The Entrepreneurial Life Requires Sacrifice

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Six years ago ( 2012 ) I bought new shoes. This was to replace the pair of shoes pictured above, which I had purchased when I got out of the Army in 2005. So I wore these shoes for seven years. I took a photo of these shoes before I threw them away because I wanted to remember that.

I’m starting this blog post by mentioning this because I think it illustrates how little money I had in my young adult life even coming out of the Army. I owned one pair of shoes, and wore them until I literally couldn’t wear them safely anymore. I remember having to get new shoes because I was cutting my heels on rocks while walking down the street to buy groceries — and I was walking because I didn’t want to waste money on gas.

Flash forward three years later and I became an entertainment executive at a movie studio who dressed like this:

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That’s me, in the center in the Thunder Studios baseball hat.

So how did I change my stars? What did I start doing differently that allowed me to go from living below the poverty level, to wearing a nice suit and earning more money than I knew what to do with?

The truth is, even when I was broke I was on the right path.  I was doing the right thing. It wasn’t obvious to many people around me, but the things I was doing as a broke entrepreneur are the same things that made me a successful entrepreneur.

People misunderstand success and think if you are doing the “right” thing, you should get the rewards instantly. That’s rarely ever the case, in my experience.

All of the achievements I piled up throughout my twenties went toward creating the success I’ve had in my thirties.

People like to think of all the excuses on why they can’t be successful. They don’t have a degree. Their public school system sucked. Their parents are poor. They work all the time and earn very little money. Blah, blah blah.

Here’s some facts:

  • I dropped out of high school.
  • I dropped out of college.
  • My parents were poor. 
  • When I got out of the Army I worked all the time and made very little money.

The key difference is what I worked on, and what I spent that little bit of money on.

I worked on my own startups and I invested every penny back into my startups. Sure, I made a lot of mistakes along the way, so not every penny was as wisely spent as I would now, but I only learned how to spend wisely by spending with the intent to maximize the return and failing some of the time. The school of hard knocks is real, and everyone has to pay their dues. If you really do consider yourself to be intelligent, you are aware of the scientific method and how it demands experimentation. Truly intelligent people do not allow the fear of failure to guide their decision making. 

When you take your tiny bit of money and spend it on trying to be comfortable or look nice, you are throwing your chance at improving your economic situation away.

Do you want to get rich? Then stop spending your money on beer, cigarettes, weed, mobile apps, videogames, movies,  dinners out with your partner, and all that other luxurious life bullshit. Anything classed as “entertainment” or “recreation“, stop spending your money on that.

If you want to be rich then you need to start spending your money on growing a business. If you took all the money you spend on “feeling good” each month and started using it on business expenditures then you’d be better off in the long run.

Yes, it is true that most businesses fail. That’s very true. I’ve failed a lot at various things I have tried. But the reason a business fails is due to poor planning. When you barely have any money at all, you have to plan extensively to make every dollar stretch as far as it can. You are much more likely to succeed building a business as a broke person than as a rich person because rich people waste money trying to grow their businesses, because they get in the habit of using their money to solve problems, rather than their creativity.

This isn’t a hypothetical belief I have; I know it. I’ve worked for a rich person who wasted ridiculous sums of money on bullshit dumb things he didn’t need for his business to be successful. I could have built a dozen startups with that same money. I’ve even experienced this for myself — when you are flush with cash, you can lose your goddamn mind and waste money on stuff you shouldn’t. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

So trust me when I say that it’s better to be broke as fuck and start a new business, than to be rich while trying to start one. When you’re rich you have to eliminate a host of useless crap people are constantly trying to sell you, all the while trying to convince you that you’ll need it. But when you are poor you’ll plan the business better and automatically rule out this useless garbage because you simply can’t afford it anyway, and consequently your business will have a higher chance of success.

What kind of garbage am I referring to? Things like high priced website development, PR services,  consultants, newfangled CRM systems, event planners for launch parties, etc. etc. All kinds of bullshit that you might need at some point of your business’ life cycle, but that you really don’t need at the startup phase at all.

The biggest lie in the world is, “You can’t“.

