Student… or Entrepreneur?
There’s no such illusion as student entrepreneurs — Either a student, or an entrepreneur.
I look at the emails, all and all about entrepreneurship & startups, but don’t know what to reply.
Every time like this, I would turn back to homework. As if delving myself in something that I can find a fixed route to do and deal with it without much thinking can give me much comfort.
But turns out, no.
Math is so boring, following the procedures without knowing what I’m doing and why I should do this is so so boring — I would check my phone every time I finish a question, every time I finish writing down a concept. Hoping to receive a message or email that can give me directions.
And if there’s no message, i would check Facebook.
I see all those people around me doing funny things together, taking interesting photos while hanging out for events or food, or, doing crazy but cool things like talking in TED and pitching for their startups in a national competition, like partnering with fellow M&Ts and negotiating with Google, or, dancing and singing with a group of people in a club or organization and hanging out like a family.
Oh, they all have a great life.
And they remind me of my startup.
It is my glory, at least while I was living with it. All those days of hustling around and preparing for pitches without a sense of time — I never felt disappointed, as I would if I heard about my marketing quiz scores. I felt like devoting all my time into them, and I did. I almost lost track of my academic performance. I finished homework in a rush without really understanding the contents. I skipped lectures and meetings and networking events just to spend time with it, even though I didn’t seem to use the time efficiently. I kept telling myself that I will grab all of those lost things back after this pitch, after that demo.
But now I’m back. I stare at the screen of formulas and slides of the lectures I’ve missed. I thought I could delve back again into that kind of focusing on homework and deriving satisfaction from learning things quickly. I thought the urging deadline could drag me out of this laziness and back to that kind of energetic study. But, I can’t.
I stare at the screen, pencil in hand, but not writing. I know I miss that kind of energy in study, but that felt like so far away. And I don’t feel like retrieving it back to now.
Maybe the central question is: what’s the point?
Why am I doing this?
I have been rushing for homework for my project for too long. And now when I’m back, everything is different. Or rather, everything stays the same except me.
And many other things have changed.
I still remember the first day of fling, when I wandered around Quad, watching all those people around me playing and enjoying performance with their friends.
But the only one I can think of calling and asking for company, was spending time with her boyfriend.
The party that night, I knew most of the people there — I can even tell their names. But none of them included me in their small cycle after the short but simple greeting.
I walked around and around for two days, attending all those events, trying not to miss any fling experiences. But something was just not right — something that has afflicting me all along, that I though I had coped with last semester, that had come back secretly this year but I haven’t noticed.
That I don’t have friends.
It’s not that I DON’T HAVE FRIENDS. It’s more like, I don’t understand them. Or rather, I haven’t spent much time with them to understand them.
Just like the project, just like relationships, friendship needs to be cared for. I always thought that I don’t have many people that I can talk serious topics with because I’m not in the right community. But rather, I just haven’t caught up with them frequently enough.
Or rather, while I was working on the project, I just didn’t allocate time for them. Then I can’t blame anyone for that. It was all my fault.
I always thought that as long as I become better myself, I can find the people who can relate to me, who can wholeheartedly understand and support what I’m doing, who can stay with me and listen to my problems and confusion and help me through those doom days. I always thought that I didn’t have friends simply because I was not good enough, not shiny enough, not standing in the spotlight enough.
But that’s how it turns out. I need friends, even though I’m fighting all along this way thinking I can fight alone regardless of what others say. I yearn for attention and care. I care about intimacy and understanding. At the end of the day, I’m still a student, a girl looking for directions in the great grand college.
Oh, a student?
The day I decided to be an entrepreneur, I stopped to be a student.
All the things I’m doing, I prioritize them over school work and having fun — yes, having fun — short-term happiness can’t satisfy me as much as a goal I’m fighting for. I can feel the desire and hope when I’m working for a cause, but I can feel no such strength when I’m casually talking about food and clothes and movies with friends.
But that’s a loss. I came to college promising myself that I’m not gonna miss any part of a normal college experience. I convinced myself and people around me over and again that it’s better to stay in college as an entrepreneur than to drop out of school, with the single strongest reason — You can only be in college once.
