So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur?

The media have a lot to say about Gen Y's special talent for entrepreneurship. Websites, books, and blogs have discussed numerous stories of 20-somethings developing new products and services that take the world by storm. Of course, the rewards of being an entrepreneur can be substantial — you are your own boss, you can work with people who have similar vision and interests, and there is the hope that your endeavor will become wildly successful.

As a workplace psychologist, I am intrigued, but at the same time vaguely worried about these claims. As I thought it through, I realized why. One key bit of advice that I always share with individuals seeking career direction is that no job or lifestyle is right for all people, regardless of the job's obvious strengths. It's just plain common sense. That rule also applies to the role of entrepreneur — it's just not for everyone.  In fact, it is a role appropriate for only for a select group of individuals.

The following is a guide of that can help you decide if the entrepreneurial lifestyle is right for you. If any of these points raise a red flag in your mind, it's time to put your plans on hold and reconsider. Do you have what it takes?

  1. Do you have a real passion for the service or product you want to launch? If you don't eat, sleep, and breathe your product or service, reconsider. You should be driving your friends and family crazy with your idea and lying awake at night thinking about it. Without a real passion you will be lost when times get rough and the challenges begin to present themselves.
  2. Are you confident? If you are the kind of person who is easily shaken by discouraging information, look for another career. There will be many, many people who will doubt your vision and your capability to launch your own venture. More than likely they will be highly vocal about it.
  3. Can you handle delayed gratification? The payoff for the time and other resources you invest may not be right around the corner. Most likely it will be an extended period of time before you reap any rewards. This is not the kind of endeavor that is microwave ready. Be prepared to wait.
  4. Are you persistent? There will be a lot of potholes and bumps in the road leading to success. The failure rate for new ventures is high, so entrepreneurs have to have a real stomach for failure on the way to success. If you are an individual who tolerates obstacles well, you may be on the right path.
  5. Are you intrinsically vs. extrinsically motivated? If you are in it just for the external rewards such as money or prestige, you are at a serious disadvantage. It may be quite some time before you are in the black financially. The type of reward that you hopefully will be enjoying in the short term is satisfaction for a job well done. In plainer terms, the motivation and the success you feel should come from within.
  6. Are you a self starter? Remember that there will be no threat of your boss or supervisor passing out punishments if you lose focus. When you decide that you want to sleep in or just take a break from your work, the only one who is going to care is you. If you fail to meet a deadline, or follow up on an important contact, the only one who will really care is you. You get the picture.
  7. Do you have a high tolerance for ambiguity? When becoming an entrepreneur, you may not know if your life is up or down for quite some time. There will be challenges that you could never even imagine at the start of your journey, and sometimes it will feel as if you are in the middle of a desert without a canteen. If you are the type of person who has to know that you can pick up your paycheck at 5:00 PM on Friday, run in the other direction.
  8. Do have enough money to carry you through until you can make a living? Some serious time may pass before you can support yourself with your new venture. Take that into consideration when you are thinking about leaving a paying job (or turning down a paying job) to pursue your dream exclusively. Lots of people work more than one job at a time in order to pursue their dreams.

Marla Gottschalk is a workplace psychologist and career coach. Read the results of her most recent survey of twenty-somethings, Gen Y @ Work.