In Real Leaders Don’t Follow, author Steve Tobak explains how real entrepreneurs can start, build, and run successful companies in highly competitive global markets. He provides unique insights from an insider perspective to help you make better-informed business and leadership decisions. In this edited excerpt, Tobak reveals the truth behind six popular myths to help you decide if entrepreneurship is the right road for you.
The entrepreneurial world has always been about challenging the status quo and questioning conventional wisdom in search of new and better ways of doing things. That’s what gave rise, in one way or another, to every great American company. After all, if you’re just going to follow the pack and do what everyone else is doing, you may as well just go out and get a job working for someone else.
Today, however, there’s a pervasive and nearly deafening mantra insisting that each and every one of you should quit your job and become an entrepreneur. The social collective says that every day you wait brings you closer to a life of poverty and regret.
But that’s simply not true. The idea that you can’t have a fulfilling career, be remarkably happy, and even get rich working for someone else is perhaps the most ludicrous, disingenuous, and irresponsible myth I’ve ever heard.
Don’t get me wrong: Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding. Starting your own business may be the best decision you ever make—but it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge, starting with a few myths that are very much in need of exposure.
Myth 1: Entrepreneurship is the only way to get rich.
This is a complete fabrication. Granted, the richest people in America are mostly entrepreneurs or members of entrepreneurial families, and half of America’s millionaires are self-employed. But that doesn’t mean they were always self-employed. Many of them worked for companies before striking out on their own.
Then there’s the other half of America’s millionaires who are not self-employed. Hundreds of companies such as Microsoft, Intel, Google, Apple, and Facebook created hundreds of thousands of millionaires. The truth is, there’s no data or logic to support the premise that any given person has a better chance of making more money or getting rich by being self-employed. And the notion that it’s a simple either-or proposition is a fallacy. You can do both.
Myth 2: Follow your passion or a cause, not the money.
This is another myth born of oversimplification. Some people discover what they love to do, make a living at it, and find fulfillment. Others do what they’re good at and achieve financial success, and that frees them to pursue their passion. Still others pursue a passion or a cause with no market, go broke, and wind up having to do work they don’t enjoy to make ends meet.
While you’ll probably have a better chance of being happy and successful if you enjoy what you do for a living, there are lots of other factors that determine whether you can pull it off. Passion alone won’t pay the bills. Passion and money are both important. You shouldn’t choose one or the other.
Myth 3: Entrepreneurship is more fulfilling and will make you happier.
Just about everyone enjoys doing great work they can be proud of. And you can do that working for a big company, a small company, or your own company. Fulfillment has absolutely nothing to do with business ownership. If you want to manage, lead, or run a business, you’re better off learning the ropes in a good company before starting your own.
And the last time I checked, the question of what makes a person happy is pretty subjective. Most people are actually happier without the headaches, risks, burdens, hurdles, and uncertainty of having their own company. A lot of people worry too much about what the popular crowd says they should be doing. I think that’s what’s making everyone feel guilty and less happy … but it shouldn’t.
Myth 4: Entrepreneurs have more freedom, less stress, and no bosses.
If you run your own business, there’s a good chance you work 24/7 and wear all sorts of hats you’re not necessarily comfortable with. Work often becomes your life, and the financial burden can be enormous. There’s nothing wrong with that, but not everyone feels more freedom and control and less stress that way. Many have the opposite response.
Besides, everyone has bosses. Depending on the size and type of company, entrepreneurs may have to answer to a board of directors, customers, and investors, not to mention federal, state, and municipal regulators and bureaucrats. Trust me, they can all be pretty bossy.
Myth 5: Corporate America is evil.
Every corporation — even giants like Apple and Walmart — began as somebody’s startup or small business. That’s right, a ginormous corporate behemoth is really just a small business that did really well. So why is entrepreneurship cool, while corporate America is evil?
I remember one of the mantras of the Occupy Wall Street movement was, “Corporations are not people.” Oh, yes, they are. They are run and staffed entirely by people. Every action they take and decision they make is by and for people. Their investors and customers are all people or companies that are themselves made up entirely of people. There is no distinction. Period.
As for companies, organizations, and governments that behave badly, it’s their leadership that’s the problem—the people running the show. So if you want to blame someone, blame the people not “corporate America.”
Myth 6: Technology destroyed all the jobs.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution we’ve worried about machines taking our jobs and technology taking over our lives. While outsourcing, offshoring, and technology have without a doubt changed the job market — particularly with respect to manufacturing — the popular mantra that there are no jobs is simply untrue.
If technology is destroying jobs, how do we explain the most lucrative and fastest-growing industry on the planet, technology? If people can’t find a job, chances are they lack in-demand skills and education. If anything, I think our families and educational system have done a poor job of keeping up with the changing market.
There’s also little doubt that the two big post-millennial recessions had a major impact on a growing gap between productivity and employment and the decline of median household income in the U.S. But that time frame also coincides with the advent of Web 2.0 and the distressingly low labor participation rate among Millennials.
Contrary to popular belief, technology is not destroying jobs. That’s a convenient excuse for a sluggish economy and a government that’s anything but business-friendly. But the more we behave like drones in a digital hive, the poorer we become. And that’s entirely by individual choice.
Don’t buy into popular myths. What you do with your career is your own business. Do what’s right for you, when it’s right for you. Follow your own path. Everything will work out fine.