Our parents were well-intentioned, I’m sure. As they bubble-wrapped and sugarcoated us, they thought they were doing us a favor. “You’re so special,” they’d say, plucking our cheeks like they were made of memory foam. “You’re mommy’s little angel.”
I vividly remember my cheeks blushing as my mother would rave on to her fellow church ladies, “My Heather is the best, smartest, prettiest…” (You catch my drift. Aw, mom…)
Most of us were raised to believe we could do anything, be anything. Our parents trumpeted our skills with fanfare and celebration. “Look, little Johnny hit the baseball!” Society whipped on an extra helping of praise with gold stars every time we used the potty and allowances every week we remembered to make the bed.
From the start, we were rewarded for being regular, or at least better behaved than the so-called troublemakers. “Special” was never really special to us. Special was always average. It’s no wonder we now think we’re doing our best when we’re only being mediocre.
But mediocrity in the real world doesn’t amount to much — especially when it comes to entrepreneurship. It takes passion, persistence and eternal optimism to be truly special. So if you want to succeed, you have to ditch the act, stop listening to mom’s praise for awhile and learn to avoid the many allures of mediocrity. You’re better than they pretend, aren’t you?
Step 1: Take pats on the back at face value
We all love compliments. Love, love, love. We want to hear about how much we look like Brad Pitt and how our house is the nicest one on the whole block. We expect compliments when we make dinner, when we clean the house, when we submit a project.
And the funny thing is, we often get them. People pat us on the back with such frequency it feels like an injustice when someone doesn’t acknowledge that we did what we were supposed to do in the first place.
That’s why it’s so important to stop resting on your laurels. Believing the hype from those who love you doesn’t encourage you to take a realistic look at how you can improve.
Don’t be afraid to ask strangers for honest feedback, or better yet, learn to be your own best critic. Take an honest look at how you’re doing business. Where is your Achilles’ heel? Where are you missing the mark? Focus on those things rather than indulging in all the pats on the back. Everything will be better for it.
Step 2: Stop obsessing with “fun”
In James Altucher’s 100 Rules of Being an Entrepreneur, his first rule is: It’s not fun.
“I’m not going to explain why it’s not fun,” he says. “These are rules. Not theories. I don’t need to prove them. But there’s a strong chance you can hate yourself throughout the process of being an entrepreneur. Keep sharp objects and pills away during your worst moments.”
OK, so that might be a little dramatic. And I certainly don’t buy into all his rules, but the heart of this one is dead right.
When we were growing up being sold the bill of goods about just how darn special we are, we also got a load of lies about how “fun” life is. Everything is supposed to be like Candy Land all the time. And if it’s not like Candy Land, you’re not doing it right.
Building a business is hard work. And not just, “Honey, I chipped a nail!” hard work, but genuine hard work. You will sweat. You will cry. You will feel defeated. People will be mean. Things will go wrong. Multiple times.
The only businesses and ideas that succeed are those pioneered by people who are willing to accept the sweat and slog. People who want to play board games should just stay home in their jammies. My compromise: Working from home on Fridays… in my jammies. (Don’t judge me.)
Step 3: Rest on persistence
To quote German genius Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, “In the realm of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm; in the real world, all rests on perseverance.”
I wish it were enough that you love your idea. That you think your idea is totally unique and will revolutionize the face of humanity. I wish it were, but it’s not. Why? Because real success isn’t built on warm fuzzies. It’s built by hard work and an honorable amount of persistence. And a healthy dose of of hopeless optimism doesn’t hurt either.
Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group, says tons of pitches come across his desk from people who believe their ideas are concocted of unicorn dust and Steve Jobs’ magic. These genius entrepreneurs come equipped with NDAs and a huge side of secrecy. To Feld, it’s laughable.
The greatest ideas and best companies often didn’t succeed because they were the first of their kind. It wasn’t that they were special. To quote Feld, they “became great because of execution.”
So stop believing you’re a unicorn and actually become one. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Work hard. Be special. Inspire others to join you on your mission. Rinse and repeat. Forge through the ugly. There’s only so much room at the top, and I guarantee you there are no spots for puny ponies.
Heather Anne Carson is the co-founder of Onboardly, a company that works with venture-backed startups to help them with customer acquisition. Heather manages PR strategies for a variety of clients and has helped them secure coverage in publications like Inc, Entrepreneur, Shape Magazine, New York Times Magazine, BetaKit, TechCrunch, PandoDaily,TechCocktail, Mashable and many more. Follow her on Twitter @heatheranne.