When you decide to become an entrepreneur, you do something that many people feel uncomfortable with. You stand on your own, and you open a new path in the big world of businesses for yourself and the people who work with you. If you’re anything like many of the entrepreneurs out there, the beginning of this journey is a time of great excitement. You see your vision coming to life and people all around you are giving their two cents of advice and cheering you on.
But as you keep advancing, you slowly realise that no matter the good intentions of everyone, or their feedback, you stand alone. Like sitting aside alone in a room when everyone is talking in the other corner, you feel the compulsion to join and blend in.
The truth is that it’s far easier to channel something you’ve already seen in action than become something you haven’t experienced for yourself. Some of us want to blend in because we fear standing alone. Most of us do this because standing alone means being uncertain, and we all have an intrinsic aversion towards uncertainty.
Nevertheless, you have to remember that you do not innovate when you stagnate in false certainties, but when you open yourself to uncertainties. The first people who probably realised this were scientists. Since then, the history of science has confirmed repeatedly that we add to the knowledge of the world by being willing to be uncertain. Carl Sagan, one of recent history’s most vocal proponents of science itself and the scientific method, expressed it beautifully:
“Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science — by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans — teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us.”
While scientists might have learnt a long time ago that living with uncertainty is part of everyday life, as well as the road to constant improvement, this is still a lesson every new entrepreneur has to learn. More so because their decisions and actions have direct and applicable impact on their businesses.
This is where we get to the conundrum every entrepreneur goes through: as an aspiring entrepreneur, looking out to the big blue sea of the startup life, you look up to other entrepreneurs who made it and admire them for their confidence in their path. But as a water-up-to-your-ankles entrepreneur, going though the journey of building a business yourself, how can you feel confident when there are so many things you are uncertain about?
How do you feel self-confident when you stand alone?
We’ll start with the bad news first: there is no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all recipe. We know, it would be great if self-confidence was a magic neural network you could just turn on in the right conditions.
But here’s the good news. People, and scientists themselves, have wondered for a long time what makes an entrepreneur. And through their inquisitiveness and our own experience of working with Hyper founders, we’ve come to the conclusion that self-confidence for an entrepreneur isn’t a nebulous, indescribable feeling that other people get right. It is something you and every aspiring entrepreneur can experience, as long as you are willing to accept two things:
- First, that you will have to take a hard look in the metaphorical mirror and see yourself as you are
- Second, that your personality, your skills and the way you approach things are not set in stone. If fact, you have to believe that there is always place for learning and growth
With this mindset, here are the building blocks of self-confidence for an entrepreneur:
Commonly known as “I believe I can perform tasks and fulfil roles, and this is directly related to my expectations, goals and motivation” or, as we like to call it, “I know I can do the job in front of me, to the standards I set to myself, and I understand how this fits in my startup’s plan and why I’m doing it”.
This part is much touched upon when you set out as an entrepreneur. And the secret isn’t to keep doing things that you already know how to do, because that is easy. The secret is to keep working on the things you are unsure about.
When you do something you’re good at, your sense of self-confidence is high, as are your expectations and goals, because it’s something you’ve done before. But when you start doing something new, it’s important to remember to tailor your expectations and goals to your level of skill. If it’s something you haven’t done before at all, do it with the goal of getting feedback on it from someone better than you. Then do it with the expectation of making something decent – not horrible, not perfect, but something in between.
Most importantly, remember to not tie your confidence in doing things by comparing your results with those of others. We know it’s hard not to compare what you’re doing with what’s happening out there. But you will feel better with yourself if you draw your confidence from how you’re doing now compared to how you’ve been doing – say – a month ago.
Of course, there is one common pitfall you shouldn’t fall into: when we say self-efficacy is related to motivation, don’t think of motivation as something you feel. You won’t always feel like doing the job that’s in front of you. Nevertheless, you will do it because it will help your app business grow or because it will help a user segment. Sometimes the good feeling will catch up with you as you work. Sometimes it won’t. But that’s okay, because it’s rare that the quality of your work is affected by your mood. And the satisfaction of getting it done and seeing results from it will be just as great in the end.
Locus of control
Put simply, there are two kinds of people: the first will receive a half-empty glass of water in a restaurant, look at it, shrug, drink it and move on. The second type will look at the half-empty glass and start asking for a full glass; if nobody pays attention to them, they will get up and go to another restaurant. The first thought they had no control on what happened to them and their environment, the second thought they had.
Great entrepreneurs take ownership of what happens to them and their business. They believe they can directly influence the world with their actions. That is another perspective of their confidence put on a positive feedback loop. After all, when you realise you have a direct impact on your life story and what is happening to you, that encourages you to do it again, looking for better results.
Mind you, this sense of control also comes with a caveat: make sure you understand the difference between things you can control and those you can’t (even if you wish you could). For example: as an entrepreneur, you can control how your app will look like, but you can’t control how your audience will react to your product. Sometimes, taking ownership doesn’t mean trying to beat your environment into submission – it’s about deciding to adapt or even deciding to look for another part of your environment that suits you better.
Attitude towards risk
You’re probably thinking “Hey, but I thought all entrepreneurs are open towards risk? Isn’t my willingness to jump a marker of my confidence as an entrepreneur?”. Indeed, the common sense of the startup world might give you that impression.
But here’s a fun fact: the more you dig into it, the more you realise there’s no definite answer whether your openness towards risks is a success indicator for your business. And when people talk about risks, they tend to pitch together perceived risks (when you have a general idea of what you’ll be going into when you decide on one path of action over the other) and clear-cut uncertainty (also known as “I have no idea where I am, what I am doing or what will happen if I do this”).
As far as we can tell, successful entrepreneurs embrace the first scenario – they relish making educated guesses and mitigating problems – while trying to avoid complete uncertainty at all costs.
So if you’ve ever felt bad or unconfident because you are working on an idea, but aren’t really moving forward for lack of information, don’t. It’s not that you’re not living up to being an entrepreneur. If you are still looking for information, you are probably exactly the type of entrepreneur you need to be in that moment.
Your self-confidence as an entrepreneur is something you build every day
At the end of the day, your self-confidence as an entrepreneur is not something you are born with. It’s something you work at every day, sometimes by doing your best for your business, sometimes by taking ownership of the things you can control, sometimes by taking the risks you feel comfortable with.
Some days you will feel on the top of the world; other days you will mess up miserably and you’ll have to pick up the pieces and learn how to do better next time. The truth is, when you are longer in this game, you come to realise that having confidence as an entrepreneur has little to do with how you feel. Instead, having confidence has everything to do with finding the resources to push forward, one step at a time, no matter how uncertain you feel.