If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”—Benjamin Franklin, American statesman and entrepreneur.
You have always dreamed of skydiving, imagining yourself in a freefall, high above the earth, parachute ready to open with the pull of arip cord. One day you decide to give it a try. You drive to the local airportand quickly spot the skydiving center at the edge of a wide airfield,far across a parking lot packed with cars. Along the facility’s roof aretowering letters of blinking red and yellow neon: Skydive Today. YouCan Do It. Do Not Delay! You follow a throng of people into the center, where a clerk ex-plains the two options available.
The “Basic Option” includes a train-ing program where you will pack your own parachute, with instructoroversight, and learn safety and operational procedures before board-ing a plane for your maiden jump. The fee is $250, and there will bea two-hour wait before the training begins. The clerk points to a thinline of customers who are checking cell phones, reading newspapers,and talking quietly among themselves. But there is also an “Express Option,” priced at only $75.
For thisprice, you can grab a pre-packed parachute assembly and hop aboardone of the many express flights without delay. The clerk says that you“should have time” during the plane’s ascent to figure out how to op erate your equipment before the pilot requires you to make your leap.“You’ll have a lot of company,” he says, “and you’re free to copy whatothers are doing.” He points to a fast-moving line of eager customers,high-fiving each other and congratulating themselves on the thrillsahead.
You hand over $75, grab a pack, and join the crowd in the belly ofa massive transport plane just as it begins to taxi toward the airport’scentral runway. Within minutes, the plane is airborne. You are on your way.
The above tale may seem far-fetched, especially to anyone familiarwith skydiving safety procedures. But the storyline is common in theworld of entrepreneurship, where enthusiastic founders often plungeahead in pursuit of big ideas without adequate awareness or prepa-ration, where unexamined assumptions and unnecessary risks arewidespread, and where the personal, financial, and professional stakesof launching a new venture are often exceedingly high. All in a hypedup, do-it-now atmosphere, fed by startup success stories and a sup-port industry eager to sell products and services to aspiring entre-preneurs.
If you are considering your own entrepreneurial leap or have al-ready taken the plunge, you understand the roller coaster of emotionsand the powerful pull of freedom and excitement that comes with thecommitment to launch a business. For all the challenges faced by newventures, a lack of passion is not one of them. Entrepreneurs are truebelievers, famously inspired and optimistic. These qualities are criti-cal, because getting a healthy venture off the ground can be extraor-dinarily difficult. Successful founders draw from deep wells ofconviction and faith to sustain themselves through long days and un-expected challenges.
Entrepreneurial passion is more than an internal emotional state.It is a booming industry, as evidenced by the many books, magazines,websites, products, and services that cater to the natural connection between passion and entrepreneurship, cheering would-be foundersto follow their dreams. With enough passion, anything seems possi-ble.
Disenchantment with large employers further fuels startup aspi-rations. The comic strip Dilbert and the hit TV show The Office areonly two iconic examples of entertainment products poking fun at theabsurdity of corporate life. Pamela Slim, author of the best-sellingbook Escape from Cubicle Nation, touched an eon-sized nerve in 2004when she launched her blog of the same name, aimed at the tens ofmillions of people desperate to leave corporate jobs to do their ownthing. Historically, these disgruntled souls have hung in there becauseof the relative stability offered by large employers. But this safety nethas vaporized over the past two decades as economic upheavals havecreated wave on wave of layoffs. The once-praised security of corpo-rate America has gone the way of the rotary phone.
Unfortunately, a significant gap exists between this high level ofdesire and what entrepreneurs actually achieve. Most new businessesfail within a few years of launch. Even investor-backed startups—pre-sumably led by talented founders with better-than-average ideas—fall short at remarkably high rates. And entrepreneurs who survivetheir first few years aren’t necessarily swimming in bliss. The typicalnew business owner works longer hours, endures greater stress, andearns significantly less over a ten-year period than if he or she had re-mained in a previous job. Clearly, this is not the world of the fabled4-Hour Workweek.