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Self-Made: Science Reveals the Emotion Behind Entrepreneurship

Our culture places a high value on the self-made individual, partly because we all secretly wish for overwhelming success and are to some extent awed by those who have achieved it, but also because the story of the self-made man or woman is an important American cultural legend. Our collective stories place the highest value on rebelliousness (as exemplified by America’s founding fathers), fierce individualism, sticking it to the man and telling him to “take this job and shove it.” American hero stories feature cowboys, outlaws, and pirates. You won’t find any stories about accountants who never made a mistake, or model employees with perfect attendance. So, what does that mean?

The virtues we tend to associate with entrepreneurs include creativity, drive, excellence, and singularity of vision. The prototypical entrepreneur is Steve Jobs, who we associate with all of these characteristics. We’ve all asked ourselves, “Do I have what it takes to become an entrepreneur?” or “Could I ever become a Steve Jobs?”

Leading Indicator Systems recently conducted a large-scale study representative of all working American adults that focused on proclivity for, and interest in, entrepreneurship, the desire to start and run a company, inspire others, and become influential in your field of interest. 

Our research found that the entrepreneurial impulse is associated with having high emotional intelligence overall, the ability to recognize and regulate emotions in oneself and in others. Budding entrepreneurs were particularly strong in the ability to regulate and shape others’ emotions and to utilize their own emotions to solve problems and innovate.

But, is that it? Do entrepreneurial-minded people suffer from any emotional hurdles?   

Interestingly, some of those interested in “going their own way” through entrepreneurship suffer from a highly common ailment of success-oriented people. It’s called Imposter Syndrome—the tendency to doubt your own abilities and feel like a fraud. In fact, a strong motivator for some entrepreneurs appears to be a feeling of inadequacy and lack of agency, both of which the entrepreneur hopes to overcome by demonstrating their ability to make it on their own through material success. And, still, that’s not the biggest conclusions of our findings.

Research also revealed that these types of entrepreneurs are less likely to have achieved self-actualization—a mindset and understanding that they have already become their best selves. This makes sense since a major driver behind entrepreneurship is the need to prove oneself. 

Why do these research findings matter?

If you’re an entrepreneur it’s important to be aware of this tension, whether you are trying to accomplish something that is personally meaningful, or whether you are to trying to silence your naysayers and haters. These two different goals actually make a huge difference in whether or not entrepreneurs ultimately succeed. 

Consider this. The Dark Horse project, a long-term study of people who achieved unexpected massive success (conducted by Harvard psychologists) identified the characteristics of those who actually succeed against all odds. 

At the top of the list are two extremely interesting characteristics: 

  1. A passion for, and long-term focus on, growing the parts of themselves that matter most (an internal focus), and, 
  2. Not caring how they are doing compared to others or to typical measures of success (i.e., not having an external focus).

What does all this mean for you? People drawn to entrepreneurship must make a critically important choice and/or distinction. Are you pursuing your passion to prove your haters wrong? Or, are you strictly focused on turning your passion into a success—for the benefit of others. 

If you’re drawn to entrepreneurship, understand that there are real consequences associated with what is really driving you. And, this might be a good time to ask yourself some questions. 

  • Understanding that no one’s interest in success is 100% internally or externally motivated, what proportion of your interest in entrepreneurship comes from your own passion and purpose vs. beating the haters? 
  • Is finding your passion and purpose important to you? 
  • What thoughts or beliefs are standing in the way of your being able to get in touch with you passion and purpose? 

Answer these questions with as much honesty and detail as possible. By surfacing the thoughts and emotions you often leave unsaid, you will begin the process toward true success.

To learn more about authentic entrepreneurship, we highly suggest you check out MagnifiU’s Entrepreneurship learning path with Ryan Miller, “Building Your 10-Star Experience.

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