Someone should explain pain to (aspiring) entrepreneurs

In July, Elon Musk tweeted, “ The reality is great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. Don’t think people want to hear about the last two.”

When asked to elaborate on what he does to handle it, I mean, he seems to do it better than anyone else, he said, “ I’m sure there are better answers than what I do, which is just take the pain and make sure you really care about what you’re doing.”

Sometimes I hear other students talk about becoming an entrepreneur and I think of Olaf from Frozen singing about summer. The reality is that being an entrepreneur truly can be as awesome as they imagine — that’s why people do it — but someone needs to warn them about the pain and how they should look at it. Guys and girls, you will be changing the world, but know that it will include sacrifice and suffering.

The awesome part is that pain is an incredible teacher (thanks Imagine Dragons). I read this again today and thought it stated things perfectly:

“Interpreting pain” is one of the most valuable skills for any early stage entrepreneur. Is the pain I am experiencing a normal function of getting something off of the ground? If so… persevere. Or is the pain a reflection of poor market fit? If so… adapt. Or is the pain the signal what you have isn’t going to make it and you need to quit?

Having said that, it can be hard in the moment of struggle to know which is which. That’s when memories, mentors, and motivations come to the rescue.

Keeping a journal of high points and low points in your experience creates data points that are useful in determining if the start-up really has some life to it or not. Those in-the-moment memories can be invaluable when you are trying to decide if your roller coaster has a happy ending.

Mentors are talked about a lot, but with good reason. My best mentor is my wife because she understands what makes me tick and if that is helping or impeding my professional career. Remember that these should be people you trust, that care about you (sometimes aspiring entrepreneurs confuse mentors with investors — they are different), and that won’t encourage you to quit with it gets hard.

Motivation is Elon Musk’s answer. The start-up’s mission should mean enough to you that the pain becomes just another cost (even if it’s a big cost) of getting what you really want out of your life and your career.

If you read this all the way to the end (woo-hoo! you made it), I would assume that you are actually having a pretty good week and should put this in your file for a bad day. Enjoy it while you can, and look forward to the upside later!