The following appeared originally at the Harvard Business Review.
I am not a risk taker.
I have a fine arts degree in film. Instead of moving to Brooklyn to rough it as an indie filmmaker and bartender, I moved to the Upper West Side and took a job producing television for Disney’s ABC. Classmates told me I had sold out. Well, salary and health insurance are powerful incentives.
Years later, I attended the MBA program at Harvard Business School. I loved it and made great friends there, but it was hardly risky.
After HBS, I returned to Disney in a role many would have envied. I have always loved the company’s products, but quickly fell out of love with its processes. I wanted to create impact, but I didn’t want to spend years playing politics and riding the corporate ladder before I could contribute meaningfully.
Entitled? Perhaps. Impatient? For sure.
After one particularly maddening day at work, I made a comment about how the mentality of “that’s not how we do things around here” is such a threat to innovation. A friend of mine pounced. His startup was in need of a product person.
I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur — eventually. But I was waiting for the right thing and the right time. Or so I always told myself.
In reality, the fear of failure was keeping me from taking the plunge. I don’t think I’ve spectacularly failed at anything in my life. Why would I want to start now? I cared way too much what others would think of me.
It was hard to get over that. Friends and family kept telling me: “Who cares how it ends? Think of everything you’re going to learn and discover along the way.” They were right.
The fear of failure tempered, the time was right, and a start-up couldn’t have been a more perfect destination. My life had revolved around developing media, technology, and incredible consumer experiences, and this new venture tied all three together.
I’ve been the product guy in a small team, where I have a big impact, for over six months now. I love having skin in the game.
Entrepreneurship is highly romanticized, especially right now. It’s not easy. It’s not at all what they make it look like in the movies. Startup life requires a little bit of crazy and complete rejection of the fear of failure.
That’s an oversimplification, of course. There are times where I wake up at 4 a.m. in a cold sweat, worrying about something related to our product. There are nights where I don’t fall asleep, pondering the additional debt I’ve incurred on top of my student loans.
Still, I’m comforted knowing I’m not alone. I have exceptional cofounders; teammates who are committed to unwinding me when I go fetal. I have incredible friends who are building their businesses; my personal board of directors that I can ping at any time.
Having jumped off the cliff, I couldn’t be happier. I’ve never worked harder on anything else in my life. But nothing has ever felt less like work.
Steve Jobs passed last week, as we all know. What better lesson to have imparted than his? Death is the absolute worst thing that can happen to you. And it will.
Why not take the plunge? Make something while you’re still alive.