Last week my wife and I were at a gala where everyone I met claimed to be an entrepreneur. Dentists, lawyers, real estate developers, marketing consultants, CEOs of large and small non-profits, retirees who flip houses, lawn care service owners, restaurateurs, auto dealers, investment advisors, and mass purveyors of magazine subscriptions: All of them told me they were entrepreneurs.
Clearly, being an entrepreneur is in vogue. Like actor and writer, entrepreneur isn’t just a job, it’s a way to define yourself. This definition includes a lot of really attractive characteristics—vision, tenacity, autonomy, boundless energy, risk tolerance, the ability to turn a great idea into a moneymaker, the ability to do something really hard, like start a business from scratch—which is probably why so many people want to be considered part of the club.
Obviously, calling yourself something doesn’t make it so. This is what an entrepreneur actually does:
1. Puts his or her money at risk, whether it’s cash or signing for loans or both.
2. Brings an original and potentially revolutionary idea, service, or product into the marketplace.
3. Runs and grows the business, day in and day out.
4. Stands to gain or lose—sometimes substantially—from its success.
5. Works exceptionally long hours, especially in the beginning.
Why is it so important for people over 50 to grasp this?
The idea of being an entrepreneur is glamorous from a distance. No one else is your boss; you don’t have office politics to deal with, or a glass ceiling, or arbitrary rules about dress codes and vacation time and expense reports.
People in their 50s and 60s who lose their jobs are statistically unlikely to find comparable employment with comparable responsibility at comparable wages to their former position. This is especially true for middle managers. For anyone displaced from a satisfying career, or anyone unhappy in a current job, entrepreneurship looks like an inviting pathway to success.
For some it will be. For many it is a catastrophically bad choice.
I’m beginning a series of interviews with entrepreneurs over the age of 50 who meet the five criteria above. I’ll be telling their stories and sharing their experiences and insights. Let me know if you have an entrepreneurial tale to tell. We’ll do our best to include it in a future article or blog post.