when an employee becomes self-employed, or when a subordinate takes the leap and buys the business from the boss. The courage to make this transition in life is common to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and self-employed workers whether the decision is tempered by choice, necessity, or circumstance.

Many of us fantasize for years about what it would be like to control our own destiny, but what holds most folks back is the simple fear of the unknown mixed with the toxic dread of failure. Motivations are key – sometimes an entrepreneur is created in the aftermath of a layoff. Driven by necessity, some find themselves with no better option than to hang out their shingle and get to work hustling to find clients or customers. Others are driven by their own pure passion for what they want to do. The courage required is the same, whether the decision is driven by ardor or by hardship.

The common elements tend to be the same across a range of entrepreneurs: they have identified a need in the market and envisioned how they can meet that need. A problem defined, a solution concocted, and a business born. What is certain is uncertainty. Long hours, loneliness, and the ever-present threat of failure. The statistic we hear over and over: half of all startups fail. Half. Half. Half. Shut up already and let us work; whatever the risk of failure, whatever the inevitability of collapse, whatever your relatives say to warn them, entrepreneurs are driven by something greater than the peril: they cling to their conviction that they can make their business work.


Image: Sun Wukong (the magical monkey and main character) from the traditional Chinese tale, “Journey to the West” Credit: Nod Young