When I was younger, my only desire in life was to be a professional musician. I fell into a trap, though: everyone I met told me the myth of the “starving artist” and said I couldn’t possibly be successful. You have to be very lucky to achieve something like that, and no matter what you do, if it isn’t meant to be, it won’t happen.
Since then, I’ve learned that it isn’t true. You make your own luck, and those around you are likely to just parrot back something they heard that addresses their own insecurities. Most people have a dream like I did, and then hit a roadblock (or several). They become insecure because they failed (or never even tried), and pass those insecurities on to you without even realizing it. Thus, myths like “the starving artist” and “the starving entrepreneur” and “the viral video” propagate. This is called the “shadow self” in Jungian psychology. It means that others will project their own emotions onto you, and explains a lot of seemingly irrational behavior.
How many times have you heard, “the average entrepreneur works X hours per week” where X is some absurd number like 60-100?
Do you think it’s true? When I had my first serious business venture, I can tell you that I did in fact work about 60 hours per week. But 20 of that was spent tinkering with my website. I spent ten hours a week driving around town with no real plan, maybe cold-walking a couple of businesses if I felt like it. In all, I probably actually worked 20 hours a week. Why does this myth propagate? I believe it’s because entrepreneurs want to feel like they’re accomplishing something. It’s so difficult to find your direction that it sometimes helps to just tell your self that you’re working hard so that you don’t get discouraged. If you decide to give up, you might tell others that starting a business is a lot of work, that it requires a great deal of luck, and that they’ll probably starve.
In fact, entrepreneurship is hard work. There’s no way around it- but it isn’t the kind of hard work where you spend hours breaking rocks, slowly working towards a goal. It’s the kind of work where you have huge gaps in awareness of whether or not you’re reaching your goal. Oftentimes, these gaps lead entrepreneurs to give up prematurely.
Instead, entrepreneurship is all about the set-up. You wouldn’t expect a musician to go up on stage and play a mind-blowing set without learning how to play an instrument first. It takes years and years to learn, and then decades to master an instrument. Why do so many people think that entrepreneurs can jump on stage and become an overnight success?
The truth is that they don’t see the work that goes into the final product. They don’t see the long nights of writing because an idea struck at that moment. They don’t see the self-doubt and insecurity that plagues us for a long time. They don’t see days, months, even years of work be thrown in the trash because it wasn’t up to your standards. They don’t see the guilt that comes from risking so much for so little. They just see the guy on the beach, sipping a margarita and earning “passive income”. And they don’t want to see anything else!
People want to believe in the overnight success because it makes them feel better. It makes them feel like their own failures are someone else’s fault, and it gives them a sliver of hope that they can make “their big break”.
Meanwhile, we do everything possible to better ourselves and our businesses. We read, talk, and learn with a curious mind, so that when everyone is telling us we’ll fail and we’re down in the pits, we can persevere.
Today’s article is inspired by this awesome article over at GrowthLab: