I’ve had the good fortune to work around and for a lot of successful entrepreneurs, and it was the best learning experience I’ve ever had. Watching how someone builds a business, how they manage (or don’t manage) to balance work and their personal lives, and learning what they would do differently and what they would do the same is something every aspiring entrepreneur should try and do.
Before you take the leap, find someone who has created a thriving a business and work for them. What you learn will be invaluable.
Here’s what I learned working for my entrepreneurship mentors:
1. Abandon your ego.
Every successful entrepreneur I’ve ever worked for was proud of what they had accomplished, and most of them were more than happy to tell you about their success. It’s easy to mistake something like that for ego. That is, until you realize that:
- Creating a business is really hard, and if you accomplish something really hard, you’re going to tell others about it. Have you ever met a marathon runner who kept it to themselves? Me neither. Don’t fault someone for being proud of achieving something incredibly difficult.
- Every successful entrepreneur I’ve known might talk about their success, but none of them were above doing grunt work. In fact, many of them had a hard time letting the grunt work go.
Everyone brags, but entrepreneurs who have an ego that keeps him or her from getting their elbows dirty will never succeed.
2. Ingrain good habits early on.
Whether it’s with business processes or how you achieve some semblance of work/life balance, ingrain good habits early on. As much as possible, create processes that will serve you as you scale up. Act bigger, and structure yourself bigger, than you currently are. One of the biggest struggles start-up companies have is trying to retrofit structure and processes.
It’s easy to say that you just don’t have the time for it, but retrofitting is a painful process, and can end up being the undoing of a young company.
When it comes to your personal life, make time for the people around you. Make time for yourself. You’ll need to focus on quality, rather than quantity—but still, make it a habit. I’ve seen entrepreneurs who neglect their personal lives for so long that even when they are established and can spare the time, they simply can’t make the adjustment.
They can’t connect with people outside of the business, and they’re addicted to the breakneck pace that a startup requires. And, to a person, every entrepreneur I’ve known who fits this mold wishes it wasn’t that way.
Good habits are as hard to break as bad habits. Make sure you’re building good habits.
3. Every successful entrepreneur has a mentor of his or her own own.
That entrepreneur that you’re looking up to and learning from has at least one, if not more, mentors of his or her own. Everyone that I know who created a thriving business succeeded in large part because they had someone help show them the way.
You could read everything ever written on creating a business, and it’s not the same as having someone you respect share what they know. It’s not the same as having someone who believes in you buck you up when things look like they are about to go (or are already going) really wrong.
You’ll need a shoulder to cry on and someone to tell you that your genius insight is actually kind of boneheaded, or has been done before—but can tell you in a way that sends you back to the drawing board, motivated to impress them with something that isn’t boneheaded and hasn’t been done before.
The act of getting a mentor is the first step in showing that while you believe in yourself, you don’t have an ego that will stop you from succeeding.
And when you do succeed, being a mentor completes the circle.
When you do that, when you repay the people who’ve given you a hand up by extending your own hand to someone else, it shows that you didn’t just create a successful business.
You lived a successful life.
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