How To Ride The Roller Coaster of Entrepreneurship

Imagine waiting in line for a roller coaster.

You watch the line slowly grow shorter as the people in front of you get on. Some of them look excited. Others are laughing nervously.

A few minutes later, they exit the roller coaster smiling. You try to imagine what the ride must have been like.

When you get to the front, you feel a tightness in your stomach. You think about turning around and going back. But you know you would regret it later.

So you sit down and strap yourself in. You push the hard plastic bar down across your waist until it locks into place. You’re committed now.

The car is moving. In front of you is a large, steep hill. You feel yourself tilt back and go up.

As you climb, you can hear the chain under you pulling the car. Click, click, click. The ground shrinks beneath you. The world looks different now.

As you crest the hill, the tightness in your stomach moves up to your throat. You want to scream but can’t. Maybe this was a mistake.

In that moment, at the top of the roller coaster, you have a choice. You can hold on tight to the bar, close your eyes, and wait for it to be over. Or you can let go, look around you, and surrender to the ride.

Given that you’ve already chosen to get on the roller coaster, the decision to surrender should be easy. But it’s not. And it’s a decision you’ll have to keep making on every twist, turn, and dip of the ride.

Why Being an Employee Is Different than Being an Entrepreneur

There is a huge difference between the inner world of an employee versus that of an entrepreneur.

As an employee, you have the option to stay emotionally numb. Most people have jobs they don't like. They flatline a bit below neutral.

As an entrepreneur, you don’t have that choice. Entrepreneurship is an emotional roller coaster. You get to experience the highest of the highs. And the lowest of the lows.

The reason most people stay in unfulfilling jobs is because they are afraid of the lows. They know at some level that entrepreneurship is uncomfortable. So they choose to stay numb.

I left my job. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the experience of being alive in order to stay comfortable. It wasn’t worth it to me.

But sometimes I forget my choice.

Sometimes, I resist the roller coaster when I should be surrendering to it.

How to Deal with the Ups and Downs of Entrepreneurship

It’s easy to forget about the peaks when you are in a dip.

Remember: the two are inherently linked.

We can’t go any higher emotionally than we’ve gone low. The lows are necessary. They inform the highs.

The ups and downs aren't inherently bad, but we make them so when we resist. We forget that we are the ones who chose to ride the roller coaster in the first place. We forget to enjoy it.

If you are really committed to feeling alive, you must let go. Again and again. Success is a constant practice of surrender.

The roller coaster can’t go down forever. Every “no” you get, every failure, every feeling of dread, gives you momentum for the uphill climb. The dip is an essential and natural part of entrepreneurship.

The alternative is to coast on a slight downhill for your whole life. The slope is so subtle that you might not notice it’s happening until you bottom out. And then it’s too late.

Fear Is Not Optional

A client asked me the other day if entrepreneurship ever gets less scary. If you are constantly pushing your edge, I don't think it does. I still get the same sinking feeling in my stomach before every coaching call, writing session, and interview that I do.

I’ve always chosen things that give me the experience of being alive: wrestling at a high level, making it through a long distance relationship, building a business from scratch.

They’ve all been scary. All of the time. The fear never goes away, but you can learn to master it over time.

And when you use fear as fuel, the oscillations start to rise collectively.

What if, in the middle of your next nosedive, you took your hands off the safety bar.

What if you opened your eyes and soaked it all in?

(Photo credit: Raphael Goetter via cc)