Guest post by Robert Richman
As entrepreneurs we often hit that point where we question everything: Do I stay with this business or do I try something else?
It can be a gut wrenching time. The success stories say to stick with it, stay dedicated and you’ll win. But the history of business is also littered with failures as 1 out of every 5 don’t even make it past year 1. So what’s the difference between the stories of glory and the tragedies of entrepreneurs who held on for too long? This answer may surprise you: It’s how they felt.
Let me explain….
People are surprised to hear I don’t have an MBA. And while I don’t have a degree, I did go to the business school of hard knocks. I risked everything on a dream I had, and I didn’t just lose, I went into $60,000 worth of debt and had to sell most of my things to avoid going bankrupt. For a long time it didn’t make sense to me. I really stuck to it, so why did it all end so terribly?
The answer hit me when I was reading Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. There’s a time in his story when he risked it all on Zappos.com. The company was still not profitable, but they had happy customers, and even more importantly, he and the whole team felt happy working there. They loved every day of it. So to him it was worth betting it all to save what he loved.
When I looked back on my own story, I realized I actually didn’t like working on my startup. I was stressed out, working two jobs, fighting with my partners, and worrying every day. In other words, the feeling of it was terrible, and my health took a toll, not to mention crumbling relationships with friends and family. With all that in retrospect, can you see why I’m actually thankful the business went down in flames?
Now that I have this perspective, I can see all the things I did wrong, and I truly believe I got my business school education (for less than the cost of an Ivy league school).
Here’s what happened next… I had no idea what to do. The only thing that was clear to me was that I always wanted to become a spinning instructor but never took the time. Everyone knows there’s no money there, but I got trained and certified, and loved every moment of it, and that really cleared my mind. I felt passionate and aligned. So I focused on marketing consulting, got myself out of debt, and now I’m an entrepreneur for Zappos, launching several new divisions. And it all started by simply focusing on my own happiness.
Let me leave you with a story of another entrepreneur that may shed light on your own experience. John came to me for business coaching because he didn’t know whether or not to end his start-up. “Our customers love it, and I really want this to succeed, but my wife is still making most of our money and she’s wondering how much longer she can take it.” I thought about it for a moment and asked him:
“How are you coming home every day? Are you totally charged up and driven, and energized by what you’re doing? Or are you coming home worn out and stressed.”
“I’m coming home very stressed,” he said. “And I can be in a terrible mood.”
“That’s what I think is really disturbing your wife. It seems that she really loves you and wants you to be happy. But to see you lose your money, and not even enjoy what you’re doing… that must be killing her.”
I let John know that if he can find a way to love his work, then not only will his wife be happier, he’ll also have the peace and clarity to detach himself from his business enough to see it clearly and make the right strategic decisions.
I hope that wherever you are in your business, you can take a step back and ask, “Am I enjoying myself everyday?” Because the tragedy of failure is not about a lack of revenue. The tragedy is looking back and seeing a wasted life. Commit to your own happiness, and your own enjoyment, and watch as that spreads to clients, customers, employees, and your own friends and family.
Robert Richman is the manager of Zappos Insights, a Zappos company that teaches organizations how to create a strong culture. He’s had many careers and ventures, and now speaks to Fortune 500 companies on how to drive performance through improving company culture. His personal musings can be found at RobertRichman.com
What’s the thing that scares you most about being a business owner? Please share in the comments!