I almost didn’t become an entrepreneur.
Don’t get me wrong — I didn’t set out for my elementary school career day thinking, no, entrepreneurship isn’t for me. I didn’t make a conscious decision to wall off business-building as a career choice, either. If anything, the vague idea of starting a company was something that maybe I might want to pursue, someday. In theory.
Here’s the issue with “someday,” though — it tends to stretch out on you. You promise yourself to start planning tomorrow, or maybe next week. You write in a firm date which, a few weeks later, you erase and re-mark for the following month. There’s always a reason to slide it just a few days down the calendar until, eventually, you forget to pencil in a new mark. Each new excuse is another brick laid on the invisible wall keeping you within your comfort zone — and on some level, you recognize that stepping over the barrier might put the life you built behind it at risk. The idea frightens you, so you remain noncommittal, peering over the top of the wall even as you add another brick.
I first recognized my wall on a Tuesday morning. Nothing particularly stood out about the day; I had come into the office and started working on a project for the firm I was employed by at the time. I knew that I could accomplish the tasks assigned to me, that I would be paid well for doing so, and that at the end of the day, I could go home and relax. Somewhere between finishing one project and starting another, I found myself thinking:
I could do this for the rest of my life, and be absolutely fine.
Not great, not terrible, just — fine. I realized that I might not ever pursue the business idea that had been poking at me for years, but I also wouldn’t put the comfortable life I’d carved out for my wife and me at risk. All I had to do to maintain my current standard of living was nothing at all.
I’ll be honest; the thought shocked me a little. I’ve never been that guy who skated through class or checked off a barely-acceptable to-do list at work. I grew up solidly middle-class in Nowhere, PA, and stayed up nights to get into a good college; I worked long hours in my early career to ensure that I could comfortably support my family. I wasn’t used to apathy — and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I kept hiding behind “someday” to protect my cozy life, I’d regret never having tried to reach for my dreams.
Once that realization hit, I knew I had to knock down my wall.
The next few months were the best and worst I’d ever experienced. I left my secure nine-to-five and started the process of bringing my dusty ideas to life. I was simultaneously exhausted, empowered, stressed, and thrilled; I felt more alive in my career than I ever had before. I completely sacrificed the comfort I had tried to protect for so long, all in the hopes that I could reach my dreams. Ultimately, that sacrifice and the work that came with it paid off — I founded Ashcroft Capital in 2015.
My story is wrapped up in my entrepreneurship journey, but it applies to other experiences as well; it could be relevant in your relationships, your career path, or even your travel aspirations. Don’t let your comfort hold you back from achieving your dreams! Here are a few tips for breaking down your comfort zone’s “wall.”
Assess the Risks
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting that taking significant risks is wise, or that you should take them carelessly. Entrepreneurs are prone to risk-taking; one study published in an issue of Applied Psychology found that in “naturalistic-business risky situations,” participants who expressed an interest in or inclination towards entrepreneurship were more likely to make risky decisions. This isn’t always a good trait; after all, it’s incredibly hard to know if the untested tactics you implement will pay off in the long run, especially if you don’t do your due diligence.
Entrepreneurs need to push the envelope to succeed — but they also need to consider which risks aren’t worth taking. Being able to distinguish a calculated risk from a reckless one is a skill that separates those who accomplish their dreams from those who fail and set their career back years.
Ask for Advice, But Don’t Follow it Blindly
Mentorship is important. No rookie entrepreneur has the industry knowledge to start a business perfectly right of the bat. Having a mentor can be invaluable; one recent analysis published by the nonprofit incubator Endeavor found that “companies whose founders have been mentored by a top-performing entrepreneur are three times more likely to go on to become top performers themselves.”
Here’s the issue: finding a “top-performing entrepreneur” willing to sweep you under their wings and up towards success is a little like picking up one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets. It’s a long shot. Odds are, you probably won’t find a mentor who has all of the “right” answers. You’ll need to push through the uncertainty and listen — but not blindly follow — advice from trusted advisors. For entrepreneurs, no one knows what you should do better than you.
Be practical, but don’t mistrust your gut. If you feel the reward is worth the risk and that it’s within your grasp, you should take it.
Be Prepared for Hard Times
Not everything sorts out immediately. The truth of the matter is, you might fail. You might struggle to get your business off the ground. You might, in those early days, have trouble making payroll. It could be years until you reach the level of financial stability and comfort that you enjoyed with your nine-to-five. You need to be prepared for the reality of losing those certainties — but also know that if you can hold on and make good decisions, you can find success.
If you need a real-life example, turn to Sir Richard Branson. In his biography, the now-multibillionaire investor describes making a few ill-advised business calls while building his recording business that resulted in legal fees which he, as a twenty-something entrepreneur, couldn’t afford to pay. He was so broke that his parents needed to mortgage the family home to cover his expenses. It was a low point for Branson — but within a few years, he managed to build those negative experiences into a foundation that would establish Virgin Records into a multi-million dollar venture.
Sometimes, putting yourself into the unknown is the only way that you can push yourself beyond “fine” and become the person that you’re meant to be. Comfort can be an invisible trap, slowly walling you in and preventing you from moving forward with your life. Take a long look at your situation– has your comfort walled you into apathy?
It’s up to you to decide.