30 Coming of Age Reflections from a 30 Year Old Entrepreneur

I turn 30 years old in mid December of this year. “Oh Shit!”

Yes, “oh shit” is a phrase I’ve murmured more than a few times over the past few weeks after waking up and acknowledging that my 20’s are nearing it’s end.

But after “oh shitting” myself one-too-many times over the last few weeks (no pun intended), I decided to reflect on a number of things that define how I live, how I work and and how I define myself as an entrepreneur.

My reflection led me towards insights I’ve observed, within my own work as an entrepreneur running two businesses (Clearwater Branding, Kush Groove), as well as insights I’ve read about or heard from other thought leaders in their respective fields.

So as part of my end-of-the-year sway out of my 20’s and into my 30’s, I’ve put together a 5 part piece, “30 Entrepreneurial Insights I Learned Before Turning 30 Years Old” in which I’ll list 6 of my most important entrepreneurial observations, 30 in total, that have offered me direction, clarity and focus towards my entrepreneurial goals.

Here’s my list of 30 entrepreneurial insights:

Entrepreneurship is risky: What’s most risky about being an entrepreneur is the unpredictability your day-to-day can be, especially during the start up phase. On top of that pay is unpredictable as well. One of the things most appealing about a 40-hour-per-week job is the predictability of our weekly or biweekly paycheck. For entrepreneurs the predictability of a weekly or bi-weekly paycheck is a reality that doesn’t exist. In the entrepreneurs case, what you catch today is the food you put on the table tonight. And if you don’t catch anything, you don’t eat, period!

You can’t go at this afraid: As an entrepreneur, one of your greatest sources of capital is your spirit and attitude you devote towards your business. You have to believe 100000000% in yourself first and foremost, or no one else will believe. Similarly, you have to throw fear out the window. Fear will have you asking more questions than making things happen. Fear will find a way to convince you not to do work when the solution to getting things done is…doing the work. Fear is only a mindset. It can be altered, shaped and flipped on its forehead for the better.

Actions speak louder than words: Talk is cheap in the world of getting things done and people paying for what your offering. Doing your job gets the job done. There’s no other way to put it.

You must ALWAYS be learning: Learning is a timeless, lifelong sport that many of us don’t take full advantage. Everything I do today that I make money doing, I’ve learned on my own, after college. Considering the speed at which the world moves today in our age of technology, we have no choice but continue to sharpen our skills and knowledge, or we’ll get left behind in the digital divide.

The rewards of entrepreneurship are…: Personally, the rewards of entrepreneurship are just beginning to reveal themselves. What I’ve been humbled by the most as I walk the path of entrepreneurship, is the freedom it offers me to create my own reality and provide value to others, who pay me for me services and my products, in a purposeful and meaningful way.

You are not alone: There’s a special anxiety entrepreneurs face (and I’m sure others do as well at certain times) when we recognize, and get excited by, the great challenge of our entrepreneurial endeavors as well as the greater responsibility of succeeding in our entrepreneurial efforts to provide for ourselves, our families, our customers and our community. We are not alone in our feelings and our impact goes beyond just our work.

Failure is one of the greatest forms of learning: acquiring new information can be achieved through a wide range of mediums. I personally find great value in reading and personal reflection (see below) as a form of growing and learning. My failures however, either in a college classroom or a failed relationship, (we all have them) have offered me the greatest learning lessons. Failure for me is one of the greatest forms of learning because you get to relive, learn and grow from the feelings, actions, emotions and decisions that led you towards your failed activities of the past.

Investing in yourself pays off: we put ourselves at a great disadvantage when we don’t take the time to learn new things, digest new ideas and sharpen our skills. New thinking and new ideas create new solutions. For me, reading biographies about leaders and educational content about leadership development help me improve my thinking and sharpen my ideas.

Leaders lead, they don’t offer room for excuses: leadership is a mindset developed by vision, action and results. Leaders don’t incorporate excuses into their way of life because they don’t have time to. They believe in action. Leaders have created a mindset of abundance and wealth (not just money) and believe in the idea that everything is possible and solutions can be created by strategic action.

Surround yourself with people smarter than you: you are a reflection of the 5–8 people you spend the most time with. The people you spend time with influence how you spend your own time, the quality of choices you make, the approach to life you take on, and so forth. If you devote most of your time to people who can’t offer you new ideas, new ways of thinking, or thriving relationships, then you are ultimately digressing.

Seek to understand rather than to be understood: this is one of the most humbling observations I’ve observed while reading Stephen R. Covey’s The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness because it reminds us to move our egos aside when we’re dealing with other people, in any situation. Seeking to understand someone else (their history, their emotions, their circumstances) before being understood is one of the highest acts of humanity one can display because it requires putting others’ considerations before your own, which is very powerful.