But when it comes to myself, when I looked back after a short pause of the project, I felt scared.
It’s ironic how I haven’t been scared at all — even bold to a certain level of stubbornness — all through those months when I was working XpressCart, but I suddenly felt small at a turning point of the journey. I feel myself learned a lot all through those months, but the realization that I have also lost tons of things makes me disappointed. I was always looking for a kind of community, I was always trying to merge myself into a group of people — so that I won’t be alone. I always refused to fill my life with JUST one person or one commitment. I felt jealous when I saw the people around me standing in the spotlight for a dance or a show and expressing themselves with a bunch of people. I know it requires time and commitment to be close with a group of people. I know it takes the time to work on something together to achieve such understanding and bonding. I understand. And I want to be part of them every time I see them. But as soon as I came back to my life, I threw it behind my mind soon, and went on with what interests me most.
And so, now, I’m at the crossroads.
I can of course continue working on the project. I mean, as a freshman, I’m already doing something as crazy as a startup, and learning fast and passionately. And from all the feedbacks I’ve received from people around me, I have the confidence that I can make it into something — only with a cost far higher than those people with many experiences. They may just need a year or two to make it happen, but I might need 4 years or even more, while sacrificing a lot of the experiences that I might not ever encounter again. I love pushing myself forward. I love the word “pre-professionalism” — I mean, that’s why I chose Penn in the first place. But at the cost of all those possible fun that I wanted to try in college? Is it worth it?
I can, also, put it aside for some time, like what Miranda did (which she has done pretty well) — don’t think about it until junior or senior year, and pick it up when I have the time in the future. The future might be far or close — I can never tell. But there might be a time when I have tried all those things I yearned for and decide that startup is the right thing for me during college. And at that time, I might have more time and power and also the necessary skills to deal with all those issues involved in this startup project. And at that time, I might be able to turn it into a legit business in a shorter time. The payoff — I might not be able to stop thinking back on the project and how much I have devoted into it and how promising it looks right now. I always think that all that we need is enough time and efforts, and our turning point will come when we receive the funding or we get a first customer. Just, it might be hard because we are dealing with business instead of individual customers. It might be easy to persuade a person to download an app, but what about persuading a supermarket to buy 10 novel shopping carts built by an unheard-of student startup?
It just struck me — I hate this but, it might sometimes be similar to a relationship — you meet the right person at a wrong time.
I can, of course, push it slowly forward until I find a new idea or new commitment that I feel more strongly for, that I am willing to devote my whole semester or school year for. Then I will put this aside. But one thing I keep worrying about — I have so many projects that “could have” been done better “if” I had devoted more time. Is this crossroads exactly the same as those that I faced before? Is it true that it is at those times that persistence matters the most? I have heard so many people talking about persistence as THE most important thing to the success of an early-stage startup. Is it true that as long as I keep going, moving it slowly (and inefficiently), and then something will pop up like a miracle one day and make this long-term commitment into something real that can shine and actually work in the real world?
I don’t know.
And when I seriously don’t know what to do, I have the bad habit of escaping from the decision.
So here I am — I can’t focus on homework unless I make a firm choice here, but I can’t make a firm choice if I can’t calm myself down with all those uncertainty ahead.
People kept telling me that as long as I move in the direction I like, the single decisions don’t matter. Sometimes you need to take some detours before you can find the right destination for yourself.
When the thing that I believe in conflicts with reality, and reality seems better logically.
Should I be rational this time or not?
Hesitation is not good — it weakens me. It makes me feel small, scared, damn self-protecting. I stare at the emails from several summer startup projects. I stare at the entrepreneurship events that I should be really passionate about. I stare at the people that I should go up and talk with and learn from. I know that I can never improve myself without doing those, but now I suddenly lose the carefree courage to just go up and ask for advice and help.
Why? Why have I changed like this?!
I hate seeing myself wandering around this way. I need power. And when I myself am uncertain, I can never resort to anyone else for that power and certitude about myself.
I need to stand up. I need to make up my mind. I can’t escape from reality anymore. I can’t be this fragile, especially if I want to be a woman entrepreneur.
Which way should I choose?
What is the right thing to do?