When one hears the word, Entrepreneur, the world of business automatically comes to mind, as it properly should. Entrepreneurs are those trailblazers engaging high-risk business ventures that most people would leave to the few and the wild. The paths they open up benefit those who follow where they have risked first blood. Although I do not want to minimize how the business entrepreneur, venture capitalist, benefits society – (true free market entrepreneurs are minimized much too often these days) – in this essay, I would like to expand the concept of entrepreneurship, using it as a metaphor for what I call Entrepreneurial Living. Such a notion calls on us to become entrepreneurs of our own lives, carving out our Life Paths as we pursue a multitude of Life-Long Goals we set and reset for ourselves, perhaps modifying, altering, or revolutionizing them along the way. In the pursuit of such paths, we typically come to realize that in order to succeed in capturing our goals, we need to take stock of our present Personal Skills and Needed Skills, and, all along the way, we need to clarify our Personal Values, which inform what we pursue and how we get there. Any form of entrepreneurship comprises our grasping these concepts for ourselves: Life Paths, Personal Goals, Immediate Goals, Personal Skills, and Needed Skills. I will provide my own take on these concepts in my call to those who wish to do so to embrace the spirit of Entrepreneurial Living. From my perspective, Entrepreneurial Living entails each of us coming to grips with what is of most important in our lives, and how we can pursue what that entails so as to fully engage a life of fulfillment. Such a life will mean something different for each one of us. And what I have to say here is simply my take. Hopefully this perspective can provide some food for thought that people can apply to their own personal contexts.
Life Paths are those roads we travel throughout our lives to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves. They are the many trails we travel to reach our goals. Moreover, Life Paths comprise experiences from which we can learn or fail to learn. Of course, learning from our experiences keeps us on track. But if we fail to learn lessons from our experiences in the moment, we may lose valuable insights that can help us continue to navigate the path we’re on. This is not to say that everything is lost if we fail to learn something important in each and every moment. We can reflect back on our experiences and gain lessons through such reflection. [Such reflection time, by the way, I believe is important to fruitful entrepreneurship. We need to find ways to build such time into our daily activities.] But the hard truth of the matter is that we can, and most likely will, miss opportune moments in our endeavors to learn important lessons. Recognizing this is a learning experience itself. Sometimes we have to grasp the hard truth that we simply missed some important crossroads in our lives. Such an experience brings up another important axiom for fruitful entrepreneurship: Being honest with ourselves when we miss such opportunities. It is a sad fact, I think, that we, as human beings, tend to deny truths about ourselves. Authenticity is an important value to embrace if one seeks to be an entrepreneur of one’s life.
As I stated above, I strongly believe that reflection is an important skill for the entrepreneur. Life Paths contain valuable lessons and information from which we can glean important knowledge that hopefully translates into wisdom for living. They mysterious thing about Life Paths, however, is that most of the time they tend to be on the edge of our awareness. Many times a Life Path is something about which we gain concrete understanding only after reflection. As we get older, hopefully we learn how to more efficiently size up the present situations in which we find ourselves. We become more aware of how to glean lessons from our concrete experiences. Such lessons can be about our selves, others, or the contexts in which we move and live. Lessons can also transform into spiritual or transcendent experiences in that they can help us obtain personal meaning. Reflection work can involve many ways for taking stock of our lives. We can think back on the many paths we traveled, how we got onto them, and how we have arrived where we are at the moment. What put us on a particular path? What have we learned from where and how we have traversed? Did we miss something important at the time? In what ways did the paths we traveled make demands on us? Did we meet those demands, or did we falter? What did we learn about ourselves either way? How do Life Paths illumine our past and present relationships, work, career, personal goals, and personal meaning? Reflection time can help us come to grips with some of these questions. It is important, however, to not get bogged down in mere reflection. In the meantime, life keeps rolling.
Reflection upon and gaining more clarity about our Life Paths can help us make decisions about the paths we have traveled and those that we are yet to traverse. Are we on the path we want to travel? We cannot know the end from the beginning. We cannot obtain promises and guarantees that our paths will turn out the way we want them to. There is much work to be done on our part so as to make the best decisions possible regarding our Life Paths. Beyond that, we simply live day-to-day.
