Learnings from 2017
As 2017 stumbles to a close, I have been thinking about the year and what it brought. In particular of course, what it brought and meant with regards to entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneur is not a word I used to describe myself in the past. I always preferred self-employed or freelance. But that distinction is becoming fainter and fainter and marketing yourself becomes so important to get clients.
The launch period of The Entrepreneur’s Emotional Toolbox brought with it many learnings. First and foremost, that the word entrepreneur is indeed understood in many different ways by many people… and for a lot of people it appears to be somewhat off putting. This is a good example of how the impact and meaning of words changes over time, under use (or misuse).
The main thing I learned is that starting off on your own in Amsterdam now is nowhere as isolated and isolating as it was when I started out on my own in Johannesburg in 1995. But that people still struggle with the burdens of being solely responsible for the success of their ideas, the existential loneliness and stress that this brings.
Despite self-employment being more common now than for a very long time, people still seem ill-equipped for the realities of coping with it on a day to day basis. I can’t help but feel that the dominant narrative of the ‘Entrepreneur As Superhero’ is a huge contributing factor to this.
If you’re not going to be Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Bill Gates, it seems you must have failed in some way. Very few people seem happy to accept a more mundane success: making a living and enjoying your life while not being at the beck and call of a job.
The dominant conversation is about way bigger things than mere survival. Which is a pity. Because not everyone goes out on their own because they are ultra-competitive or ambitious. In fact, a large percentage do so because they are not. We seem to forget that for a long time, working for yourself was the antidote to the status quo of mindless jobs, corporate hell and meaningless work.
The major thing I have learned? To be wary of the corporatisation of the notion of self-employment. I sort of accept that if you really DO want to build a huge business out of your idea, you are going to need the money to do that fast, which involves venture capital and corporations.
But what about the rest of us who just want to get some fulfilment and meaning out of our work and hve more control over our daily lifestyles?
On many levels, this is what I realised drove me to write the Toolbox: not to help people who want to sell their business and make millions. But to help those who want an independent life, and to work on their passions and interests without a full-time contract.
When people say Entrepreneur these days, it seems they don’t mean what I do. Now I am wondering about changing the title of the book….