Focus on your one BIG thing: being busy doesn’t mean you’re generating results. (Repeat this to yourself!) To my disadvantage (which has ultimately became a value add for contributing to this informational post) I’ve wasted precious hours of time in my twenties trying to juggle a wide range of entrepreneurial activities thinking that if I was “busy” with these activities, they would ultimately find success and generate results. That wasn’t the case. I found myself spreading my capacity far and wide, not generating the results I was looking for. Fortunately, I was able to snap out of this way of thinking where I now focus entirely on my one (or very few) BIG thing/s. I’m now generating the results I’ve desired.

Remove yourself from time wasters/time wasting activities: your time is your one tangible asset that you have ultimate control over; only if you make the choice to take control of it. Activities and people that take away from your productivity ultimately take away from your greatest asset. Television is one of the biggest time wasters. Your friends and family also influence how you spend our time and can easily be the greatest force, for wasting your time. Remind yourself. Your time is valuable so make the most of it with the right people and the right activities that support your vision.

Focus on your strengths: I personally believe we’re all born with certain God-given gifts and talents. Some of us are extremely creative in our ability make great sounding music. Others have great vision and can predict economic events. Earlier in my career, I held a list of administrative positions where I was tasked to provide administrative support to senior leadership. Part of my role required me to track and manage documents, as well as manage my bosses’ calendar. I discovered quickly that these were activities that I didn’t like, and wasn’t really good at. My anxiety about my performance grew and forced me to evaluate my career goals and clarify what I’m naturally good at. By shifting my focus towards my strengths, and moving away from my weaknesses, I became clearer on what I’m good. This choice has guided me toward my current and future entrepreneurial endeavors.

Delegate your weak work: part of the reason I held administrative roles in my early 20’s was because I needed a job. The other reason why was the place/s where I worked, needed to delegate their “weak” work to people like myself who were willing to work for it. Working in support of organizational leadership and senior management offered me a glimpse into how people are organized to do their job in large organizational settings. Leaders delegate their “weak” work to their subordinates so they can focus on the bigger challenges.

Treat your work as a gift: waking up and getting out of bed every day is a gift. I truly believe this. The energy you exert into activities such as co-creating with others, add value to your life, your community and the greater public. These are gifts you should embrace. I take pride into the work I do everyday because I treat it as is. I get to co-create with people I care about and around issues and activities I’m passionate about. Treat your work as a gift. It’ll reveal greater emotional rewards than you can imagine.

Trust your instincts/listen to yourself: nobody knows you better than you do. Period. I’ve found many of my peers over the years seek outside advice on the simplest of some of life’s “personal” questions. Part of this is because we as a society have been conditioned to outsource our personal inquiries about daily living to those who jump at the chance to take our money or invoke greater influence over us. Because of this we sometimes take for granted the strength of our internal compass. Take back your choices by trusting your instincts. It got you to this point…

Leaders influence action: leaders have an incredible ability to influence others to take action and create results. They do this not by yelling and screaming at their subordinates. They do it with action. They take action and create results. They influence action in others by offering strategic advice, instilling confidence in their teams and communicating care, integrity and passion about their purpose. The greatest leaders of the world communicate their purpose with passion. The leaders with the most impact, however, take action.

Not everyone will like you, and that’s OK: we all arrive to any new situation with certain amount of “baggage” from the past. Our past experiences shape our behaviors as well as how we view and interact with others we work with. In the real world, we’re all required to work with others we don’t know and necessarily don’t like (and vice versa) in order to get things done and create impact. Even if you don’t like the people you work with for whatever personal reasons, you can still accomplish a lot by putting aside egoic personality disputes that get in the way of progress.

Think BIG: why think small when there is the universe to shoot for? Life is full of possibilities. I’ve always been fond of Virgin Companies Founder Richard Branson for his vision to create a multinational conglomerate like Virgin. Just listening to Richard talk about his vision/s for entrepreneurship, the world, global peace (and voyaging into space) offers a taste into the expansive imagination this man posses. I think what makes Richard Branson stand out is the most is his embrace of an abundance mentality versus a mentality settled on scarcity. In my observation of some of the greatest leaders I’m most fond of, (in industry, social movements and everywhere in between) the leaders with the greatest impact envision the biggest outcomes.

Jobs Vs. Work: there is a stark difference between looking for a “job” and looking for “work” and I’ve found over the years my peers experience a disconnect with understanding the difference between the two. Most people want a job because they’ve been conditioned to think that a job is safe, sustainable, and worthy of social praise. I’ve had jobs in the past and used to think the same way. However, what I’ve found is jobs cripple your ability to be flexible with your life and your choices, whereas “work” offers the latter. Jobs often place specific stipulations to your work such as who you have to report to, the environment in which you’re required to work in, how long you’re required to work in a certain setting and how much you get paid. Work, on the other hand, allows you to be a bit more flexible in your ability to make more choices about how you work, what you do for work, who you work with, and how much you get paid. I don’t think I’ll ever look for a job again. I’m always looking for more work.