Life-Long Goals: Life-Long Goals are those long-term goals we set for ourselves that delineate the objectives and accomplishments we hope to obtain. They can involve family, work, career, leisure, travel, finances, owning a home, planning for retirement, and on and on. Life-Long Goals are typically guided by our Personal Values. We pursue what we count as valuable. To be honest, I have what I consider a mixed-bagged experience with long-term goals. I know people who have settled in on their Life-Long Goals, and have wavered only a few degrees off mark. For me, quite frankly, that has not been the case. No doubt, I set long-term goals for myself, but the paths I have traveled have been many and sinuous, with twist and turns I would have never imagined. The one lesson regarding long-term goals I have gleaned for myself is simply not to stand still. Set the goal, and start moving. It will take you somewhere. How much foundation one sets before moving, how much one plans, and how much one knows before setting sail, are, no doubt, important considerations. Yet such considerations are the very stuff that few, if any, can answer for others. My take is simply this: gather your information, obtain feedback from wise people you trust, make your plans to the best of your ability and to your personal satisfaction. But when you step out onto your journey, it is your path, and it belongs to no one else. People, indeed, move though life without reflecting much on their goals. Although such a take on life doesn’t exactly work for me, what has come to work for me – what I have come to believe – is not to let long-term goals bog me down to the point I don’t move. And also, I have become quite convinced that being aware of when to change or even let go of long-term goals is an important matter that can prevent one for trying to sail a ship that is much too leaky. I believe an important consideration regarding long-term goals is whether or not we let them restrict the way we go about living. In relation to our goals, what do we say to ourselves or about ourselves that may limit, restrict, or impede the way we go about living? I wish I could provide more in terms of what might be considered insight here. But, in my own way of living, I have become much too aware of what I don’t know in comparison to what I do know.
Immediate Goals: It is quite common in most how-to treatises to divide goals into long-term and immediate or short-term goals. [The last thing I want this essay to be is a how-to treatise!] No doubt, immediate goals entail those we set at the moment or for the immediate future to meet certain needs, develop particular skills, or to accomplish certain tasks so that life can go on for us. The threat of immediate-goals is what some call the tyranny of the urgent. [The opposite effect is the fog of the future, whereby long-term plans cloud our judgment regarding immediate goals.] The tyranny of the urgent allows immediate goals to overwhelm us to the point that we lose site of our long-term goals. In distinguishing our long-term from our short-term goals, it is important to know how the latter serves the former. Yet it is important to realize that as we pursue immediate goals, such pursuits can have a rippling effect on our long-term plans. I think it is important to stay open to this reciprocity without bowing to the tyranny of the urgent or getting lost in the fog of the future. Reflection time can be the key here as well: gaining clarification, making necessary changes, or staying the course. The interrelationship of our various goals set the paths we travel.
Becoming clear about Personal Goals means we make decisions with more awareness. Decisions may still be difficult, and we, once again, do not know the end from the beginning. But it is important work for each individual to clear as much fog as possible from around his or her decision-making. The fog will never be totally cleared; there are always risks that go with decisions. But as we become more aware about our Personal Goals, our decisions are more likely to flow smoother from such clarity.
Present Skills: If we want to pursue our Life Paths and achieve our Personal Goals, then life demands of us that we possess a set of Personal Skills by which we accomplish this endeavor. Another important avenue of exploration for the entrepreneur of life is to take stock of the present skills he or she in fact possesses. We develop a wide variety of skills of which we may not even be aware merely through our experience of living. People skills, organization skills, physical skills, analytical skills, big-picture skills, attention-to-detail skills, etc. Likewise, there are conceptual skills: thinking, reflection, and meditation skills. All of us who are engaged in living are constantly developing a variety of skills. Those skills to some degree have emerged from what we value, and, in turn, influence what we continue to value, what we pursue, and the goals we set for ourselves. Taking stock of our present skills is an awareness type of work that we can put to use to help our decision making regarding our Life Paths and Personal Goals.
Needed Skills: If it is important to clarify what skills we possess, it is equally important clarify what skills we lack that are needed in pursuit of the goals and paths we have set for ourselves. What skills do we need to develop to accomplish the things we want? How do we even find out what skills we need? Here the important trait of self-honesty comes into play again. What will it take for us to be honest with ourselves about the skills we lack? What will it take for us to reach down into our gut and admit that we do not have certain skills that would be beneficial or totally necessary for us to accomplish in life what we desire? We all possess certain skills, and we all lack important ones to obtain those goals in life that make us reach beyond our present circumstances. Important goals in our lives make us stretch; they lead to personal growth. Growth means, we have to develop.
Gaining clarity on the skills that we possess, as well as the skills we need to develop involves awareness work on our part that clears the paths of obstacles in our Life Paths and to our Personal Goals. Being honest with ourselves, rather than being in denial about the skills we lack will, in the long run, serve us in our pursuit of what we desire from life. Whether or not we like it, to desire something from life requires that we also come to grips with what life requires of us. If I am not honest with myself about the skills I possess and those that I lack, then in navigating my Life Path I will encounter obstacles that could have been avoided through more self-honesty or authenticity.
