Are Entrepreneurs Happier?
One of the questions I’m asked most often is, “Are you happy all the time because you’re an entrepreneur?”
The mythology of entrepreneurialism is powerful. You “answer only to yourself,” “set the rules,” and “make your own decisions.” Or so the myth goes. The leap out of safe, corporate life seems so daunting; the assumption is that those who manage to make it over the line must live out their days in self-actualized bliss. More times than I can count, men and women, young and old, have cornered me to ask, “It must be great to be your own boss! Is it everything you ever dreamed it would be?” Thus far, I have had the decency and self-awareness to stop myself short of bursting out laughing. Because, as anyone who has founded a company understands, entrepreneurialism is more like a mental illness than a state of nirvana.
Based on my own experience, and the truthful responses of others I know, here is what it really feels like to be an entrepreneur:
As trite as it sounds, you feel compelled. You can’t stop thinking about your idea and how to make it better 24/7. When you’re showering. When you’re driving. When you’re supposed to be clearing your mind in yoga. The follow-up question to: “Are you happy all the time?” is often, “When did you know you wanted to leave the safe corporate life and take this huge risk?” I try to explain that none of it happened that way, at least for me. It felt less like a leap and more like a gradual melting away of other plausible alternatives. I never jumped. I just put one foot in front of the other with the faith I was headed in roughly the right direction. Wiser entrepreneurs have described their founding process as a weary realization that it’s what they had to do – in spite of what they knew would be impending pain and heartache. As unromantic as it is, there is often no leap. There is only a steady, unwavering pull (or push) to start something new.
Entrepreneurialism is a never-ending lesson in humility. If you are an effective entrepreneur, you end up hiring people smarter than you are in every function. After all, as a founder you are always just “minimally viable product,” holding a position only until an expert in the function comes along to relieve you. You also end up reporting to a Board smarter than you are, filled with people who have been there before, scaling organizations and keeping track of the signs of peril. Finally, you end up serving consumers who are way smarter than you in knowing exactly what they want. All you can do is commit to collaborating with all these amazing resources to get to the best solutions.
Most importantly, entrepreneurialism feels like optimism. For me, the most powerful thing about being an entrepreneur is my effort to believe that tomorrow can be better than today.
I started Julep because I want to build a better way for women to connect and empower each other, to have more fun, to explore, and to take more risks outside their comfort zones. Now, I want to build a better company, where we treat each other better and come up with better ideas. Entrepreneurialism is about a belief that better is achievable – one step at a time.
I didn’t start a company because I wanted freedom, or with the belief I would be jumping out of bed every day bursting in song. Asking the question “Are you happy because you’re an entrepreneur” is the wrong question altogether. I think a more appropriate question is, “Are you making a difference?” And to that I would answer “I am trying!” I know for sure that I’m more engaged and connected. And that’s what makes it exciting to wake up everyday.
First published at Forbes.com.