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There is a phenomenon in psychology called the "Galatea Effect" which states that a person's expectations of themselves determine their performance. In other words, we create self-fulfilling prophecy.
We all start businesses for different reasons: We may long for the autonomy that comes with working for ourselves. Maybe we have an idea that we think will make us rich. Maybe we want a better work-life balance.
The problem is that the Galatea Effect only goes so far. Yes, we are more likely to do well at a presentation if we approach it with a positive attitude. However, the data shows that many entrepreneurs start their own businesses with unrealistic expectations of benefits and rewards, thinking that they automatically have healthier, happier, more money, and more security.
Reality can be a difficult pill to swallow. If success doesn't arrive as quickly as we imagined, we're more likely to give up. Instead, I advocate setting reasonable expectations, which means dispelling some common myths.
Myth # 1: You have to follow your passion
I didn't grow up dreaming of making molds. But back then, when I was working for a New York media company, creating custom web forms was part of my job. It was tedious work and I wondered if I could automate the process to make it easier. My company JotForm was born from this idea.
With more than nine million users, JotForm clearly scratched an itch that a lot of people have had. I may not have started out with a particular devotion to online forms, but creating a quality product that makes people's lives easier is very important to me.
Instead of chasing after a passion, I recommend following the advice of Paul Graham, who says that the best startup ideas have three characteristics: 1] They are something founders want, 2] You can build it yourself, and 3] Few others have.
Finding the intersection of these three characteristics is no easy task. But if you do, you will find that the results are much more reliable than if you followed your passion alone.
Related: 10 Popular Myths About Leadership And How To Overcome It
Myth # 2: Success happens overnight
With very few exceptions, many of the overnight success stories were the result of years of hard work. Take Bill Gates, often viewed as the quintessential overnight success story as he became a multimillionaire as soon as Microsoft went public.
But the truth is that Gates had built his company for 11 years before that day came.
We live in an age of instant gratification, and it can be an uncomfortable shock when things don't happen in the blink of an eye. In many cases, “overnight successes” are just fads that fade as quickly as they came.
In the book Great by Choice, Jim Collins examines companies that thrive in volatile market conditions and finds that those that thrived over the long term were those that developed continuously, neither moved too fast nor stayed in one place for too long. He urges readers to imagine themselves taking a 3,000 mile walk from San Diego to Maine. You run 20 miles a day for the first three days. It's hot and you'd rather walk less than 20 miles, but you're still keeping the pace.
"You keep going – 20 miles, 20 miles, 20 miles – then you cross the plain and it's lovely spring and you can go 40 or 80 miles in a day," he writes. "But not you. You keep your pace and walk 20 miles. ”Eventually you reach Maine.
Compare this to someone leaving San Diego on the same day. Fresh and excited for the journey ahead, he covers 40 miles. The next day he's exhausted and it's hot. He decides to wait for conditions to improve and that is how he continues, moving in erratic bumps, hiking 40 or 80 miles in a day, and then crashing. He eventually stumbles in Maine, battered and weak, where he's waiting for you. It's not that your journey was easy – you both ran 3,000 miles, after all. But your willingness to grind 20 miles a day no matter what protected you from the near-death lows your compatriot experienced. Consistent progress wins the day.
Related: 5 Myths About Successful Franchisees
Myth # 3: Independence = happiness
One of the many reasons people become entrepreneurs is the freedom that comes with working for themselves. Unfortunately, research has found that independence is not all it's supposed to be.
In 2009, management professor Leon Schjoedt conducted a study among a large group of founders and non-founders. He found that while entrepreneurs get more satisfaction from autonomy than non-entrepreneurs, they also value variety and feedback – factors they may not have known they needed.
The realization was that autonomy alone is not enough to satisfy entrepreneurs, regardless of their opinion. It's a benefit, of course, but if that is your only motivation to walk alone, you will be unhappy and under-challenged. With this in mind, Schjoedt has some suggestions on how entrepreneurs can achieve the other two qualities that are most important to them – diversity and feedback.
For variety, he recommends looking for new but related business expansion opportunities that can help diversify things without distracting from the original mission. As far as feedback is concerned, Schjoedt advises founders to regularly check their progress. The key is not to ask big questions, like is my business doing well? but instead focus on smaller issues with specific answers.
Related: 5 Myths That Will Stop You From Delegating Effectively
Myth # 4: When you work hard, success is inevitable
Needless to say, a large percentage of startups fail within their first year. It can be daunting, to say the least, to pour everything you have into a deal only to see it crumble in front of your eyes.
But successful entrepreneurs know that failure is inevitable. No matter how good your plans are, no matter how hard you work, the fact is that things are not going to go as you expect them to. The willingness to adapt to changing circumstances is just as important as having a successful idea – probably even more so.
As painful as it is, failure is necessary. It helps you grow, teaches you to learn from your mistakes, and gives you thicker skin. Lots of people get overwhelmed by failure. Those who can recover and move on are much more likely to achieve what they set out to do.
Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding and exciting – when you know exactly what to expect. Are you going to get fame and more money overnight than you can count? Unlikely. But with luck – and a lot of hard work, persistence, and patience – it's entirely possible to build a company that you are proud of.
Similarly, is your boss subtly controlling you without you even realizing it?