Are You Trapped by the ‘Startup Suffer Story’?

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

by Daniella Sachs

Do you ever think that entrepreneurship is a complete contradiction in terms? On the one hand, we are sold this glossy postcard image of soaring unicorns and overflowing pots of gold. On the other, we are told that if we hope to reach such heights, we have to go broke, sacrifice everything, live for our businesses, and be willing to die for them.

This suffer story is so entrenched that it is one you almost subconsciously adopt when you enter the ‘brutal’ startup arena. It is an insidious story that you don’t even realise you are enacting until you hit the very messy middle, sink into a dark hole and feel like the world is caving in on you.

But is it true? Are you really doomed as an entrepreneur to suffer for your success?

Is suffering an inevitable part of entrepreneurship? I honestly don’t think so. And I am saying this not as a picture-postcard entrepreneur, but as someone who has really struggled with understanding that entrepreneurship is not a noun (a destination), but a verb (a journey).

In my embattled search to come to terms with my own identity as an entrepreneur, I have consumed copious amounts of startup stories from a seemingly endless array of podcasts and blogs. And the more I listen and read, the more I realise the inevitable pattern that we are sold has all the hallmarks of the “Hero Journey”.

There is always a protagonist (the entrepreneur) who magically finds himself faced with an adventurous and risky quest. Unsure whether to continue, he finds allies and meets a mentor who convinces him to embark on this life-changing journey. Along the way, he is faced with a number of trials and tribulations which prepare him to face his final big test, which he has to pass in order to receive his big reward (financial success).

Does this not describe almost every startup story you have ever heard? And frankly, I completely understand it. I mean not only were these stories constant as we were growing up, but they have also become one of the most compelling marketing tactics to date. Doesn’t it make far more sense to you now why we have adopted a fantastical lexicon of ‘angels’ and ‘unicorns’ to describe the fairytale world that we have created around entrepreneurship? It’s a compelling way to draw attention and funding to what is essentially just a modern marketing take on the old-fashioned practice of business building.

I am not for one moment saying that being an entrepreneur is easy. But I don’t believe that by default ‘hard’ means ‘hardship’.

The unfortunate by-product of being fed this hero journey is that we subconsciously adopt it as the inevitable course of our own entrepreneurial story, and with it, the idea of suffering for your success becomes rote. So much so that we even armour up in preparation to enter the startup arena where we are told to prepare for a bloody battle if we want to claim our place as a hero.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not for one moment saying that being an entrepreneur is easy. It’s not. It’s downright tough attempting to do something new, and it’s even harder being accountable to yourself without anyone to hide behind, knowing that if you give up, no one else is going to carry you through. But I don’t believe that by default ‘hard’ means ‘hardship’.

And I say this having spent a considerable amount of time down a very deep black hole feeling awfully sorry for myself. During this period of deep reflection, a question arose that was too big to be ignored, and that’s what I am going to ask you now:

What if you could be an abundant entrepreneur who has a success story rather than a lacking entrepreneur who has a suffer story?

Let’s be honest. Can you really deny the spark of excitement that bubbles up inside you when you imagine following your passion, choosing your path, and creating your own individual place in this world? While things are going to go wrong and fall apart now and again, that unfortunately is just part of the very human journey called life. We can choose to construct a whole sob story about it and spend the entire time in self-flagellation — slaves to our startups, sacrificing everything in our quest for herodom — or we can choose to enjoy the journey. The choice in the end is ours to make.

Daniella Sachs is a multidisciplinary tourism innovation expert, disruptor, Africanist and thought leader who publishes regularly on why we need to change the way we think about tourism. She is the co-founder of Know Your Tourist, a travel and tourism design and innovation house that collaborates with visionary business builders to bring bold new travel and tourism ideas to life.

You can follow her here and find her thought leadership articles here.

Some of the many thought-provoking topics she has written on include:

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