While the current thinking in business schools holds that all someone with an idea needs to succeed are focus, clarity and a good business plan, I have found that bringing together a great team that’s united by strong motivation, determination and bravery is much more important.
The above quote (emphasis mine) comes from an article by Richard Branson on how to succeed as an entrepreneur. The rest of the article is worth reading, but before you do that, I want to talk about Branson’s use of the word bravery.
Choosing to work for yourself is extremely brave. The vast majority of the people reading this work for a corporation, and there’s a reason why corporate work is so popular: The income is steady, and at least in the US, working for a company is the best way to get affordable health insurance.
Steady income and healthcare; If there was ever a source of comfort in the world, it is these things. To hell with adventure, dreams, self actualization, PAH! “Be realistic, kid,” they told us on our way off the football field on graduation day. “You don’t have time for travel now! Go to a good school! Jump through the hoops there so you’ll be able to jump through the hoops at a corporation and be secure for life!”
It made so much sense. We all bought into it. Many of us are even perfectly content with it, years or decades after entering the work force.
And now here we are, still running on the treadmill after all this time, our dreams in the backs of our minds, endlessly shouted down by those old words of advice: “Be secure.”
We’re gripped by those promises of security, especially in today’s job market. We can’t leave our jobs to pursue new things! What if we don’t succeed? What if we get sick? What if we can’t find new work after we fail? What if what if what if?
And so we keep our comfortable jobs, refusing to give them up because, very simply, we are afraid.
It’s one thing to feel fear. Everyone feels it, even the bravest of us. Bravery, after all, is not the absence of fear; it is action in spite of it. Most of us, however, take action because of fear, and there is a word for that, too:
We’re chicken shits, all of us, slouched over our corporate desks, staring at our glowing corporate rectangles, eating our unctuous corporate lunches, getting better every day at ignoring our subconscious cries for real accomplishment so we don’t have to give up our precious security. We may not be happy, but at least we have nothing to fear. We’re comfortable.
Dreams and comfort share a competitive balance. To pursue one requires a sacrifice of the other. To chase one’s dreams, one must endure years of temporary discomfort: low-income living and sacrifice while you start up your business, stress while you work to make it sustainable, constant wondering whether you’re reading the market proactively enough to anticipate the inevitable catastrophic shifts therein. Some of the comfort may return years later as your business takes off, but there will always be that little bit of worry that your adventure could end at any moment. Taking the path of dreams, therefore, requires immense amounts of bravery.
“But ho!” you exclaim. “What if you dream of being comfortable?” To you, I say this: Fair enough. That makes you a hedonist, mind you, and I’d prefer you didn’t exist, but okay. Will you ever be truly happy, though? Don’t mix up happiness and mere relief like so many do. It may feel good when you get home from your day job with your paycheck, knowing you’ll be able to get that new TV after all, but is that happiness you’re feeling, or are you just relieved to have survived another week? Are you genuinely able to look at those personal ideals in the back of your mind and say “meh”? If so, all right then, enjoy.
Perhaps the dream chaser doesn’t value comfort, anyway, and vice versa. Perhaps the dreamer finds the discomfort thrilling, and the comfort chaser has enough to worry about without going on some highfalutin adventure.
I think you can tell I’m in the former group. Why else would I be so very miserable in the corporate world and so very eager to be rid of it? I’m sacrificing my dreams temporarily for the sake of comfort, saving up my steady income to ease the inevitable discomfort when I take the big plunge into entrepreneurship in a few years.
I readily admit the thought of striking out on my own scares the hell out of me. Actually, admit is probably the wrong word. It implies that I’m ashamed of my fear. More precisely, I’m ashamed of how many actions I’ve taken in service of it since I finished high school, of how many years of dreams I’ve sacrificed to be comfortable.
The world outside your cloth box is frightening. Without bravery, you will never face it. You’ll sit at that desk forever. Ask yourself if you’re okay with that. Ask yourself whether you value comfort over dreams. Think about all the actions you’ve taken for fear of loss versus in hope of gain. Can you justify being guided by fear for the rest of your life?