5 Entrepreneurship Myths I Heard From A High Schooler

A high schooler came by my office last week. He was on campus for some sort of summer program, and he was persistent about wanting to meet — including referencing statements I made on this website — so I welcomed him to stop by.

When I asked him why he wanted to meet, he launched into a mini-soliloquy about his goal of becoming an entrepreneur. It was a well-prepared speech, but it was filled with misconceptions.

Thankfully, he never once mentioned wanting to make lots of money, so that was at least one misconception I didn’t have to correct. However, he had plenty of other overly romantic notions about entrepreneurship.

The rest of our conversation focused on why and how he should reconsider some of those notions. It was a bit like telling a six-year-old that Santa Clause isn’t real, but hopefully it resulted in a potential young entrepreneur being better prepared to pursue his professional ambitions.

In the hopes of helping other young entrepreneurs who find this website, I decided I’d write a post highlighting some of the entrepreneurial myths my high school visitor and I discussed.

Myth 1: Entrepreneur is a job title

I’m not sure who the first person was who listed his professional title as “entrepreneur,” but I think I’m going to embark on a personal crusade to end the practice.

“Entrepreneur” isn’t a profession. It’s not like being a doctor or lawyer or architect, and you don’t attend “entrepreneur school.” Instead, entrepreneur is a label that gets applied to your work.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, don’t start calling yourself one. Instead, start building a business. Someone will call you an entrepreneur eventually. Just don’t be surprised if, when it finally happens, you discover that you don’t actually care about having the title.

Myth 2: Entrepreneurs don’t work for other people

Although people who own their own businesses don’t have bosses, not having a boss actually increases the number of people you’re accountable to.

First, and foremost, your customer is always your boss. When there’s no one higher in your organization than you, the responsibility for the happiness of those customers always falls on your shoulders.

In addition, if you build venture-backed startups like me, you’ll get investors. My investors are wonderful (and relatively relaxed) mentors, but they hold me accountable, and I’m always working for them.

Lastly, if you have employees, you’re working for them and their families, too. In fact, I guarantee no boss will ever make you feel the same level of obligation and accountability as an employee with a newborn baby.

Myth 3: Get an entrepreneurial education to prepare yourself for having a great idea

Too many young entrepreneurs I speak with think they need to study entrepreneurship so they’ll know what to do once they finally have their brilliant idea.

But that’s not how entrepreneurship works. Ideas don’t just fall from the sky, and no amount of classes or books (or blog reading) will adequately prepare you for what happens once you start a company. That’s not to suggest you stop learning. Just don’t expect all of your reading and research to instantly translate into entrepreneurial success. Some lessons you have to learn through doing… and failing.

Myth 4: You should get a job after college with the intention of leaving it in a few years to start your own company

An overwhelming number of my students (and high schoolers who want to become my students) tell me they plan to get a job when they graduate, work at the job for 3-5 years to “get experience,” and then leave to found their own companies.

That scenario might occasionally happen, but it’s really not the kind of thing you plan. Life is far too random. You might get a job, love it, and not want to leave. You might get a job, start a family, and no longer be able to accept the financial uncertainty that comes with starting your own venture. Or you might step off a curve and get hit by a bus.

Hopefully that last thing doesn’t happen, but, the point is, your professional life will be too uncertain to take such a rigid approach to entrepreneurial pursuits. Or, in truth, to any pursuits far in the future.

Myth 5: Your primary goal as an entrepreneur is to change the world

It’s not that I don’t believe in trying to help the world or that entrepreneurs shouldn’t strive to be a positive influence on the world. I do believe entrepreneurs can have a world changing impact. But “changing the world” shouldn’t be your goal. It can be an outcome.

Instead, focus on your company and the problems it solves. If you do that successfully, you’ll likely find yourself in a position to “change the world.” Or, at the least, you’ll be in a better position to pursue an idea that can.

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I teach in Duke University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship program and founded RocketBolt. I write about startups, pedagogy, entrepreneurship, engineering, and poetry. They’re all related, I promise.

