No, it’s not always a courage problem

Some panels and articles on entrepreneurship make it sound like the only difference between you and your potential million dollar start-up is courage. Panels that encourage you to find a career based on your “passion” tend to do the same.

No, it is not always a courage problem. Sure, it can be at times. But, it is definitely not the case most of the time.

There are many factors that contribute to the early success of a company – the founder’s product skills, product-market fit, and the founder’s ability to market the product and make the sale. Courage just helps the founder get started. The career conundrum is more nuanced. But, the fact remains that it has to be grounded in practicality. You might have a passion for photographing Kangaroos but that doesn’t immediately make it viable. And, a passion for photographing Kangaroos doesn’t guarantee skill. Additionally, being a photographer is very different from running a photography company just like teaching is different from running a school. They require different skill sets and it is not always easy to divine your potential skill in something you haven’t tried.

So, if you don’t feel ready, that’s okay. If you are keen on changing things in your life, I have seen three principles that seem to contribute to successful change –

1. If you are looking to change location, function, and industry, look to change 1 or 2 things at a time. I know of folks who’ve managed to change all three but I wouldn’t bank on it. The best way to do so is to change 1 or 2 things at a time. For example, a friend of mine who works in a Finance role in a certain industry found it easiest to first move into Marketing within the same industry. The next step will be to switch into the industry of his choice and perhaps location will follow. The other way to look for a complete switch is to go to school in the location of your choice. That way, you’re left with needing to switch function and industry.

2. Work on your million dollar idea in the spare time. Most great companies start out as hobbyist projects. Crucially, this enables you to test if you are onto something before jumping ship. Test your future lifestyle before committing to it. As Cal Newport puts it, just because you’ve committed to living a certain lifestyle doesn’t mean others are committed to supporting you for it.

3. It is okay to not have found your passion. No big deal. Just get good. Good things follow.