Embracing Entrepreneurship: Finding Yourself

Know thyself. — Inscription on Ancient Greek Temple

This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. — Shakespeare (Polonius in Hamlet)

No risk, no reward. Photo credit: entrepreneur.com

It’s true. I am obsessed with startups. And pretty much only startups. After the startup phase I get a little bored. No, a lot bored. And if I’m involved at that point, I myself can become a bore and an irritation to those around me. I find it hard to find joy in work if I’m not starting something. In days past I struggled to accept this, feeling it was a weakness (if you’re a startup junkie like me, you may understand already understand what I’m saying). But I’ve gone through a “transforMAYtion” (think “A Bug’s Life”). Since that time, I have embraced it and love it. It is a big part of who I am and a constant source of happiness.

How did I go from fighting it to embracing it? From almost constant angst about it to almost constant enjoyment? This post is the somewhat brief story of that journey. What I found in the process is that once you know your strengths, weaknesses, and needs better, and then embrace who you are, your personal influence and likelihood of success increases dramatically. I hope something I share here will help you find similar results.

“Why can’t I be happy and satisfied with a fat salary, amazing benefits, stock options, and this agonizingly slow and painful pace?” I often asked myself, working as a General Manager in the public company that bought out my last startup.

Truly, I felt I was missing some quality of humility, submissiveness, or gratitude that made me unhappy with a job, that to all outward appearances, seemed ideal and almost anyone else I knew would have given their right leg (or arm, or some other valuable body part) to get into. I was working for a company whose stock had almost doubled since they acquired us. The CEO, whom I reported to, seemed to exert strong leadership and was passionate about his vision. The executive board had deep experience. They kept my team in tact. I was getting paid a great salary with no need to worry about where the next payroll check was going to come from. What was not to love? And why did I leave my position there after only a year, abandoning bucket-loads of stock and salary still on the table just waiting for me to bide my time to claim it?

Foolishness? To others’ eyes, only time will tell, I suppose. In my view, I already know it was the right thing to do, regardless of how things turn out. Here’s why.

First, the company that bought us out promised us entrepreneurial control along with a huge investment in our growth. For various reasons they were not able to follow through on those promises, meaning I was a General Manager with no budget control and no empowerment or resources to pursue the vision for our team. This left me demotivated.

Then late last summer, in the midst of all of this self-introspection, I attended a business luncheon put on by the Utah Technology Council. Author and speaker Timothy Clark presented “Does Your Organization Need Leaders or Managers?” During his presentation he explained that leadership was inherently an act of creation. Leadership was an act of disturbance rather than maintenance. These rang true to me as I had contemplated those thoughts before.

Then he said something that struck me to the core: “Leaders have a deep emotional need to create value and to be held accountable.” I realized two things instantly: first, that I was being given neither the opportunity to create value nor the empowerment to be held accountable in my job; second, that for me these were ‘deep emotional needs’.

As I contemplated that concept, I felt something (I do believe in God and His interest in our lives) whispering to me with that clear but sure understanding that comes on those rare occasions when we feel that the Divine is helping us get a clue, “Garin, this is a NEED for you. Not a WANT. Not a NICE TO HAVE. A NEED. So don’t worry about it. Embrace it. The world needs people with needs like yours.”

This new understanding about myself started the chain of events that led me to leave all of that and risk my own neck again on a new venture that I believe in. I learned that day that those feelings of dissatisfaction were not because of inherent weakness, but because of strengths and needs untapped. Can a painter feel satisfied when he’s not able to paint? Can a musician feel happy when she can’t make music? In short, I’m a startup artist and I had no startup to work on.

I learned to accept that I provide my very best value to my fellow beings in the world, and that I’m happiest in my work, when I’m building new solutions to problems that I understand. Anything short of that and I am left living the proverbial life ‘of quiet desperation.’

Since that time I have known with a certainty that entrepreneurship has to be a part of my life for the rest of my life.

What does this mean for you? Well, that is up to you to figure out. But when you are willing to give yourself to your passion (so long as it’s a productive passion and not self-destructive) you suddenly unlock your true potential. Follow what you love to do and do it with all your heart and you’ll find joy–and joy is true success. This may not mean the fat salary and stock options, but as I’ve learned, no amount of money or outward ‘success’ can fill the emotional holes that remain when who you are does not match up with what you are pursuing.