This article was published on May 4, 2013

10 ways to stay happy as an entrepreneur

10 ways to stay happy as an entrepreneur
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

At last week’s The Next Web Conference it was interesting to hear how entrepreneurs are changing their goals.

At previous events we would often hear about monetization, scalability and the Long Tail. Starting at last year’s event, entrepreneurs seemed to give more attention to building 100 year companies, doing what’s best for the customer, and working ‘from the heart’. These aren’t ‘new age’ entrepreneurs who found Zen or don’t care about revenue anymore, but it seems like a lot of entrepreneurs are starting to agree that doing whats best for the customers, doing what feels good for the entrepreneur and building companies to last ends up being damn fine business practice.

In other words; we all want to be happy, and becoming successful, powerful or wealthy might be a tool to get there, but not a goal in itself.

So how do you achieve happiness as an entrepreneur? Here are a few do’s and don’ts, ordered in an easy to read Top 10 list.

1: Surround yourself with people who make you happy

You don’t need to find people that smile all the time and give you a back rub, but do find people that inspire, work hard and make you feel part of a team. We often do a ‘Lift test’ when we talk to prospective employees; I imagine being stuck in an elevator with that person for two or three hours. Would it be awkward? Interesting? Fun? If you think it will be awful and uncomfortable, then don’t hire that person. When I walk into the office in the morning and see the people I work with I feel like coming home, and that’s what you should strive for.

2: Get rid of people who make you unhappy

Building a great team is the hardest thing in the world. You will often get the advice to build a great team and hire only A-Players. That’s all great and everybody agrees, but how do you get there? The answer: by being brutally honest with yourself. You already know who isn’t performing as well as you hoped, and who is always surprising you with their insight and ambition. Be honest to yourself and your employees and get rid of the ones that aren’t doing well. You will feel a great sense of relief once you do.

3: Set yourself some goals for the next 10 or 30 years

We are all consumed by our calendars and to-do lists. Sometimes we will make plans and look at what might happen in the next 12 months or 2 years. But how about in ten years? What would your company have to look like, in 20 or 30 years, to still be the best place in the world to stay at? What would have to change? Once you get a clearer picture of what needs to happen in the long term, it becomes much more clear what needs to happen in the short term.

4: Fuel up on inspiration

Entrepreneurs are creative people. This creativity needs to be fueled. Read books, take in some art, look at LOLcats, check out a few quotes or browse around this blog for inspiring posts. It is too easy to get caught up in managing everything that needs to be managed, and sometimes you need to refuel and feed the creative side of your brain too.

5: Don’t try to live up to expectations

There are a lot of expectations for entrepreneurs. Your employees, partners and investors all expect you to do certain things and act a certain way. I remember when I sold my company to a large telecommunications company and was asked to stay on as a manager. I tried to emulate the other managers I met at this large company and read a few books about what it meant to be a manager. I tried to live up to the expectations, and I burned out within 6 months.

In hindsight I realized they asked me as a manager, because I was different than all the other managers they already employed. As an entrepreneur you are unique, and you have the option to build your company the way you see fit. That uniqueness will make or break your company. Don’t go against your own beliefs and try to be like other people.

6: Say no more often

A lot of entrepreneurs are kind people. They excel in putting a team together, winning customers hearts and selling their dreams to investors. These are not typically the most aggressive people. One way to overloading yourself and making life hard is to say yes too often. Be strict and honest when people ask you for favors. People will ask you for favors and your time and it is generally easier to say yes than no. But everybody appreciates it when you say ‘Sorry, but my company is growing so fast it currently needs all my attention’. Funny thing is that generally that is the truth too. Your attention should be with your company.

7: Don’t feel guilty about not working

Most entrepreneurs I know work every day of the week. Even when we aren’t at work, we still think about work. And that’s fine. Don’t try to force yourself to let go. If you are inspired or worried it helps to dream away and mull over issues. You love what you do and there is no shame in that. Now also don’t feel guilty when you take a day off. You work harder than anyone else, for less money than most other people, so if you want to go and relax for a few hours just do it. One of the few upsides of being an entrepreneur is that you can schedule your own calendar, so take advantage of that.

8: Learn to live with chaos

The first conference we organized, in 2006, felt like one big mess. The last 48 hours felt like total chaos. Of course, the audience didn’t see it that way, and neither did the speakers. We had just wrapped up the conference when I told Patrick “I can’t wait for next year’s event and to apply the lessons we learned.” Of course, the next year’s conference felt just as chaotic. Last week we held the 8th event in Amsterdam, and everything went smoothly. At least, that is what it seemed like. I have now learned that my feeling of panic and chaos is all part of the deal. We have learned to live with chaos, and be professional regardless of the circumstances. Once you accept that problems, chaos and crisis are part of being an entrepreneur you can stop fighting it and deal with it.

9: Don’t try to be perfect

Woody Allen famously said “90% of success is just showing up” and at Facebook a common saying is “Done is better than perfect.” Now many entrepreneurs point at Apple or Steve Jobs and say “Yes, but I want it to be perfect, just like Apple!” That’s nice, but unrealistic. The first Apple computer was a circuit board glued to a wooden box. It wasn’t perfect, but it was done. Striving for perfection is nice, but that extra mile can easily be the end of you. Try to do the best job you can, and aim for ‘as perfect as reasonable’.

10: Know when to quit

One of the hardest parts of being an entrepreneur is knowing when to quit. It is perfectly understandable too, as one of the qualities you need to be successful is knowing when to be persistent. Unfortunately there is a fine line between stubbornness and persistence. Surround yourself with people you can trust and keep asking them for advice. If enough people warn you that you are pushing it, take a break and some distance and take another very good look at how far you need to go.

Conclusion: Entrepreneurship is an awesome profession. It is thrilling to invent stuff, innovate on old ideas, to reach an audience, to shape the future, to work with people you love, and to fuel economic growth. It can also be frustrating, demanding, all-consuming and taking a toll on your ability to be happy. Find balance in your life by enjoying what works and paying attention to bad signals. That way you will be able to be successful and find happiness.

Image credit: Thinkstock

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