I got into entrepreneurship at the adorable age of 20. Barely out of my teens, I waded into independent business with all the confidence and naivete of youth. Frankly, the early years were when I screwed up the most. But that’s normal! Now, with a few years in my rearview, I’d like to share the most important things I learned about getting through the early years.
New entrepreneurs (be they young or not-so-young) experience a unique set of challenges. It’s just a different place from which to approach the business world. The young are confident, but lack experience. They’re bold, but don’t have quite the amount of sense that comes from being in the game a while. Acknowledging the pitfalls of being new can make all the difference.
If you’re young, or just new to entrepreneurship, consider these common challenges and this advice for working through them. It just may put you ahead of the game.
The Challenge: Overconfidence
The negative way to look at this challenge would be to say that the young are too ignorant to realize how little they know. In fact, that’s a common thing for seasoned adults to say about the young no matter what! I’d say that not realizing how thin the ice is can be an advantage, because it lessens the apprehension. But it can also lead to totally avoidable mistakes.
The key is not to let confidence become cockiness. If the folly of youth has an antidote, it’s humility. Don’t assume that you know it all. In fact, don’t assume that you know anything! You’re figuring it out, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Being headstrong and opinionated has its uses, but it’s important to realize the limits of inexperience. Don’t let confidence blind you to the opinions of others or the experience of people who’ve been further down the path.
The worst thing overconfidence can do is deprive you of the opportunity to learn. If you think you know more than you do, you won’t be very motivated to seek lessons. Thing is, there are people everywhere, all around you, who know things of inestimable value. Business isn’t a sport; youth doesn’t give you an edge. Mostly, it gives you a handicap. So take advantage of any and every opportunity to listen to those with experience.
The Challenge: Physical Endurance
This one is rarely discussed, but deceptively important. The young have a great deal of physical endurance, able to stay up all night and rise early with a smile on their face. They can indulge in all kinds of excesses, both professional and personal, and barely feel the effects. Unfortunately— and I say this from experience— it all catches up eventually.
Treat your body right. Make time for nutritious foods and planned meals rather than living off of packaged junk and convenience store ready-mades. Take it easy on the caffeine (and the alcohol…you know who you are). Exercise. Regularly. And most importantly, if you value your long-term health, sleep. Sleep every night, and sleep well. You won’t need to in your 20’s, but you’ll be glad you did.
The temptation to push yourself physically will always be there. Why get 8 hours sleep when you can publish more blogs? Why spend 10 minutes making a salad when you can nuke a Hot Pocket? The problem is the consequences. For every youthful indiscretion regarding your health, you’ll add to the pile of effects that will make you sluggish and worn out in your 30’s and 40’s. As we age, our bodies respond to the abuse we’ve accumulated. The energy we lose dealing with that is energy we don’t have for creativity, for endurance, and for the work that keeps our businesses fresh and vital.
You are not invincible. It just feels that way.
The Challenge: The Urge to Impress
For all the confidence of youth, there’s an undeniable level of insecurity. The need to constantly demonstrate your competence, your skill, and your overall awesomeness can be one of the worst distractions from the really important work. There’s nothing more counterproductive than trying to impress your colleagues, especially your elders.
Realize that your youth is the best time to screw up. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And don’t expect anyone to care— at all— about how great you are. You’re not that great. Not yet. And even if you were, the people you think are paying attention are almost certainly not. When you try to impress, it has the exact opposite effect. It comes off as a need to be accepted. It looks like what it is: a weakness. Just do you.
The Challenge: Short-term Thinking
Long-term thinking is particularly difficult for those who are new to business and life. Often, the young are so intensely focused on short-term successes and immediate wins that they neglect the bigger picture. They fail to plan for the coming decades in favor of the coming months. They see the distant future as abstract, and the present as all that could matter.
Make time for the future. Think of projects and products and plans that could take years to develop. Plan for the longevity of your business. Look as far up the road as you can. Ask yourself what you can accomplish given 5 or 10 or 20 years. Consider the marathon, not just the sprint.
The young have advantages that the old don’t, but they also have special obstacles. Being young is a challenge in and of itself, with the sheer lack of experience leaving so many things vague and poorly understood. Those disadvantages are unavoidable, but they’re easily minimized.
With a humble attitude, an open mind, and a willingness to learn from others, youth can be enjoyed more than regretted. Overcoming inexperience is just another one of the obstacles that make entrepreneurship challenging and fun. And if youth at its best is about anything, it’s about challenges and fun. Right?