Listen more, speak less: The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s most celebrated socio-political, spiritual figure of the last century, famously quotes the following, “when you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” I’ve personally found these great words of wisdom stand true in most cases. The people who talk the most are usually repeating old ideas. I prefer focusing my attention on listening to others in most social settings. I tend to the learn the most when I’m actually not talking, and I like to learn a lot!

You don’t have to be friends with the people you get the most done with: I’ve sat on a host of nonprofit boards, organizing committees, networking groups, and interoffice project-specific work teams over the years. Most of the people I’ve worked with in these capacities I’ve never met, prior to working with them on that specific project or committee group. Rarely have I joined a group or worked in an organizational setting with people that were entirely of my selection. That hasn’t deterred my progress for getting things done. I believe wholeheartedly in co-creation and collaboration with people who share the same common goals; not necessarily the same common interests. Speaking to much of my professional experience, I’ve gotten the most work done professionally with people who weren’t my friends to begin with.

Becoming a Master at your craft requires at least 10,000 hours: I’m a big fan of notable author Robert Greene, recognized for such literary works such as 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction. Robert’s most recent book, Mastery, examines the lives of great historical figures and distills the traits and universal ingredients that made them masters. The key perspective that is highlighted in the analysis of these individuals is the amount of time each of them spent on honing their craft and becoming skilled masters of their craft. The time most of these greats spent on honing their craft — Mozart, Charles Darwin, Henry Ford — was a minimum of 10,000 hours!
Network to get work, put yourself out there: my peers in my professional circles often toss labels onto me such as “networking guru” or “serial networker.” They think for some reason I’m this networking genius that’s figured it all out. That’s not the case at all. My philosophy is really simple. I make sure to “put myself out there.” What does that mean? Putting yourself “out there” means different things to different people. Some would argue that extroverts find it easier to be more “out there” because their personality type supports that. However, I would argue that because of technology today, we all have access, education and tools to put ourselves “out there” in many different ways that gives many of us the comfort and security we yearn for in our controlled settings that extroverts naturally find in uncontrolled, social settings. Technology provides me, an introverted extrovert, the tools to put myself out there by sharing my ideas online, with my social networks. And of course there are limits to how you’d want to put yourself “out there.” I know my limits. You just have to find a comfortable medium that works for you, and generates the results you want.

Do work you love: it took me several years of working with various people at various organizations to discover work I’m truly passionate about. It wasn’t an easy discovery but I’m more than happy with my life today because I know what I’m type of work I’m passionate about as a professional. As cliche’ as it sounds, when you do work you’re passionate about, it doesn’t feel like work. I speak from my own experience as well as from my observation of others in the world (past and present) I find great inspiration from. When you do work you love, you don’t feel that pit of anxiety in your stomach like you do when you wake up every day knowing you have to go somewhere and do work that makes you feel miserable. You feel happy, full of energy and curious as to how to increase these feelings. Find work that you love to do. You’re capable of finding it. We all are. You just have to really want it. We all have something we love. Discover it, become great at it, and love it. Remember, your work is a gift.

What goes around, comes around: for me, Karma is real. And it’s the most poignant keyword that best sums up the idea of “what goes around, comes around.” It’s a certain energetic law-of-physics that I find really hard to argue around. I’ve noticed in my personal life how one action, good or bad, has led to a subsequent reaction, good and bad. I’ve noticed in observation of others as well, that again, every action leads to a reaction. The energy you put out, does matter. Make sure your energy is good. It will come back in some form.
Do good to everyone, you never know who you run into down the line: life is full of surprises. One day, you start your career as an assistant, working under people, managing schedules and meetings for your supervisor. In doing this work, you learn a lot and meet new people. Some of these people stick, some of them don’t. Ten years down the line, you own your own company and the person you managed schedules and arranged meetings for walks into your business, is reminded of who you were years before and is interested in investing in your business. This happened to me fairly recently so I can personally attest to the quality of this particular example. Do good to everyone you can, because you never know how they can be a value add to your efforts at another point in time.

You always have a choice: I believe in free will. I also believe most of us have the capacity to make conscious choices given our cognitive abilities are intact and we aren’t mentally incapacitated. For the most part, our choices determine our results in life. I think those who tend to make positive, thoughtful choices in life, create positive outcomes and positive results in life.

People change up, stay as solid as you possibly can: people change over time. It’s a fact of life. Your friends of yesterday are no longer your friends today. Your coworkers who you’ve relied on for comradery and support no longer bond with you the way they’ve done in the past. And vice versa. The pressures of life (stress with jobs, life at home and financial burdens) force us to make new choices, different from the choices we had to make in the past. The difference is now, we have new circumstances. We have children to feed, marriages to keep intact, and mortgages to pay. Our new circumstances determine how we respond to circumstances of the past. In a world where people are forced to change up all the time because of external circumstances, do your best to stay as solid as you possibly can. Be true to who you really are. Embrace your core self and stick with it.

Written by founder, Marcus Johnson-Smith.

Follow on Twitter @mjohnsonsmith