3 Entrepreneurial Lessons They Don’t Teach You In College

More and more entrepreneurs are opting to skip an MBA program, and it’s easy to see why. So many celebrated stars — Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs — didn’t even finish college, let alone business school. The fact of the matter is that there’s no substitute for experience, and getting your hands dirty will teach you lessons that you’d never pick up in the classroom.


1. You Don’t Need to Be Perfect

As Nick Petri puts it in Business2Community, “Most entrepreneurship case studies go something like this: Superstar CEO comes up with a fantastic and totally original idea, assembles a crack team with awesome experience in just the right field, builds the perfect product and go-to-market strategy to tackle the problem, and dominates the market.”

The real world doesn’t always work like that. In fact, things rarely go as planned. The important thing to realize is that that’s OK. Reading success story after success story makes it seem like you need to find the perfect idea, at the perfect time, with the perfect mix of people, and play it exactly right. The truth is that you don’t know and if you sit around too long waiting for the right situation or the right idea you won’t get anything done.

The fact is that imperfect companies succeed all the time. They might be the first to the market, have an aggressive new marketing strategy that shakes up their niche, or share a story that resonates with their target audience. These companies make real money, and that means they have a chance to learn and evolve as they grow. While it’s nice to know what perfection looks like, it’s important to understand that it doesn’t strike like lightening on a clear day. You have to go with what’s working and be willing to adapt as you go.

2. How to Find a Work-Life Balance

A lot of entrepreneurial myths focus on how relentless successful people are, working 24/7 to make their business the best it can be no matter what the cost. You can get the feeling that any energy you spend that’s not focused on growing your business or building your career is a waste of time. This effect is exacerbated by the ability of collaboration apps like Slack, Samepage, and CoSchedule to instantaneously hit your team’s mobile devices no matter what time it is or where they are.

The truth is that depression is a very real problem for entrepreneurs, one that can lead to a crumbling home life, health problems ranging from obesity to sleep loss to addiction, and worse. Only 7% of the general population suffers from depression but, according to Business Insider, it affects upwards of 30% of entrepreneurs, with anxiety issues not far behind. Ignoring these issues doesn’t make them go away. Untreated problems can lead to even worse symptoms, and could even cost you your life.

Making time for family and friends doesn’t mean you’re slacking off or wasting your time. Money can’t buy everything, and you need to make sure you take the time to actually enjoy the life you have even as you work to make it better. Learning to carve out time for the people who matter is important if you want those people to stick around. Plus, taking the time to recharge can help you think of creative solutions that you might not otherwise have come to.

3. How to Motivate Other People

College may have taught you how to work with other people and be a good collaborator, but being a great manager is something different altogether. Working with a person and accurately identifying their strengths and weaknesses so you can put them in a position to succeed is an art. It takes years to perfect your style, and understand how to make it work for you.

It all starts with the way you present feedback. You need to be able to get a read on where someone’s coming from and figure out how to reach them in a way that will actually communicate what you want to say. You need to make sure that you keep it practical, relatable, and doable.

The other thing that’s important to remember is that people tend to latch onto negative feedback and forget the positives. It’s called Negativity Bias, and it means that we’re much quicker to brush aside compliments and focus on criticisms. On the other side of the table, we often feel like we’re not doing our job as a manager if we’re not providing constructive criticism. Instead, push yourself to find ways to work positive reinforcement into your feedback, and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or elaborate on why things are working well.

Finally, if you have to make a difficult decision involving an employee, make sure to be as transparent as possible about how you came to your decision. It’s easier to swallow something you might not like if you can understand the reasoning why, and it also helps your employees to understand where you’re coming from. Setting even little decisions against the big goals of your business will help your team understand where they fit into the picture, and what they can do to do their jobs better.

What You Can Do Right Now

College years are great for experiencing new things, meeting new people, and getting started on a career path that may last a lifetime. At the same time, there are a lot of lessons that you can’t get from studying, and at some point, you just have to get your hands dirty.

  • Let go of the need to be perfect.

  • Put in the work to find a good work-life balance.

  • Pay attention to how you give feedback.

  • Be transparent about how you make managerial decisions.

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