Accepting the Trade-Offs of Entrepreneurship

We all want to experience the upsides of entrepreneurship—the success, the praise, the creative freedom, the money.

But each of those things is just one side of a coin. For every upside, there’s an inherent downside. The possibility of success comes with the possibility of failure. Same for praise vs blame, creative freedom vs external judgement, and financial abundance vs financial scarcity.

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But many of us try to avoid experiencing these types of trade-offs, wishing we could have all the upsides without having to deal with any of the downsides.

  • We want prospects to say yes, but we resist hearing the inevitable no’s.
  • We want the adventure of entrepreneurship, but resist the uncertainty that comes with it.
  • We want to authentically express ourselves, but resist other people’s negative judgement when we don’t follow the herd.
  • We want all the financial rewards that come with building a business, but resist the inherent risk that we may go broke.
  • We want to be the best at what we do, but resist the fact that we can’t be great at everything all at once.

By resisting the trade-offs—refusing to accept that there’s a flip side to every coin, and that every positive upside has a potential negative downside—we end up fighting with reality and limiting our potential.

I speak from my own personal experience. For years I struggled with a nearly debilitating fear of rejection. I knew that in order to build my client base, I needed to consistently reach out to lots of prospects. I also knew that most of the people I contacted wouldn’t be a good fit at that time or simply wouldn’t be interested in what I had to offer. Still, I just couldn’t accept the fact that hearing lots of no’s was the trade-off of hearing the occasional yes.

So instead of just reaching out to prospects and starting conversations that could lead to new client relationships, I hid behind inbound content marketing strategies and other “rejection-free” techniques for attracting new business. And it worked, at least a little bit. But I was severely limited by my discomfort with hearing no.

Another example: On occasion, I’ve opted for the apparent security of a traditional role within a company, only to end up frustrated and unhappy.

Why all the internal drama? Simple. I wanted the upside of a steady paycheck and great health insurance, but resisted the trade-off of not having nearly as much autonomy or creative freedom.

By being unwilling to accept both sides of the coin in these types of situations, I found myself stuck in place, constantly fighting with reality, and chasing the myth of “perfect.”

How to Accept the Right Trade-Offs

Dealing with the inevitable trade-offs that come with life as an entrepreneur starts with acceptance and the willingness to pay the price of success.

Mark Manson has a great quote that pretty much sums this up:

Everything involves sacrifice. Everything includes some sort of cost. Nothing is pleasurable or uplifting all of the time. So, the question becomes: what struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate? Ultimately, what determines our ability to stick with something we care about is our ability to handle the rough patches and ride out the inevitable rotten days.

If you want to be a brilliant tech entrepreneur, but you can’t handle failure, then you’re not going to make it far. If you want to be a professional artist, but you aren’t willing to see your work rejected hundreds, if not thousands of times, then you’re done before you start. If you want to be a hotshot court lawyer, but can’t stand the 80-hour workweeks, then I’ve got bad news for you.

Finding your life purpose involves eating a shit sandwich or two. What unpleasant experiences are you able to handle? Are you able to stay up all night coding? Are you able to put off starting a family for 10 years? Are you able to have people laugh you off the stage over and over again until you get it right?

Of course, none of us like eating shit sandwiches. But there’s a way to make them taste a little less shitty.

First, realize that nobody is forcing you to do anything. You’re choosing to build a business, to grow your team, or to work with high-end clients who demand exceptional results. If you really, really don’t want to deal with the trade-offs that come with these goals, then you have every right to choose not to pursue them. You’re free to do, or not do, whatever you’d like.

Just realize that any choice you make comes with consequences. If you choose not to eat those shit sandwiches (like I did for all those years) the consequence could be a lot of wasted time and effort avoiding things you don’t like—robbing you of the experiences and achievements you really want in life. Trust me, the feelings of regret can be a lot more painful than any rejection from a prospect or snarky comment from a demanding client.

Does accepting those trade-offs mean you just grin and bear it, white knuckling your way through the anguish? Not at all.

The trick to accepting trade-offs is to stop resisting them or wishing they would go away. Instead, practice leaning into them. Bring your awareness completely into the experiences that you used to run away from.

When you feel frustrated or scared, just allow those emotions and experiences to happen, and then allow them to pass. You might not like feeling them, but you can accept them simply by staying present and allowing yourself to experience whatever feelings and sensations they happen to dredge up.

You accept that the no’s you hear, or the difficult clients, or whatever other frustrating thing you’re dealing with, is simply the reality of the situation. Then you can get on with the business of what needs to be done.

If you can do something to make the situation better, then by all means do so:

  • Work to improve your selling skills so that you hear yes’s more often than no’s.
  • Have an honest conversation with your client, and set some reasonable boundaries for handling project changes.
  • Lower your personal and business expenses so that you’re not as stressed about going broke.

Being proactive about mitigating trade-offs is not the same as denying or resisting the fact that they exist. You’re not limiting your potential and refusing to take action because you’re trying to avoid the downside. You’re simply using your creativity to figure out ways to make those shit sandwiches a bit more palatable.

Accepting trade-offs also doesn’t mean that you can’t set appropriate boundaries. For example, if you want to do high paying creative work for corporate clients, some reasonable trade-offs may include things like a round or two of revisions, slight delays as projects move through the organization for approval, and accommodating a “design by committee” culture.

But what if you have a client who doesn’t really know what they want (but will “know it when they see it”) yet expects you to nail projects on the first try? Or who doesn’t respect work-life boundaries, expecting you or your team to be available to them 24/7 and respond to questions or requests within minutes?

You don’t have to accept unreasonable or unprofessional behavior. Set appropriate boundaries—ones that aren’t so restrictive that you can’t tolerate any downsides, but aren’t so broad that you’re completely at the mercy of other people’s agendas.

Find the right balance of up- and down-sides that works for you, and keep adjusting as you widen your comfort zone and capabilities.

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