Wantrepreneur Rehab : The Give and Take Paradox

Most people who chose the path of entrepreneurship often have a goal to achieve financial and career freedom, where they are their own bosses and nobody can tell them what to do. Often people thought entrepreneurship is about ‘profitability’ and ‘optimization’ meaning that they seek ways to make as much money as possible, using as little resources (time and capital) as possible. Many people chose entrepreneurship because they are tired of trading their time for money — they place extremely high value on their time and seek to maximize revenue per hour worked. Entrepreneur wannabes are also taught to adopt the beliefs that the world is abundant and there are plenty of people out there who are ready to give you money for your services, so you need not to work for one man. All these beliefs are of course useful to some degree, as they are necessary to propel you to leave your secure job and start a business. But all these beliefs combined are also very dangerous. If you are not careful, this entrepreneur-oriented belief system can get you stuck in wantrepreneurship state indefinitely.

Most media you consume will lure you to think that entrepreneurship is all about laying in a beach hammock, enjoying fans’ messages, and living the dream. Many will also create an illusion that success happens overnight and easily (remember that viral story of a kid who earn 1 million dollars selling a pixel on his website for one dollar each)? Stories like this receive lots of attention, because people want to believe that there’s an easy, rosy way to be rich. They create illusions that entrepreneurship is all about earning, enjoying the freedom, and the fun — spreading an imposter syndrome across the society of entrepreneurs.

The paradox is, to be a successful entrepreneur, most of what you do is not taking, it is giving. For most people, the first year of entrepreneurship is all about giving — providing services for almost free, spending lots of time and money to develop a product that nobody buys (yet), creating a large volume of content that nobody reads. The activities that a startup company has to do are often the most gruesome, labor-intensive, slave-like, scary-as-shit kinds of work. The labor of love in this context is more about labor than love. You earn very little or none at all per hour. If you are unlucky, you probably have to do it year in and year out with no beach hammock in sight. Most of the entrepreneur life is all about long hours in front boring Microsoft Word screen that nobody broadcasts. You are supposed to front-load all the grunt work and build an asset (web, audience, customer base) that you can reap the reward from it long-term.

Giving, if done consistently, can create a life-changing success in entrepreneurial ventures. Most people in the world want to take, you stand out easily by giving much more than most people. Entrepreneurship is the race to give. Through giving you can positively impact people and create a lasting relationship with them. In the book “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success“, Adam Grant’s research shows that the world’s best leaders are mostly givers who expend their time and energy to focus on others’ needs, and in return they receive massive flow of information and connection which help their careers soar. (If you find it hard to believe that the magnitude of success depends on the magnitude of your giving, I recommend reading Adam’s book to get your mindset right).

The important point is if you focus on ‘taking’ during your entrepreneur journey, you just won’t get very far. Starting up is a long, gruesome journey of give, give, give and no take. There’s really no way to rush through the process. If your mind is in the freedom-frenzy, FU-boss-I-am-done-with-slavery mode, you will get bored with the hard work 5 minutes into it. The thing is you cannot cruise half-hearted through this process either. People are not stupid, if you just pretend to give with clear intention to extract as much juice from them as possible, they will see through you right away and they will leave. Once you have more money, you can choose to give capital instead of time during the startup process, but until you are Mr. Moneybags, there’s really no choice but to get off your ass and create value the slow and boring way.

Of course you cannot be rich by just giving everything away. You must love to give, but you also have to learn to give smartly (such as giving to the right people and scaling your contributions). However, if sacrificing isn’t one of your montras, you will find the road to success very difficult and you won’t see your business fly any time soon.

If you want to transform from wantrepreneur to entrepreneur, cultivate the love to give. The love to spread goodness and make awesome impacts on peoples’ life. Often times, giving is not the most glamorous activity, but you just have to love it, and realize that giving is the most productive thing you can possibly do to get rich.


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