Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers, once said, “Most of entrepreneurship, for me, is about instinct and intuition. Many times I have been asked by someone considering a new venture if he should go for it. But an entrepreneur knows instinctively when to go for it.”
Basically Dell was saying you don’t need to ask yourself whether you are cut out to be an entrepreneur. When the time is right, you will do it, and if you let the opportunity slip by, perhaps you were never meant to be an entrepreneur in the first place.
This is an interesting perspective on the issue, because one of the first questions people ask when they are thinking of taking the entrepreneurial leap is, “Am I cut out for it?” They try to understand the entrepreneurial mindset by reading books and magazine articles, or taking personality tests, and asking themselves how close they come to matching the ideal personality. But Dell is saying none of that matters unless you feel the instinct in your gut when the time is right.
As we journey through life, we learn a lot about ourselves. We find out who we are, we find out what kind of person we want to share our lives with, and we find out what kind of career is right for us. The thing is, we only learn that stuff by living life. We only find out who we are by experimenting and learning from our successes and mistakes. We have to give ourselves space to fail and time to get lost. There is no other way to do it.
This “live by doing” philosophy applies to entrepreneurship, too. There is no business in the world that knows exactly what will happen when it launches a new product or service. There are beliefs and hopes, educated guesses, and calculations and research. But there is no certainty. Later, the successful ones can chalk up their good fortune to careful analysis and pure genius. But at the starting line, no one really knows what is going to happen.
So you can fully expect to feel nervous until your product starts to sell and the cash appears in your bank account. But actually, when you get to that point, your nervousness will start all over again, because your customers will start talking about the next product you should introduce. Further opportunity will come knocking, but the anxiety and self-doubt will come creeping back in, too, when you start wondering if this next new product will also be successful.
Even though it might feel more unstable and more unpredictable, though, entrepreneurship is actually no more risky than working for a large company. In fact, most successful entrepreneurs are risk minimizers, perhaps even more so than their corporate-employed brethren. They know that succeeding in any business isn’t easy, regardless of the environment you are in. It takes a lot of work, many sleepless nights, days of exhaustive brain-storming, and learning and relearning.
We see the idealized, dreamy image in ads, and it often appears to us too when we are sitting comfortably in our corporate offices: The entrepreneurial life is one of carefree living, working barefoot from the beach, laptop perched on white linen pants rolled up to mid-calf, hands clasped behind a head tilted skyward to dream. But entrepreneurship isn’t always about freedom, flexibility, and doing only what you want to do. Michael Dell also tells us, “I don’t like to do just the things I like to do. I like to do things that cause the company to succeed. I don’t spend a lot of time doing my favorite activities.”
So, follow your entrepreneurial dreams because a burning instinct in your gut tells you you have to do it now. Years from now, when you are looking back on your life, you probably won’t say, “I wish I had worn white linen pants on the beach more often”. But if you hear the calling and you spend years ignoring it, you will definitely say, “I should have pulled the trigger.”