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  • Snuck into the back of today’s @dukefuqua Program for Entrepreneurs kickoff event. Maybe if I attend enough classes I can convince someone to give me a free #MBA 😁
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#p4e #entrepreneur #startup #entrepreneurlife #freeMBA
  • I’m hosting today’s @dukeinnovation “Lunch & Learn.” I’m talking with my colleagues about #socialmedia and trying to convince them to take it seriously, so I made them take a group photo for me to post.
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In related news, doing this kind of thing is why I’ll probably never get #tenure
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#entrepreneur #startups #lunchandlearn #mycolleagueshateme
  • Today, I lead the first meeting of a @dukeinnovation faculty committee about creating a methodology for teaching #entrepreneurship that can apply to any type of #venture.
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Mind you, by “lead the meeting” I mostly just mean I was lucky to be in the same room with an amazing group of #scholars and #entrepreneurs who didn’t need any help from me to have a fascinating debate about how to accomplish a nearly impossible task.
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But at least I got to take a picture from the head of the table 😁
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#mycolleaguesarebrilliant #innovation #entrepreneur #wholetmein
  • Brought my daughter with me to watch my @dukeinnovation students graduate. She got to see dozens of examples of the kind of person I hope she becomes: brilliant, kind, thoughtful, articulate, talented, caring, confident, and really good at producing high quality work despite a propensity for procrastination 😁
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Thanks, #duke2018 #graduates for making me love going to school every day. I hope your journeys beyond @dukeuniversity take you into jobs as amazing and rewarding as mine.
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#graduation #innovation #entrepreneurship #classof2018 #bluedevils
  • Drinks at the @thelakewooddurham with the @dukeuniversity Junior Faculty Association to celebrate the end of another great semester.
  • Congrats to all my @dukeinnovation seniors who gave their final Capstone presentations yesterday.
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No more #homework. Now it’s time for the #realworld.
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#duke2018
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship
  • Threw an LMOC (Last Monday of Classes) party in my #learningtofail class.
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The students had to convince their friends to bring food, and they earned points based on how many calories they got delivered to class.
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Lots of cookies and candies. But the winner was the student who convinced his friend to deliver 30 pounds of flour. 🤣
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #startup #ldoc #partytime
  • Asked my #learningtofail students to sell a @jollyrancher for $100 today. For the first time ever, everyone #failed.
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In related news, I heard a report from a campus tour guide that dozens of prospective students and their families were continuously being solicited to buy absurdly expensive candy during their campus visits.
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What a strange coincidence. Must have been someone else selling candy today, too...😒
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #sweettooth #collegevisits
  • Finally had a freshman discover the Duke-sponsored free lunch opportunity.
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I forgot to ask Julia about the most important thing she’s learned in my class, but she’s taking another one with me next semester, so I feel like that’s a good sign she’s not just using me to get free food ☺️
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneruship #socialmediamarketing #teaching #freelunch
  • The end-of-semester FLUNCH parade continues... this time with Thomas, one of my soon-to-be-graduating seniors in the @dukeinnovation capstone who’s heading off to work @txinstruments.
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When asked to share the most important thing I’ve taught him about #entrepreneurship, Thomas had trouble coming up with an answer. Sounds about right 🤔
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#entrepreneur #innovation #teaching #freelunch #duke2018
  • “When you go into a company, whatever you decide to do, you want to be closest to the money. That’s the safest place to be in every business.” - @cleithe, VP of Sales for @adwerxre, who I conned into speaking to both my @dukeinnovation capstone classes.
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#sales #marketing #startups #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #innovation
  • Doing a little FLUNCH with @adam_kershner,  Ben Lee, and Adam’s freshman roommate who was just there for the free lunch ☺️
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Adam says the most important thing I taught him was: “How to think differently and approach problems in an unorthodox way, and how that approach to problem solving is one of the most valuable lessons from Duke.”
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Honestly, I don’t think I taught him that. I think he already knew it when he showed up as a freshman in my very first class @dukeuniversity. Now he’s a graduating senior in my @dukeinnovation capstone, and it’s been a privilege to watch his Duke journey. I’m sure he’s going to do great things, and I look forward to following his post-college journey via Instagram.
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P.S. Adam, tell Ben to follow me here so I can keep tabs on him, too 😉
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#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #startups #teaching #duke2018

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