Values can be distinguished in many ways. Morals, tastes, subjective evaluations, all make up ways that explain how people may come to value things in life or about life. Personal Values drive and lead us down our Life Paths and inform us as we set our Personal Goals. We may value a certain lifestyle – a home, a good job, a family, and success at raising children. We may value a certain level of income, or a steady, secure job. Or we may value freedom and flexibility rather than stability. We may have values that appear to conflict. Can we make them work, or do we need to choose one over the other? And then, what are spiritual values? What part do they play in the way we set our Personal Goals and navigate our Life Path? The entrepreneur of life must take stock once again as to how to approach life so as to live by his or her values. That bothersome personal authenticity raises its head again. When I say I value something, am I being honest with myself? Or have I unthinkingly – unreflectively – inculcated my values from my family, peers, or the social context in which I am immersed? Awareness work is of the essence once again. Once aware of my values, how do they reflect my decisions about relationships, family, work, career, or spirituality?
Becoming clear about what values are our own as opposed to those things we are told or led to value can vastly enhance our decision making regarding Life Paths and Personal Goals. Being clear about what we truly value provides some understanding of what is required to step into a decision. Courage is what allows and leads us to take such steps. Without clear values and an understanding of where we want to head in our lives, courage is hard to come by. Yet courage is most important during those times when we lack clarity – specifically the courage to be honest about such uncertainty. Clarifying values is like any other clarifying work we do. We cannot see what life will bring our way that will challenge, and perhaps, alter our values. We move on what we understand at the moment. Courage helps us put one foot in front of the other as we navigate life, constantly checking our need to clarify our values.
Conclusion: Entrepreneurial Living
When reflecting on the world of business, where people carve out lives for themselves, the entrepreneur is someone who ventures, takes risks, and faces the unknown. He is someone who realizes that there are no guarantees to his venturing out. She may succeed or she may fail. He has done all he can do to make his path as obstacle-free as possible. But no one person can see or know the end from the beginning. There are always boulders in the path that he or she didn’t count on. There are dead-end trails that come up shorter than anyone hoped or expected. So the entrepreneur has to be flexible and adaptable. The entrepreneur will have to perform a lot of problem-solving along the way and the circumventing of boulders. However, such circumventing cannot be a way of avoiding working through difficulties. Sometimes one merely may have to go through a boulder. The entrepreneur knows that if difficulties are not worked through, they have a way of systematically returning, perhaps being worse on the recycle.
Such a scenario is true of any business venture. But isn’t it also true of living? Entrepreneurial Living is risky, with no guarantees, and no promises for a successful tomorrow. As we set out on our Life Paths, guided by our Personal Values and moving toward our Personal Goals, do we have any guarantees that we will obtain that for which we reach? If we are going to pursue something worthwhile that will bring Personal Meaning to us, then life is going to demand certain things of us, whether we like it or not. And what those demands are, we rarely know until we step out onto the path we desire to travel.
Entrepreneurial Living means coming to grips with the fact that no on can give us a life. We may, indeed, need to ask for help along the way? Most of us do. We may need to lean on someone through tough times. Many of us have and will. And there is value in so doing. But no one can promise us a life anymore than they can give us a set of values and principles by which to live. They can share values and principles, but somewhere along the line of our Life Paths, we have to own either embracing those values and principles for our lives, or rejecting them for an alternative set of values and principles.
Entrepreneurial Living means experiencing, facing, and learning the lessons from successes, setbacks, and failures. Someone has said that the word, failure, needs to cease being a dirty word. I totally agree. We may fail. We will fail. But we will not succeed until we learn how to learn from failure. Life offers no promises. And life is not always fair. These adages we have heard time and again. But until we face them in the experiential nexus of our own personal living, we truly do not understand what the words mean.
Entrepreneurial Living means stepping into the unknown. What we don’t know is infinitely greater than what we do know. We have to truly, radically accept the notion of our ignorance, and humble ourselves accordingly. Until we accomplish the task of humility, arrogance and hubris will go out before us while time awaits our downfall. [And I write this as a person who has a difficult time with humility.] We will arrogantly assume that we know all that we need to know about living. But life itself will teach us differently. And either we will learn to accommodate the lessons of living, or we will crash and break up by throwing ourselves against them. The entrepreneur of life understands that the unknown is incomprehensible and not necessarily safe.
Although the word, entrepreneur, describes those individuals who carve out a business for themselves, it can also become a epithet for the entrepreneur of life. Entrepreneurial Living reflects what it takes to live a life of personal fulfillment and meaning. Being an entrepreneur is an approach to life, but it is also a stance toward life, where one pursues his passion with all he has in him.
John V. Jones, Ph.D., LPC-S/December 14, 2014