For more than a decade of my life, I was a serial entrepreneur. A million wasn’t enough. I was running toward the billion-dollar dream. But I’m not anymore. I have no interest in being that type of entrepreneur ever again.
Everyone has their life-changing, light bulb moments. I want to tell you about the two moments that gave me permission to give up on somebody else’s dream.
Eighteen months ago, I was stuck. I’d been stuck going on five years and I didn’t really know how to get unstuck. All I knew was I was tired all the time and sick of my writing clients. I didn’t feel like writing books about the newest diet fad. I was tired of trying to find creative ways to publish valuable information but somehow include the latest gossip about Rick Ross or Oprah or Amber Rose for clicks and views.
My writing career had become time-consuming and unfulfilling. And as my ability to commit to, and focus on, writing shrank from my overall dissatisfaction, so did my income.
Here was the problem: Still lingering from more than a decade of being married to a natural entrepreneur was a nagging compulsion for me to continue starting and running businesses on my own. Granted, entrepreneurship was never really my dream. It was his. But after doing it for so long with him, I felt like I had to continue starting businesses because it fed my ego. It gave me significance.
But two things were sort of poking at me:
First, I never loved being an entrepreneur. In fact, the years I spent working 16-hour days and running my own businesses were my unhappiest, unhealthiest years of my life (I got pretty fat during that time and so short-tempered my staff didn’t like talking to me). What I hadn’t matured enough to admit to myself was that I’m actually at my best when I’m number 2. I love business administration. I really like helping other people’s visions come to life. I get the most fulfillment from using my genius alongside someone else’s genius to help them achieve their version of significance.
Second, I was smack dab in the middle of a sizzling hot love affair with motherhood. I mean, the time I spent in Momville was, by far, amounting to the best moments of my life. My daughters (now 21, 14, 3 and soon to be born in the next 24 hours) are awesome. During my years building businesses, I hadn’t had time to pay attention to their personalities, nuances, jokes, strengths, etc. I only recently figured out mothers get one shot at motherhood. After that, the kids grow up and go into the world, for better or for worse.
So there existed this dissonance in me between what I thought I should be able to accomplish with my skill set (successful entrepreneurship) and the areas where I felt most useful and productive (administration and motherhood).
Something Tony Robbins Said Sort of Jarred Me
One evening I was parked outside Six Flags, waiting for my daughter to wrap up with her friends. I was in a thoughtful kind of mood because while eating fast food at an Austell, GA McDonald’s I spotted a young prostitute. She couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17 years old. She probably wore between a size 12 and a 14. She was a fair-skinned white girl with brown hair and a round face, in a black mini dress and heels. Her behavior confirmed her age. She acted like a teenager. She kept her head down, looking at her feet as she walked slowly across the street, from one curb to the other.
I wondered if she had a family who was looking for her. I wondered which of the five or six young black guys standing close by selling drugs was watching her and profiting off her. I wondered how she ended up there.
To escape my own growing sadness, I drove away from that restaurant (never to return) and parked in the Six Flags Over Georgia parking lot and decided to YouTube a state-altering Tony Robbins video or two.
In one of the videos, I heard him say something to the effect that our values and actions should align. The example he used was you can’t say you want to start and run a billion-dollar company while also saying you want time freedom. The demands of starting a billion-dollar company don’t allow for time freedom.
That idea of alignment — or in my case, misalignment — settled on me.
I had been telling myself for years that I wanted to run a billion-dollar company. I didn’t have a real strategy for how I could spent all day and all night starting and running a billion-dollar company and still be around to shop for homecoming dresses with my daughter, get footage of drill competitions and track meets, and take time off to go see the latest Pixar film or Marvel movie (depending on which of my daughters I was hanging out with).
Still, running a billion-dollar company seemed like a noble dream for me to pursue, so I didn’t take it off the table. But that was the first time I could point a finger at that dissonance I felt, and see it for what it was — conflicting desires.
Then Something Gary Vee Said Settled Me
Months later, I watched a YouTube video of Gary Vaynerchuk giving a talk at USC about entrepreneurship. Six minutes into this talk at USC, Gary began talking about self-awareness. He pointed out that the room in which he was speaking was likely full of number 2s, 3s, and 4s but that many of the attendees would waste decades of their lives trying to be entrepreneurs (number 1s) because entrepreneurship is romantic and investors are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into startups, in search of the next Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat.