You can’t do this” and “you can’t do that“, blah blah blah. It’s a lie, and worst of all it’s a lie we often tell ourselves because we fear failure and think it’s better to never try at all. Sure, maybe you won’t do something specifically the way another person did it, but that’s to be expected. You’re a different person. You as an individual are a host of raw talents and personality that define you. Of the experiences you’ve had, no one else has experienced them quite the way you have so the wisdom you’ve gained from them is different. Once you realize there is something specific and definable that makes you totally different than everyone else in the world and you manage to bottle the lightning that is your unique perspective on reality and how it makes you valuable, you’ll soar. Your life will be different. I promise you that.

If you want to be successful you have to do what others have done to get successful in the first place, and that was by finding that thing they were exceptionally good at doing which others were willing to pay for.

When I left the studio I had nothing again. I had to start completely over from scratch and that was incredibly hard to do. I had to find something to do. I lived out of my car traveling around working as a consultant for various companies wanting to do digital content. I lived out of bag (s) so I could be efficient, and cut down whatever expenses I could to start putting money toward finishing the technology that would become Zenither. Things seemed completely bleak in those days. Anyone looking at me probably thought I was a lunatic. Yet here I am, almost two years later with the Zenither app on my phone.

Very few working class jobs lead to wealth. But taking the little money you earn and putting it into building your own business can lead you there. The other path is to secure a job that pays very well, none of which is going to be a working class one. It’s going to largely be a very skilled trade of which there is a small pool of qualified job applicants. Public education can suck, but the internet is the great equalizer and everyone has access to the internet, even for free from public library computers. You can teach yourself anything today and even without a degree, if you have the skills you can get the pay.

What I probably regret the most about my choice to become an entrepreneur are the personal sacrifices I’ve made along the way.

The first of these sacrifices have been in my love life. I’ve dated a lot, but my relationships tended to blow up in my face as my girlfriends got frustrated at how I would spend the bulk of my money into my startups trying to build a business, rather than on activities like dates. There’s other reasons they will say for why we broke up, but when you boil down to it the root of these problems was money. This stung me for a long time because many of these women I genuinely loved and at times I would hate myself for choosing my business over them. Yet by the time they were done with me, it was too late. I couldn’t have dropped my entrepreneurial life and won them back as the relationships had deteriorated to a point of no going back.

In hindsight, it’s for the best that things worked out the way they did. I would not have gotten to where I am if I had given up on my own dreams in order to please someone that didn’t fully support my dreams or believe I could suceed at them.

The second of these sacrifices was in family. Most of my family live in my hometown and in my line of work, there’s nothing for me in the entire state I grew up in let alone my hometown. I couldn’t even have gone to film school in my home state. I had to leave home and go on a journey to find my path in life, and while it got easier as time moved on now that I am older I have realized I have missed a lot. That was an enormous sacrifice and it is something that is probably always going to bother me. Also because I was unable to maintain a stable relationship I find myself unmarried at thirty five years of age and with no children. It’s not how I saw myself at this age when I was younger.

There’s a great emotional toll that being an entrepreneur has taken on me. I’ve outgrown friendships. I’ve lost great loves. I’ve felt enormous betrayals of trust. I’ve known what it feels like to look out a window of my executive office and say to myself, “I’ve done it, I’ve obtained my dream to break into the film industry” and then to have it all stolen away from me in a flash. If you are aiming for a big dream with your own venture you should steel your nerves for something like that to maybe happen to you, too. It just might. And like me you’ll have to endure a long dark night of the soul to figure out what to do afterwards. I chose to throw my hat in the ring again, and carry on rebuilding my company to achieve my dream.

I want to show you this photo.

 

Everything I need to start a new business can fit inside this backpack and this luggage. Here’s the breakdown of what is in it.

I know that I can, because I went through it these past few years. If you have more than what I have in my bags then you too can probably succeed as an entrepreneur. You just need to prepare yourself to do it and then go do it.

I made conscious, intentional decisions to get to where I am right now. There have been many failures along the way, but I still persist in not succumbing to the fear of failing. I pick myself back up from sorrow and I keep going.

Some people have this unfounded idea that if something is “meant to be”, it just will be. Like it’ll just be that easy. You’ll tell everyone your ideas and suddenly the whole world opens up to you. But that’s not how things work. Magical thinking doesn’t cause change in the universe; hard work does. And part of that work is ignoring your fear of failing.

By enduring my fears I created opportunities that would never have existed had I not believed in myself more than I feared failure. If anything, I fail fast so I can figure out the right path to go down.