What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? Ask 100 people this question and you’ll get at least 100 different answers. Is an entrepreneur an inventor or a CEO? Is a small business owner an entrepreneur? Are they people who take wild risks or people who go to business school? Entrepreneurs could be all or none of those things. Entrepreneurs can’t be defined by their job titles, education, or even propensity for risk.
Instead, entrepreneurism should be thought of as a set of personality traits; worse than traits, they are symptoms of a disease. Maybe you can live a normal life with only one or two symptoms, but if you have a majority of the symptoms, you’ve got the disease. Having it myself, I can tell you two things with certainty: first, it’s not always a good thing and second, there is no cure.
Not that the media sees it that way. American culture in particular idolizes entrepreneurs. We’re fascinated by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson. Who wouldn’t want to be that successful, that powerful, that rich? The lure of fame and fortune attracts many, but there are a few problems with that line of thinking. First, fame and fortune is the exception, not the rule. Most new businesses fail. But more importantly, entrepreneurs don’t do what they do to make money. Instead, they do it because they can’t not do it. True entrepreneurs, the ones with the disease, love what they do to the point of obsession. They are accidental success stories, living with both a blessing and a curse.
Aspiring to be an entrepreneur is like aspiring to have a disease. In fact, in his book The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America, psychologist John Gartner argues that entrepreneurs are actually hypomanic – which means that they are slightly manic without the nasty side effects of depression. The difference between mania and hypomania is that hypomania is mild enough that it usually doesn’t interfere with being able to maintain a job or have normal social relationships. But both mania and hypomania are diagnosable psychiatric conditions, and the characteristics are pronounced:
– Persistently elevated mood
– Inflated self-esteem
– Decreased need for sleep
– Flight of ideas or racing thoughts
– Increase in goal-directed activity
Entrepreneurs surely identify with this list, as many wake up at the crack of dawn (or earlier) bursting with energy from 1000 ideas they can’t wait to implement. There is a ton of advice out there for entrepreneurs about establishing a work-life balance. I could offer similar tips, but none of the true entrepreneurs—those affected by the disease—would pay any heed.
If this doesn’t sound like you, be grateful. If you’d like to make good money and achieve career success, I’d recommend the tried-and-true path: stay in school, get a degree, become a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. There’s nothing stopping you from having a successful and stable career, making a good living, and supporting your family. Admire entrepreneurs from afar, but don’t try to catch the disease and become one of them!