If you believe that the road to success begins and ends with being an entrepreneur, you aren’t the only one. The desire to be an entrepreneur has skyrocketed over the last few years. According to America’s Small Business Development Centers, 62% of Millennials surveyed said they dream of starting a business. Associated with a lifestyle of freedom and luxury, it has become the new measure of happiness. The promise is that if you become a boss, you’ll feel worthy, successful, and fulfilled. It’s tempting to believe that all you have to do is become an entrepreneur and life will take on a rosy glow. But we’ve seen this sort of promise before and the fallout has been nothing short of a national mental health crisis.
Over the last decade or so, we’ve all witnessed or participated in the rise of college admissions mania. Our culture supported the myth that if you sacrifice your sleep, hobbies, authentic interests, friendships, and self-care, then you could craft a worthy resume and have a shot at the golden ticket: admission to a top college that promised to lead to success and happiness. In other words, what got sacrificed at the altar of appearance-driven success was all of the protective factors against depression and anxiety. The unforeseen consequence has been a mental health crisis on college campuses throughout the country.
According to a 2013 National College Health Assessment, about one-half of college students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety in the past year and nearly one-third reported difficulty with functioning due to depression in the last year. The rise of mental health issues, especially anxiety and self-injurious behaviors, has been so alarming that some colleges are changing the admissions process. In 2016, Harvard launched an initiative called “Turning the Tide” in which admissions criteria were reprioritized to reduce the power of external achievements and to refocus on meaningful ethical engagement. To date, 175 colleges around the country have followed suit and joined the initiative. This is great news for Generation Z, but where does that leave the many Millennials who have been affected by college admissions mania?
Is it possible that Millennials have shifted their search for the golden ticket from elite college admissions to entrepreneurship? Will this result in entrepreneurship mania in which mental health is sacrificed for the promise of future happiness?
I, for one, hope not. As a psychologist who has worked with college students and young adults from a variety of colleges since 2004, I have seen the effect of college admissions mania up close. Whether they attended Ivy League colleges or not, by the time the students walked through my door, they were usually burned-out, bitter, anxious, and lost. They had a lifetime of trying to exude what some researchers call “effortless perfection” and, as a result, had a hard time locating and accepting their authentic selves.
Entrepreneurship might offer an avenue for authenticity for Millennials, but only for someone who really wants to start and run a business—and be healthy in the process. The fact is that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. If you try to be an entrepreneur just because it’s the new trend, but it doesn’t actually fit your personality or interests, you could end up just as burned-out, bitter, anxious, and lost as someone caught in college admissions mania. It could drain you of your confidence, time, energy, and finances if you go about it for the wrong reasons or in an unhealthy way.
So, how do you know if entrepreneurship is for you or if you’re just getting caught up in the hype?
Here are 5 signs that entrepreneurship might be right for you. While you don’t have to have all of the signs, the more you have, the easier it will be for you to enjoy the work.
5 Signs that Entrepreneurship Might Be for You
1. You have a fire in your belly
You have passionate ideas and it actually hurts to keep them inside. This is a very good sign.
2. You love being challenged and pushing yourself
Running a business can be exciting and dynamic. You get to wear many hats and figure out how to do a variety of things you’ve never done before. Focusing on learning rather than immediately performing well is crucial. This is where mindset really comes in handy. If you have a good mindset, your optimism will still be challenged, but you’ll take it in stride and keep moving forward. You’ll know how to fail fast, fail well, and recover quickly. If you’re too concerned about your performance, you’ll take less risks, learn less, and make slower progress.
3. You’re self-motivated
You can manage your own schedule and stay on task even when it comes to the less glamorous aspects of day-to-day work.
4. You have a high tolerance for risk and uncertainty
There are no guarantees in business ventures. Mistakes can be costly, but easier to bounce back from if you have the stomach for risk.
5. You love business
You don’t glaze over when it comes to business plans or completely panic when it comes to marketing. Creativity is great, but it needs to be coupled with, well, business. This is probably the most important sign because many people forget that entrepreneurship isn’t a status or life purpose, it’s work that focuses on business. Feeling purpose-driven is great; believing the myth that your life is meaningless without your own purpose-driven business is way too much pressure. If you enjoy the work, that’s what matters.
If you like the idea of being an entrepreneur, but don’t actually like business, you might have bought into the hype. It’s fine to buy into the hype if that’s your conscious choice, but consider whether you’d actually be happier doing something else. There is no shame in not being a boss! Once there’s an eventual backlash to the current entrepreneurship mania, what would you really like to be doing? What would feel good to you? Maybe it’s not sitting alone in your home with a computer. Maybe it’s laughing with friendly co-workers in an office and clocking out at 5:00. It’s your choice.
And if you’ve decided that entrepreneurship is probably right for you, how do you keep it healthy? How do you not sacrifice your emotional health for your dream?
3 Quick Tips for Emotionally Healthy Entrepreneurship
1. Don’t idealize being an entrepreneur
While it doesn’t have to be a constant grind, starting a business means that there’s a lot to figure out. In the beginning you’ll be pouring the lion’s share of your time, energy, and resources into your business. Even if it’s a side hustle, it will probably occupy a surprisingly large amount of mental space. Depending on your time and skill set, hiring people (web developers, graphic designers, photographers, business coaches, virtual assistants, and many others) to help you is often a crucial step in investing in your company, but the costs can quickly add up. It won’t always be pretty and seeing the fruits of all that labor might take longer than you expected. Try to keep a balanced perspective about the life of an entrepreneur.
2. Don’t equate how your business is doing with your self-worth
There will be many times when you’ll be challenged to keep supporting yourself regardless of what is happening. Don’t let your sense of self get swept up by success or swept away by setbacks. Either way, remember that you’re enough just as you are.
3. Prioritize your emotional health
Don’t spend more time than you need to on your business—exhaustion isn’t a status symbol. Make time for all of the things that can protect you from burnout, depression, and anxiety. Meditation. Exercise. Sleep. Relationships. Family. Friends. Balanced eating. Nature. Travel. Pets. Starting a hobby. Just make sure that you pick activities you really enjoy, not just trendy ones you feel pressured to take part in or ones that somehow involve your business. Also, keep in mind that you’re not doing them because they’ll make you a “high performer.” You’re doing them because you care about yourself. Period.
Like most tides, entrepreneurship mania will eventually fade away. Entrepreneurship, however, is here to stay for anyone who really wants to start and maintain a business.
If you do decide to start a business, put emotional health first on your to-do list. Remember that just like no college can fulfill its promise of happiness, no business can either. Even the most outrageous success doesn’t guarantee happiness or make you immune to depression or anxiety.
Your best shot at emotional fulfillment belongs to you. I believe that the current interest in entrepreneurship is more of a desire for ownership. People want to own their choices and have a voice. They want to feel more authentic.
Fortunately, that’s under your control. Authenticity is about how you treat yourself. If your care more about how you feel than you do about what people think of you, you’ll be internally-driven and make authentic choices. It’s not always easy and there are many cultural forces at play, but there will always be temptation to do something for external reasons. Trends come and go, but how you treat yourself is a life-long investment. The more you listen to that little voice inside that says, You’re enough just as you are, the louder it will get.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you think there’s an entrepreneurship mania tide coming our way? If so, how can we avoid the hype and burnout?