How I screwed up (anxieties of an entrepreneur)

September 29 2014

The following is taken from an interview with Jahan Mantin. For the original article, click here.

In the beginning I didn’t have my story straight. I knew there was value in getting certain people into a room to share and learn from each other, but I didn’t know how to articulate it. In my mind, the story and its importance was perfectly clear. My intuition of human dynamics and relationships was always on target. But the business side was lacking. I had to thrash and experiment and test formulas to make it sustainable. It didn’t happen overnight.

I didn’t come from a business background. I had a lot to learn and made a lot of mistakes. This is part of it. You have to go through it, do the work and press on.

Overcoming anxiety 

When I first started hosting dinners I was absolutely petrified. I’d give myself pep talks on the train before every event. The fact that I managed to convince these incredibly smart, brilliant, talented people to come meet each other in a secret room became a tremendous burden. I put intense pressure on myself to organize unforgettable evenings. My anxiety was through the roof. “What if no one shoes up? What if plates come crashing down off the walls? What happens if someone becomes angry and storms out? If I forget someone’s name? If someone drinks too much and stumbles down the stairs?”

Eventually I realized my fears were mostly irrational. Thankfully, I got to a place where I could recognize that these dinners are beyond me. Yes, I still get nervous, but I can manage my anxiety with the understanding that my responsibility is to provide the platform for people to come together and meet and enjoy. The rest is ultimately up to them.

The pressure of being an entrepreneur

We spend most of our young lives being told what to do. School is laid out for us, and certain milestones seem preordained — job, college, house, friends, relationship. When you start your own business, there is no set plan. There’s a sense of leaping, falling, an uncertainty of what’s to come.

For me, this levity was accompanied by obligation, a duty to see it through. It’s easy to shy away from fear like a fire, but these scary moments show us who we are.  When we are petrified and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we grow.

Why do so many people become entrepreneurs when it feels like such a big risk?

At first glance, entrepreneurship doesn’t seem safe. Safety is 9 – 5, a steady paycheck and stock options. But if you think about it, freedom and creative independence can provide more security than any job. At any point you can be fired. When you create your own business/service/product, the power is in your hands.

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Not everyone wants to run their own show; it’s demanding and tough. But you owe it to yourself to sit down and ask, “What do I want? What do I want to contribute to the world? What brings me the most joy?”

When do you know you’re ready?

You have to be honest, ask hard questions and give yourself the time to go through the process of identifying your values and priorities, your skills and talents, what you’re really good at.

If you wait for the right moment, the right time, you’re never going to ship. You’re never going to put work out into the world. You’ll never create art (of which the most interesting and successful is far from perfect). You have to reach the point where it’s good enough, where you can feel satisfied and confident. “Done” is better than perfection.

There are always edits to be made. It can — and probably will — be improved. But your work has to make it out into the world.