Being an entrepreneur is often glamorized, but in reality, starting and running a company is tough and requires grit and perseverance. Success is not guaranteed, but pressure and stress are.
The pressure and stress can ebb and flow, but almost every entrepreneur will face seemingly insurmountable challenges at some point. I’ve faced it multiple times in my fifteen years starting up companies. Well-known entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz sums up the feeling of staring into an abyss of hardship, with no end in sight, in his blog post “The Struggle,” which has resonated with thousands of entrepreneurs.
Being an entrepreneur is often glamorized, but in reality, starting and running a company is tough and requires grit and perseverance. Tweet This Quote
The defining question in these moments of struggle is, what really drives and motivates you? When you’re stuck in the abyss, what is it that guides you? When it feels like the world is against you, what gets you out of bed to face a new day?
In my early days of entrepreneurship, my goals were very self-oriented—pretty typical for a young, ambitious American. Six months after finishing college, I quit my engineering job to start a company with friends. We created a technology that enabled us to make personalized music for kids that seamlessly integrated their names throughout the music. I loved music, technology and kids, so I felt this startup was a way to follow my own passions and do something I loved. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to grow, be financially independent, and control my own destiny.
Self-oriented goals are legitimately motivating and aren’t bad in and of themselves. But, in my experience, they can only get you so far. By themselves, they form an incomplete picture of what creates a fulfilled life. As the personalized music business struggled to get to the next level, my original goals weren’t meaningful enough to justify my continued perseverance.
Self-oriented goals form an incomplete picture of what creates a fulfilled life. Tweet This Quote
Around that time, I found myself drawn to the idea that business and technology could be leveraged to address major social issues. Instead of continuing to work on the personalized music business, I went to business school in hopes of immersing myself in the world of social enterprise. This eventually led me to co-found d.light, which went on to impact over 55 million people in 60 countries.
There were plenty of moments along the way when it looked unlikely that d.light would ever get off the ground, and many moments when I wondered if it even made sense to continue. But despite seemingly overwhelming odds, my business partners and I stuck with it. After ten years of hard work, sweat, and tears, we’ve been able to attract amazing employees and partners to the cause; we built something that is changing the lives of millions of people in the developing world.
My goals and guiding principles, when self-centered, are fleeting during tough times; the more self-centered they are, in fact, the more fleeting they are. The more my goals and guiding principles encompass others, the stickier they tend to be.
Every entrepreneur will face seemingly insurmountable challenges at some point. Tweet This Quote
When our goals are driven by a desire to serve other people, they have an entirely new depth of power. Many of us begin by wanting to create a better world for our families. This is certainly more meaningful and drives people to achieve amazing things and overcome incredible odds. I think of my father, who sacrificed everything familiar and safe, and immigrated to the U.S. to create better opportunities for his family. Similarly, I am continually amazed and inspired by the sacrifices our customers make in order to provide a better future for their children.
But what if we dedicated our professional ambitions to people outside of our immediate circle of family and friends, perhaps even to strangers? In the Bible, Jesus teaches to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He answers the provocative and loaded question of ‘who is my neighbor?’ with a highly countercultural answer: the story of the Good Samaritan.
When our goals are driven by a desire to serve other people, they have an entirely new power. Tweet This Quote
The Good Samaritan is not just someone who is kind to another human being in need. Rather, it’s someone who reaches across cultural and racial barriers, overcoming socially accepted prejudices, in order to show love and kindness to someone who is different—even considered an enemy.
This expanded view of the “neighbor” we are to love is particularly poignant today. Even though social media and other modern technologies are making the world feel smaller, at the same time, socioeconomic inequality is widening at a frightening pace.
For me, the drive to be a good neighbor and love families living off the grid has motivated me to persevere in difficult times. When I am clear on why I am doing something, the what and how eventually follow—even if I’m exhausted and feel far out of my element.
The struggles and obstacles become fleeting and what remains are the millions of lives we are changing for the better. Tweet This Quote
A couple of weeks ago, I visited some customers in Kenya who were using our newest solar product. The experience felt like a bolt of electricity to my system. Seeing firsthand the positive impact of d.light fuels my desire to continue persevering. All the struggles and obstacles we have had to overcome are what become fleeting; what remains, far more fulfilling and enduring, are the millions of lives we are changing for the better.