A common way that people get stuck, especially in business, is that they feel entitled to success before they’ve invested in really earning it.
Maybe you did well in school. Maybe you’ve been told that you’re smart or creative. Maybe you began with some advantages that made you feel like you’re already ahead of the game.
And then you dive into the real world with your grand goals and dreams, and it knocks you on your ass.
This has happened to me and many other entrepreneurial friends. It’s humbling for sure, but the experience of being knocked down a few times helps you admit that you still have a hell of a lot to learn.
Learning computer programming and getting good at it took me many years. I started when I was 10 years old and didn’t begin working on my first commercial product until I was 22 years old. By that point I knew how to program to some extent in BASIC, PASCAL, FORTRAN, C, C++, Assembly, Lisp, Prolog, and a few other languages. I was very good at math too.
But then I had to learn game programming… and Windows programming. There were lots of animation concepts to learn like back buffers and blitting. Then when I started my own business the following year, I had to learn game design, art, sound effects editing, MIDI, and so much more. I also had to learn new graphics interfaces like WinG and DirectX. Finally I figured I had the skills to succeed, but no…
I still had to learn some accounting, contract law, and negotiation skills, which took a while to wrap my head around. And was that enough? Nope. It was able to land some deals, but most didn’t go well. There was still way more to learn.
I had to learn better people skills and to be more discerning in choosing people to work with. I had to learn to manage a small team and to network with other people in the field. Then there were systems to figure out like customer support and shipping. Finally enough? Still no.
On top of that multi-year journey, there was learning sales and marketing. That was a huge one and really took me outside my comfort zone. For many new entrepreneurs having to learn this part of business can be daunting – and humbling. There’s just so much to learn. And once you finally learn it, your “reward” is to realize that you have even more work to do.
Finally my first business started doing well. It took several years, but eventually I had put enough pieces together to make it work sustainably.
The entitlement aspect slowed me down in the beginning, as it slows down many people. This is the expectation that surely you know enough to succeed already, especially when entering a field that you believe should play to your strengths.
Having a good head on your shoulders may help, but the belief that you should be able to succeed quickly can really get in your way. It may be better to approach new experiences with more patience and humility. Be willing to accept that the journey may be longer than you expect.
Among struggling entrepreneurs I know, I often see the same entitlement patterns that I succumbed to. Some feel that when they’re first starting out, they should have everything figured out and running smoothly within six months to a year. Some may be able to go that fast, but most won’t. I think this attitude makes a lot of people give up when they’re actually making decent progress. They have so much more to learn than they realize.
This entitlement issue can come up repeatedly. Even if you’re been doing okay for a decade, you may hit a road bump and feel like you’re losing ground. This can be frustrating. You may look to all the past efforts you’ve invested and declare that you deserve some smooth seas for a change. Surely you’ve earned it, right?
You may encounter some smooth seas now and then, but realize that the weather can still change. Appreciate the periods of wonderful flow when you have them, but try not to get attached to them.
One solution I like is to think of myself as a perpetual student. I accept that the learning game never ends. There’s always more to figure out. I can never declare that I’m finally done learning and just rest on my past skills and accomplishments. There is no entitlement to more success, regardless of how much I think I know or what I’ve done in the past.
Each day is a fresh one. Each new success must be earned. Each year of life and business brings fresh challenges to face.
This year life has thrown some big challenges at some people I know, while oddly for me it’s been one of the smoothest years ever. That doesn’t give me permission to succumb to a forward-looking sense of entitlement, as tempting as that may be. We live in a world of change.
Even if you’ve been through a lot of rough patches in your past, that still doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to a low-challenge future. You may have even bigger challenges ahead.
You have a relationship with life. Entitlement is a way of saying that you have life all figured out and know just what to expect of it. But life won’t necessarily let you pigeonhole it this way. When you try to box it in by willing it to satisfy your expectations going forward, life has a way of crushing the box.
Instead of trying to boxify life, realize that life still has some juicy mystery to it, and stay alert to the possibility of change and disruption. Change doesn’t have to feel punishing if you learn to welcome it and see it as a gift instead of a curse.