Hmm. True. Extra spending money aside, being an entrepreneur sucked for me. The reality was I preferred not to be the number 1 gal.
I’ve heard Gary talk extensively about the culture of entrepreneurship, and how twenty years ago, entrepreneurship wasn’t on anybody’s To Do list. I remember those days.
I remember how my family reacted to meeting my then future-husband and finding out he didn’t have a “good job.” My grandfather worked for big extermination company in Detroit. My dad worked for Detroit Edison, the power company. My uncle drove buses for the city. Another uncle worked for the state prison system. Another couple of uncles were military men. About 15 of my aunts (with exception of one who became a Hollywood agent) worked for the State and the hospitals.
The idea of building your own company and carving out your own path was a ridiculous sentiment back then. Twenty years ago, saying you were an entrepreneur was like saying you were a snake oil salesman. An unsuccessful one, at that. Back in the 1990s, the stigma of being an entrepreneur in a blue-collar town like Detroit was a constant hurdle for my ex-husband to overcome.
The flip side is I never had a problem getting a job. I enjoyed some of the jobs I held. I was always a good employee; I learned and took on more responsibility as my skill set developed.
But those rare times when my ex had to get a job, he couldn’t breathe. He did it for me, and he never worked for anyone else more than a few weeks. He is, to this day, a true entrepreneur. And I am happily self-employed.
That Which Drives Entrepreneurs Isn’t Really Money
The people occupying top 25 power positions in any Fortune 500 company will typically earn a lot more than most entrepreneurs. In fact, Fox Business put the average salary of an entrepreneur at $68,000 in 2013.
Most entrepreneurs believe they will eventually earn more money, but the money isn’t what drives them. Entrepreneurs create something from nothing — that’s their thing. The journey, the chase, is what drives an entrepreneur. Self-competition is the core driver of entrepreneurship.
But we now live in a culture where everybody thinks they can be an entrepreneur, without having any concept of the time, effort, focus, and diligence it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. I think it was Tony Robbins who said “Business is for gladiators.” And it is. But most folks who get in business now aren’t gladiators.
As an entrepreneur, I easily worked 15 to 20 hours a day six days a week. Often, when I got home, I was working on something — learning new software, updating the books, checking the general ledger… SOMETHING! Sure, there were benefits: I had bragging rights as a business owner. When my mom needed chemo, I could afford to pay her health insurance. But I didn’t have the time to take care of her when she was sick. I didn’t even have the time or the energy to cook dinner for my family.
Permission from Gary Vee
Gary’s talk gave me something: It gave me permission to remember who the hell I was before I got in the next-great-idea loop. Well into my 20s, I wanted to be a publisher. The Me who existed before the businesses and bragging rights wanted to own content and control media, not build systems and hire personnel. I was in my mid-thirties (post-divorce) before I finally got around to learning anything at all about publishing.
At my age (41), I realize I may have already lived more life than I have left to live. And I don’t want to spend any more years consumed with chasing money. Or significance.
I stopped trying to be an entrepreneur 12 months ago. No more entrepreneurship. I just… stopped. I let everything I was working on in November 2015 shrivel up and die. I took a job as a bookkeeper, something monotonous that I wouldn’t have to think about past 4PM every day.
After a year of being still, the only compulsion for me that remained was the original desire – publishing. I still wanted to create content for women and learn how to market it. That’s my drug.
Now I remember and clearly see where my lane begins and ends. I’m not stuck anymore. I don’t feel stuck. I don’t drag myself to a corporate job I hate to work for people I don’t respect. I’m fascinated by my writing clients. They are my heroes.
I make less money now than I did as an entrepreneur. But I haven’t had to overeat or sit in my car trying to cry out the unhappiness either. Just about every day, I end my home-based workday feeling like I crushed it, not like I’ve been crushed.
Forget about entrepreneurship. I am investing my precious attention into something worthwhile, something that suits me. And that’s got me feeling…. well, some type of way.