"Leap and the net will appear"

January 21, 2014

This is one of my favorite quotes, told to me by Sean Lilly Wilson, an entrepreneur in Durham, NC who started the wildy successful Fullsteam Brewery (check it out at www.Fullsteam.ag). When Sean initially made that statement, my rational brain said he was crazy. If that was his philosophy, he was in for a world of pain. But my emotional brain loved the guy and couldn't get enough of his brilliance. I've toiled with the idea of joining the startup world for some time now. The prospect of working for myself is enticing, to say the least- no more project status reports, no more corporate bureaucracy and no more… steady paycheck and benefits. Oh right, damn. I was so close to putting in my 2 weeks notice. So how exactly do you decide to take the leap? There are so many factors to consider and so many potential risks. 

I think many people are looking for a sign from above. They want a Steve Jobs look-alike in a black mock turtleneck to approach them in a mall and say, “What are you waiting for?” Others take the leap because they're fed up with their current situation and the startup route is clearly a better option. They hate their boss, they hate their job, and they’re generally unhappy with the path their life is headed. Others have hit a dead end and are out of options. There are 2 seconds on the clock and they're forced to throw a hail mary. But what if your situation is none of the above? What if you have options, and good ones at that? Do you create a list of pros and cons? Do you calculate a weighted average of factors to determine the probability of success and failure? Or do you plan out the worst-case scenario and determine how you’d bounce back from it? This is the situation I fall into. I have a steady paycheck at a job that I enjoy. I like my boss and my career path theoretically has a decent amount of runway ahead of it. But I'm constantly wondering if this is what I'm meant to do; perhaps I'm not fulfilling my potential or maybe there's a more ideal situation out there that I'm meant to explore. For me, the startup world has been faintly calling my name ever since I took my first entrepreneurship class in grad school.

Fast forward just a bit... so you've settled on a great idea, you clearly have the drive and the stars are aligning to make this as good a time as any to jump off the ledge. What's stopping you? Do you still have that small voice in the back of your head saying, "Don't do something stupid, you idiot!!?" I certainly do. Here's where the intangibles come into play, the things that are more difficult to quantify. For me, it boils down to 3 things:

1. Self Validation - I alluded to this before. I need to know if I can do it. I need to know if there's something more for me in this world. The faint whisper of entrepreneurship isn't going away unless I enter the arena.

2. Overcoming laziness - Paul Graham has an awesome quote that reads, "If you're trying to choose between two [things] and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right." He offers the example of choosing between watching TV or going for a run. Go running every time- no hesitation. "The only reason you're considering the other [option] is laziness." Think about that for a second, it's so obvious yet so profound. We're presented with dozens of decisions every day. If you make even one decision not to be lazy each day, just think how much more productive you'd be in your life.

3. The Thrill - When you get together with friends, do they want to talk about their boring desk jobs? What if you were launching your new business, would they focus the conversation on you? Startups are inherently interesting, and when people ask you about your startup, it's energizing. It's energizing to the point that you can't help but work harder so that the next time someone asks you about your business, you have news for them. If that's not the most inspiring, self-sustaining cycle of energy out there, I'm not sure what is.

The reality is that startups are risky. As Michael Arrington puts it, "A tiny minority of entrepreneurs ever get rich. And the majority of them would probably make far more money, and have more stable personal relationships, if they just worked for someone else." So here's my advice to you. If you have a passion for something, follow it. Whether you choose to follow your passion at an established organization or build something yourself is entirely up to you. Just don't be lazy; find the answer to those burning questions in your life and fulfill your potential. We only have a finite amount of time on this earth to explore our passions, and that window has a giant clock attached to it counting down to zero. 

Turn the clock off.

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