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Entrepreneurs, Fear of Success, and the Myth of Commonality

“You are testing my patience.”

I had just shared an article with my husband on “Secret Dining,” a hip new trend making its way from Chicago to New York. Essentially these underground “restaurants” offer gourmet dinners at invitation-only parties in exchange for “donations.” Sometimes dinners are combined with salon-type discussions, art showings, or other events. Cool, exclusive, hip. All the fun of running an upscale restaurant without all the health department hassles.

I am a woman with a many interests. In one recent lunch conversation a friend and I managed to touch on a mind-boggling array of topics including martial arts, knitting and crocheting, gourmet cooking, Tarot cards, dream interpretation, massage/bodywork, marriage, writing, photography, tea ceremonies, pottery, journaling, and what she plans on doing when she becomes an empty nester a year from now. This was before I read the Secret Dining article, which now had me thinking about our monthly parties and the musicians I would love to have play for us and how a playwright friend may want to use our home as a set for a play. A little Midsummer Night’s Dream in our woods, perhaps?

My husband knows me very well and followed my river of unspoken thoughts to its logical conclusion while I casually ate my dinner and waited for him to finish reading. Once he reached the end, he calmly placed the paper on the table, looked me in the eye and said “No, you cannot open a restaurant in our home.” All attempts to deny that I had been seriously entertaining the thought were met with patient silence and the knowing look that told me I was fooling no one.

Then he asked the Question of Death: “When are you going to do what you are really supposed to be doing and write your book?”

“Whaaaa, but I don’t know what the book is.”

“Yes you do. You know the one after that, too. You think you have to know the book completely before you write it but it doesn’t work that way. Everything that you are learning and everything that you know doesn’t mean anything to anyone unless you are going to do something with it.”

To make matters worse, he then listed all the things I had been dabbling in, both for fun and profit, since leaving my prior career. With my newly awakened entrepreneurialism added to all my prior avocational interests, my list of pursuits had grown to absolutely ridiculous proportions. After a long history of job burnout and a passionate desire to create an ideal life, I had somehow stumbled into a love affair with one distraction after another.

Yes, my little entrepreneurial chickadees, it does take one to know one. I do understand what it is like to live with a brain that keeps churning out an endless stream of ideas for business and pleasure. I suspect true entrepreneurs are born and not made and that it simply will not be possible for people wired this way to control their flow of ideas. Nor should they.

There is, however, an art to recognizing which ideas are simply bright and shiny distractions and which are actually worth pursuing. I offer you a few points for consideration to help you on your way:

Be honest with yourself and your feelings about success. Entrepreneurs can be incredibly resistant to commitment, always wondering if a better, cooler, more fun and interesting idea is about to come along. Is it possible you may hold yourself back from commitment because success in one arena may limit your ability to play in other areas of your creative sandbox? What has been the payoff in not letting any of your ideas take the lead position? What will help you pick the “right” idea to put your energy behind?

On this last point, I’d suggest giving serious consideration to the idea that has been coming up over and over again in every list, journal, and master plan you have written down in the last ten or twenty years. You know the one. It may appear in different clothes from time to time, but the basic idea or theme always shows up. Maybe you want to promote wellness in some form or fashion. Maybe your interest lies in the arena of social change. Maybe you are always making order out of chaos and like creating environments to suit certain needs. Maybe you are forever pulling together events or creating experiences for people.

What is it that always gets relegated to the realm of hobby that you keep going back to no matter how many new things have been added to your life? What is so easy for you to do that you simply refuse to respect it?

Remember the Myth of Commonality. Many would-be entrepreneurs and small business owners fail to value what they are brilliant at precisely because they accomplish it with such ease. We assume that whatever is easy for us must be easy for everyone. Ironically, the easier something is for us, the less value we place on it, all the while admiring others who exhibit the apparent ease that comes with mastery, such as icons Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Carlos Santana.

Many of us have adopted such negative connotations around work and what it feels like that it takes a certain dedication and commitment to regain respect for one’s natural talents. Failure to do so, however, risks having one’s greatest assets minimized and attempts to employ them limited to the status of a hobby. It is important to resist treating one’s passion, that thing you do as easily as breathing, like common currency and all attempts to use it as secondary endeavors.

Learn to see whatever else already knows. Nietzsche implores us to become who we are. Too often adults push away or blatantly ignore gifts they have been demonstrating in some form or fashion since childhood. I learned recently from my mother that I began speaking at nine months of age, short sentences at one year. Is it any wonder I write and communicate for a living? I’ve been immersed in personal development work since I was 18, but it took me until I was nearly 43 years old and the insistence of my husband to look at this squarely in the eye. While I certainly enjoyed the playground of my mind and its endless stream of ideas, I had nearly mastered the art of stopping just short of full acknowledgement of what I most wanted to dedicate myself to.

Dedication to the one thing you hold most dear is a fearsome thing. I suspect many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. The risks of failure can be devastating to consider. Jumping from creative game to creative game is far more entertaining and the psychic cost of any failed experiment is effectively minimized in such pursuits. I suggest to you that the alternative is far worse, however. The alternative is that you never truly show up at all.

I’ll leave you with Martha Graham who said it so beautifully:

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost.”

About Laura Young

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    Great thoughts. Couldn’t agree more. I decided to become who I am at 33. It’s easy to regret not seeing it earlier – especially with instability at its height.

  • http://laurayoung.typepad.com Laura Young

    Well, if it’s any consolation, Alessandro, you may be ahead of the curve. I know many people who are just asking themselves the question of “So who am I really?” in a serious way when they are in their 40s and 50s. We joke a lot about people needing to find themselves, but it’s true, it’s very hard to get a clear view of ourselves. And we get such varied reflections back from our relationships across our different roles, it can be like living in a house of mirrors.