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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P.S. It’s really hot in this room and we’re all sweating.
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