Entrepreneurship Is Trending
It is projected that 5.6 million new small businesses will be formed by the end of 2022; this record will surpass the record breaking 5.3 million new business applications submitted in 2021. In the U.S. alone there are already 31 million entrepreneurs but that number is climbing as 83% of people say the pandemic actually fueled their desire to start their own business. These small businesses generate $5.9 trillion (45%) towards the U.S. economy and employ 47% of the entire U.S workforce.
These figures paint a picture of the current size and scope of entrepreneurship. Small businesses are vital to our economy, country, and the world at large. Entrepreneurs are delivering extraordinary value and providing critical services that make a direct and indirect difference to us all. Entrepreneurship is growing in popularity and that growth will only continue in the coming years.
The Allure of Entrepreneurship
Starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur is often viewed as an exciting and highly rewarding occupation. The promise of being your own boss, choosing your own hours and location, and making your own decisions is very alluring – particularly after the stress brought on by the pandemic. There is also an extraordinary reward that comes from working on a passion project, making the world a better place, and being committed to your own dream instead of someone else’s. These ideals are what fuel the great excitement and expansion of entrepreneurship.
Culturally speaking, we can’t help but love a good success story: the mystery of someone like Mark Zuckerberg dropping out of university and ‘making it’ or the unconventional career path success of Elon Musk. We are often captivated by the glitz and glamor of entrepreneurship and we try to find ways to emulate these appealing journeys for the lofty promises they attractively make.
Who Becomes An Entrepreneur?
Furthered by the impact of the pandemic where many lost their livelihood, and combined with the squeeze on recent graduates not able to find a job, the world of entrepreneurship attracts a wide demographic. Entrepreneurs emerge amongst teenagers throughout high schools and into university. Interest continues for individuals switching careers to entrepreneurship in their 40s and later in life.
Despite the often formed belief that starting a business occurs in your teens or 20s, as we see with individuals such as Cory Nieves, Riya Karumanchi, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, the average age of a successful entrepreneur is mid 40s.
We often assume literally anyone can become an entrepreneur, which is part of the allure. Similar to the belief that anyone can become President, many also believe that anyone can become an entrepreneur. You just need an idea and some gumption to get it off the ground. It is often said to be an entrepreneur all you need is the will to do it and the grit and perseverance to make it happen. This is true to some degree, yet there are many other factors that feed into the formula of entrepreneurial success.
The bright and gleaming promises of success in the world of entrepreneurship told through glitzy post success stories – think Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Sara Blakely – lead us to believe that choosing to become an entrepreneur might be the easier and a more successful path for us, compared to working with or for another company.
The Cold Reality
The reality is there are very real and harsh struggles to becoming an entrepreneur and these are often overshadowed by the success stories. This has led to an unbalanced view of the profession.
Many entrepreneurial stories we read tend to end in a positive, successful outcome: “How 7 Entrepreneurs Went From Massive Debt To Incredible Success”. This furthers our belief that from struggle we must come through to immense, guaranteed triumph.
However, this is simply not the case. Brilliant ideas don’t pop in less than a year, they have been worked on for years prior, tried, tested and failed over and over. Funding the business has led to drained savings, huge debts, and burnt relational bridges.
Dig into entrepreneurship, start-up, and small business success rates and you start to reveal a world with cold, harsh, and frightening truths.
Start-up life is not for everyone, nor for the faint of heart. 90% of startups will fail.
Contrary to popular belief, small businesses fail at staggering rates. Not solely because the idea wasn’t brilliant, or the business ran out of money, or it lacked a business plan – these are important and do contribute to failure reasons. However, there is more at stake.
Business accelerators focus principally on business strategy, planning, pricing strategy, revenue models, marketing, client segments, and market research. All of these are very critical pieces to creating, building and growing a business but they aren’t the only skills worth cultivating.
66% of the reasons for start-up failure are that entrepreneurs burnout, they lose their passion and focus, they incorrectly choose the team, and experience disharmony and friction among team members and or with their investors.
Very few entrepreneurs and accelerators will devote efforts into addressing these issues. Planning, learning, and establishing a baseline for stress management, emotional wellbeing and behavioral health are simply not prioritized in the current entrepreneurial landscape.
The Secret Struggle For Entrepreneurs
There are countless stories of entrepreneurs struggling with emotional wellbeing – depression, addiction, and even suicide.
The familiar and haunting stories of what Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain experienced behind closed doors before taking their own lives, or the addiction struggles of happiness culture faced by Tony Hsiuh deliver a sobering truth about the fragility of being human and choosing the entrepreneurial path.
As Michael A. Freeman M.D. highlights in his report “Touched by Fire,” 72% of entrepreneurs struggle with mental health. Entrepreneurs are 2x more likely to suffer from depression, 2x more likely to have suicidal thoughts, 3x more likely to suffer from substance abuse, and 10x more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder.
73% of entrepreneurs will experience loneliness and 72% will experience burnout. Knowing how to respond to these experiences when they come is just as important as crafting a strong business plan or making it onto a well-respected business accelerator program. If you burn out, the strongest business plan or greatest accelerator in the world will not be able to pull you out of the hole.
Very little work, support, or efforts have been given to date in favor of helping entrepreneurs walk this treacherous journey. Yet, there is hope for future change.
Culturally, mental health awareness is on the rise. The acceptance of emotional wellbeing challenges is gradually emerging onto the public stage, particularly as high profile stories are shared.
There is a growing willingness amongst professionals to discuss and take action on mental health priorities in business. Organizations are being asked to implement wellbeing strategies for employees and services are springing up in support of ongoing conversations about work and wellbeing.
With the accelerating rate of entrepreneurship, we have a collective responsibility to support entrepreneurs and small business owners by making it safe not only to talk about emotional wellbeing but receive support in the adoption of healthy practices.
We must bring awareness to and develop our own understanding of what emotional wellbeing means in entrepreneurship. This could look like adopting these practices ourselves as entrepreneurs or discovering how to offer other entrepreneurs support. We must learn what to look for and find ways to enhance wellbeing across industries.
Without this, we will continue to see individuals crash and burn out at increasingly rapid rates. Toxic work cultures will impact individuals and communities. Investors and employees will face financial loss. The damage done by declining emotional wellbeing in the world will not be reversed.
Revealing the tougher and harsher realities of entrepreneurship is not to discourage anyone from exploration. Instead, aim for honest dialogue to create support structures, establish growth mindsets, and develop our grit in advance of future challenges.
Understanding the potential pitfalls faced by entrepreneurs allows for improved planning and capability development. Armed with the right information, entrepreneurs can better bolster their toolkits and establish healthy practices so that when challenges in life come, they know how to adjust their sails and avoid a capsize that throws everyone into the water. While waters might get choppy and even stormy at times, there is always a way through.
We can make this journey easier for entrepreneurs and those considering it by opening up the conversation and making it safe to talk about these challenges. Conversation can give way to solutions that help entrepreneurs successfully traverse the rapids.
It’s important to explore the harder and tougher facets of entrepreneurship in community. Through supporting each other through struggles, we become stronger, develop wisdom, and deepen our ability to establish meaningful connection. The reward of all this? Entrepreneurs can overcome challenges and make great strides in the world of entrepreneurship.
Comment below and let us know about your entrepreneurial experiences – the highs and lows? Have you found a way through navigating stormy waters? What worked for you? We’d love to hear from you!