The Other Side of Cynicism
If you spend any amount of time in the Bay Area, you can’t help but be struck by the entrepreneurial spirit on display (seemingly) everywhere. Billboards promote the latest AI startup, not the usual Fortune 500 monolith. Coffee shops all over are filled with twenty and thirty somethings typing code, while random overheard conversations inevitably turn to the latest tech venture or entrepreneurial startup.
It’s an incredible environment that’s both exciting and intense, and only a handful of cities around the world come close to matching that same spirit. A spirit that keeps drawing more and more people in, creating venture after venture.
And the fact of the matter is that while some of those ventures will succeed, many won’t. Many startups, especially in today’s heated - some might say over-heated - environment, will raise plenty of funds, burn through it all but have little or nothing to show for it. In the words of a friend who’s also a VC, a couple will win big, a bunch will do ok but plenty (most) will disappear - not with a bang but with a whimper.
So as I sat in a coffee shop last week taking it all in, I thought about what makes someone want to take on that risk? Especially when so often, we’re urged to take on the “safe” professions and yet so many don’t. Why? Why even bother to dabble when the odds are stacked against you? (Yes, some of this was introspective, as I left a good career in my thirties to bootstrap my own business.)
Of course, so much of it is down to our risk tolerance, our circumstances and our personal history. Some of it is down to the perceived immortality and invincibility of youth. (Though I’ve met plenty of young folks who won’t take risks either.) Some of it is because some folks feel they have absolutely nothing to lose.
That said, I do think that, for just about everyone, they do it for the broader motivations: building something you believe in, a desire to swing for the fences or to solve the problems of the universe. All noble reasons that some will take on and others won’t: some will build those enterprises and others will work for those folks. (I don’t say that with any judgement, to be clear.)
I think the other commonality as to why one chooses the entrepreneurial path is that they choose not to get caught up in the excess of caution and cynicism that so often embeds itself in this particular decision process.
In other words, don’t not do it because you’re probably going to fail, that the odds are stacked against you. Or that any such failure will be the end of your story. That you’ll have “nowhere left to go” afterwards.
It’s important to remember that the decision to take on one of these opportunities is not a final decision in and of itself. In line with the themes I explored last week, if you decide to start or work for a new venture, it will almost certainly be just one sub story of your life.
Meaning, you’ll have plenty of other stories still to be told, some in related realms and others in tangentially related (or even completely unrelated) areas. The point of this sub story should be, what did you learn? How did it make you better? How did it change you? Did it make you better? Did you improve? And if so how?
The point is also to look at these lessons as transient points of optimism and not give in to the cynicism. We learn from everything, even our most desperate failures. (Especially from them.) So the choice to move forward should be driven with this in mind, the idea of the sub story contributing to your broader personal story.
Again, I’m not suggesting a specific path. Make whatever decisions you want. I’m just saying that we should make them for the right reasons. Reasons that drive us forward, and not hold us back.