If you’ve never started a company, it’s easy to buy into the myth of overnight success. But real, sustained entrepreneurial success almost always takes years of careful planning, hard work and, most importantly, unwavering bravery.
I once started an industry conference presentation with a timeline illustrating our company’s growth that defined our first decade as “the early years.” Afterward, a woman approached me with her eyes wide and eyebrows raised.
“I can’t believe your early years lasted that long,” she said. “I was hoping the past 18 months would be my early years -- I’m ready to move into a more successful period now.”
While she might get there faster than most of us did, reaching a high-performing state takes time, regardless. You have to have the tenacity and patience to get through those early years -- not to mention the guts to stick it out.
Regardless of how long it takes to bring your idea to fruition, bravery is key. It’s one of the intangibles that sets the wannabes apart from the doers. Here's why bravery is the X factor in the entrepreneur’s journey:
1. Entrepreneurship is taxing.
Many entrepreneurs sacrifice a lot for the opportunity to lead successful businesses -- often to the detriment of their personal lives. Being bold enough to push back when these important parts of your life are deteriorating can help you find some balance and avoid losing yourself in the pursuit of the hefty balance sheet.
2. It’s risky business.
Heightened risk is a challenging hurdle for any business. Luckily, my spouse worked, so I didn’t feel like the entire farm was on the line while I was building my company. For some, though, the bulk -- if not all -- of their personal wealth is at stake. Having that much skin in the game requires great courage and an all-in commitment that bolsters an entrepreneur’s chances for success and enhances future opportunities to minimize that risk through partnerships or sales.
3. Decisions can make or break you.
Entrepreneurs are rarely short on ideas, but you must be brave -- and honest -- enough to decide which ones to pursue and which ones to shelve, especially when you’re putting a lot on the line. You need a clear understanding of your value proposition, so you can play to your strengths and increase your chances of success.
At my company, we’ve been early to market with a number of new services, because we believed we had a strong chance of winning. But we’ve also stepped back to watch something develop before deciding whether to jump in. Other times, we’ve passed on projects altogether.
A business consultant once told me something I’ll never forget: “Entrepreneurs like you have no shortage of ideas, and you can’t pursue them all. You must learn to say ‘no’ to many good things so you can say ‘yes’ to the best things.”
I can think of 100 things I’d like to try, but most of them should never see the light of day. Having the discipline to pump the brakes or cut your losses takes just as much bravery as knowing when to give it all you’ve got.
4. Success happens outside of comfort zones.
Part of being an entrepreneur is doing things you don’t enjoy or even know how to do. This is the classic crossroads moment for a leader who realizes she must stretch herself to grow and develop as an entrepreneur.
Some leaders can’t get past this crucible, because they won’t admit they don’t have all the answers. If you’re willing to evolve as a leader, you can leverage these opportunities to accelerate not just your own growth, but also the growth of the project or team you’re leading. Entrepreneurs have to push through personal fears to do all kinds of things.
There’s no handbook for the entrepreneur, and you have to learn most of it as you go. Looking back, though, I can see how crucial being courageous was to my company’s success. It helped me find a better balance, take smart risks, make good choices and continue to grow as a leader.
How has bravery played a role in your entrepreneurial journey?