The Fetishisation of Entrepreneurship has gotten out of control over the last decade. Entrepreneurs are this generations Rock Stars (sans the inconvenient necessity of learning to play instruments or sing or write songs).
In 2019, everyone you know — from your cousin who drives Uber to your third-grade teacher who sells Doterra — lists “business owner” and “entrepreneur” and “self-employed and loving it!” as their career on their social media profile.
I know there are a lot of people who get their noses out of joint about this — they feel the word “entrepreneur” should be sacred — that it’s something to be earned.
For me, it’s the other way around.
Rather than make rules around who is allowed to use the word “entrepreneur”, I think it’s more interesting to consider other words we can use. Because, sure, I’ve got a business that’s continuously turned over 7 figures a year for the last 7 years — but I’ve never really resonated with the word “entrepreneur”.
I use it for want of a better word. Sometimes I call myself a “business owner”, a “founder”, even a “CEO”. But none of those really sum me up.
I like to make this joke at seminars that I’ll still be angry typing from my coffin — because I love my work. I love what I do.
Over the years, I’ve had lots of opportunities to take on VC and investors, but I’ve always turned them down because I wasn’t interested in doing the things they wanted me to do: sell, IPO, whatever way they needed to get their money out.
The truth is: I’ve built myself a really good life.
I’ve systemised and automated to the point where I get to spend more than 80% of my time on my highest and most valuable tasks — reading, learning, thinking and writing.
I have no interest in giving up what I’ve got to scale or sell — I’ll happily do things the way I’m doing them for the rest of my life.
Are you an Entrepreneur — Or an Artist?
It’s always interesting using the word “Artist” because I think people have a warped idea of what artists actually are.
By definition, an Artist is someone who creates. Who makes something where there was nothing before. What better description could there be of starting a business?
Contrary to popular opinion, Artists aren’t prodigies with God-Given talents.
Artists are, at their heart, craftspeople.
They study, they practice, they hone their craft — this is what I resonate with and why I think it’s such an apt description for so many of us in business.
If your Work is building, selling and buying businesses, you’re an entrepreneur.
If your Work is the subject of your business — you work to help a particular group of people or you produce around a particular product or subject, you’re an artist.
Still not sure?
Ask yourself this:
If someone offered you a reasonable amount of money for your business, would you sell it?
If the answer is a resounding “yes” — if you’d happily flip what you’ve got and take the money to go into the next thing — then chances are, you’re an entrepreneur.
If the answer is “no” — if you’d struggle to let go of the thing you’ve built, if it’s your passion, if you love your community and your employees — then chances are, you are NOT an entrepreneur.
There is no value judgment here.
One is not better than the other. Both have their upsides — and their downsides.
Funnily, when I’ve said this in the past, someone will always point out:
“You say that, but all the entrepreneur traits you’ve written are negative and all the artist ones are positive!” (or vice versa!)
If you feel that way, that’s probably an excellent indication of which you are. In both of these cases the traits are agnostic — it’s only your values that will make one sound better than the other, and that’s a great way to determine on which end of the spectrum you fall.
The question is — who are you REALLY? Because when you understand and embrace that, you’ll find yourself in state of flow a lot more often. Resistance of who you are is the quickest way to misery.
Does It Even Really Matter?
Someone once told me I was missing the point — that none of this really mattered. Who cares if you’re an Entrepreneur or an Artist? You’re just getting hung up on semantics.
Here’s the thing about semantics — they’re the meaning part of language.
One of the biggest problems we have in the world right now is that, unexpectedly, over the last 10 years, writing and language has become more important than ever. We discuss ideas, constantly, over social media using the written word. A lack of precise language leads to a lack of precise communication, leads to a lack of understanding.
So, yes, these small distinctions make a difference.
A lot of people I’ve spoken to have found solace in the idea that they’re not an entrepreneur — in changing the label, they’ve changed their mindset.
“So, wait,” they ask me. “If I’m not an entrepreneur does that mean I don’t have to scale?! If I’m an artist does that mean I don’t have to hire people?!”
The words “have to” are amusing in this context — it’s your business, right? Do what you want!
But they also make sense.
If you have any success in business, you typically very quickly find yourself adrift and not sure what to do next. There’s so much literature that prepares us for the emotional impact of failure, and very little that prepares us for the emotional impact of success. We assume it’s all just going to be parades and Oprah interviews and we’ll feel amazing that we’ve finally “made it”. But that’s almost never what happens.
Instead, people get overwhelmed and start casting around for models of other successful people — “what do you even do with your business when it’s turning over a million dollars?!”.
They end up taking advice from, or emulating, people who have different wants and needs, and in the process, they completely burn themselves out.
Entrepreneur Vs Artist: A Profile
Entrepreneurs are good quitters. They know when to walk away.
Artists suck at letting go. They hold on to things long past the point of them making sense, because they care so much.
Entrepreneurs primary motivation is The Win — this doesn’t have to be financial. It’s the attainment of the goal, whatever that goal is.
Artists primary motivation is The Work.
Entrepreneurs normally have several ventures running at any given time and don’t care which one takes off.
Artists may have more than one thing going on, but all of those things will typically be focused on the same outcome.
Entrepreneurs are good leaders. They find great staff and delegate.
Artists tend to get by on passion, they find it difficult to let go of the reigns.
Entrepreneurs end game is to sell.
Artists typically haven’t thought about their end game — because they don’t consider that the game has an end.
Entrepreneurs look for funding.
Artists are horrified by the idea of giving even a small percentage of their business to someone else.
Entrepreneurs can tell you exactly what business they’d go into next.
Artists can’t imagine being in any business other than the one they’re in.
Entrepreneurs will be involved in many businesses throughout their lives, often in completely unrelated industries.
Artists may be involved in different businesses — but always in the same space with the same end. Often, if given the choice, they’ll stay in the one company forever.
I’ve segregated this list of famous business owners into artists and entrepreneurs based on what I think — but I’m interested to hear your opinion! Do you agree that Steve Jobs was an artist? Is Zuckerburg an entrepreneur? Are there people missing from the list? Where would you place them?
- Steve Jobs
- Warren Buffet
- Bill Gates
- Richard Branson
- Elon Musk
- Mark Zuckerburg
- Ray Kroc