Rethinking success: why entrepreneurship may not be for everybody

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I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur one day; I love innovation and creating new things. I used to read books and blogs about innovation, tech, and startups even when I was working as a financial analyst. But I never knew that I’d become an entrepreneur so soon.

My original plan was to continue working in private equity or merger and acquisition in a big company, accumulate some money, get married, have kids and then when I reach 35 years (I’m 28 now), quit my job and start my own startup.

So what changed? Well, there are several things, but there was actually one video that I watched that had a significant impact on my decision. It completely changed the way I measure success and how to make career decisions. Check out the TED Talk, maybe it’ll inspire you as well:

Many of us are confused about how we should measure success. We often compare ourselves to other people, how much money they make or what they do to make it. As de Botton discusses in the video above, when people perceive that being a banker is presitigious, everyone wants to become a banker, because other people would perceive them as cool, not because they really like finance.

Now, when it seems that being an entrepreneur or creating a new app is cool, everyone is jumping to become an entrepreneur. You shouldn’t do things because other people think it’s the cool thing to do today.

In Kuwait and across the Middle East, being a tech entrepreneur is still perceived as a crazy career path. I know that many of my close friends and family think that I’m crazy to give up my engineering diploma, my finance background and my MBA to build a startup called fishfishme.

I know that my parents are sometimes embarrassed to tell people what I do. But, should I care? Absolutely not! (I just hope my mom doesn’t read this post.)

I’ll do what I love and what I’m passionate about, not what makes people think that I’m cool and fit into their definition of success. Of course, I want to make money and build the most successful company in the world, but not because people want me to do so, but because this is what I really want to do.

I think many people are afraid to become entrepreneurs not because they are worried about the money and the financial risk, but because they are worried to fail in front of people. That’s why you see so many people build a startup as a side business, because when it fails, they’ll be able to tell themselves and others, “It was just a side business, I still have my day job and I didn’t really put a lot of effort into it anyway.” But, for example if fishfishme fails, the whole world will know that I failed. Yes, failing hurts. But living by what other people want you to do it much worse. Do what you love, even if you don’t succeed right away.

Measuring success can be tricky. For some, working in the government and having a more stable work environment is success, and, if that’s what he or she wants to do, then that is success. My sister makes handmade necklaces (at her own company called ibrah) and probably sells 40-60 pieces every month. She’s been doing this for more than 4 years now and is passionate about it. She doesn’t have plans to grow the business or make huge sums of money; she’s is happy with what she has and, to me, that is a success.

By defining success as finding something that brings us joy and fulfillment, we will be able to contribute more of ourselves to the world around us. Don’t become a doctor, an engineer, a banker, a designer or even an entrepreneur just because it’s the cool thing to do today; find what really makes you tick, and pursue it until you find your own success.

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