By Ivy Le
Being an entrepreneur sounds romantic. We have reality shows about it! Many people say they’d like to start their own business “someday.” Being recognized as a pioneer and a wildly successful entrepreneur looks glamorous, but it never happens quickly or easily.
Starting a business is lonely and, at times, painful. I had to face some things about myself and to make changes so that my “someday” became today.
I always thought that affirmation from society was for chumps. But the truth was that I could only pretend I was “too cool for school” because I always had some sort of status marker before becoming my own boss. In college, I always sat in the back– but I was still on an elite academic scholarship. I barely abided by the dress code at my corporate jobs. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the perks of working at prestigious PR agencies with very serious-looking business cards.
I lost that external marker when I found myself having to explain to friends, family, MBA school classmates, professors and even my son’s preschool teacher that I wasn’t unemployed, even when I couldn’t afford a Starbucks coffee. Once, during office hours at UT McCombs, well-known for its entrepreneurial offerings, a professor grilled me on whether my business was “really” a “going concern” before he would answer my operations questions.
At parties, when people asked me what I “do,” I instead told them about my freelancing gig paying the bills: I was the beer reporter for the Austin Chronicle, while I was also preparing to launch 9Terrains. Writing about beer isn’t lucrative, but good heavens, was it cool! Every time I chose to bask in the reaction of being the beer reporter for the alternative paper in town, instead of spreading the word about my young business, I felt ashamed, like I had pretended not to know my own child.
My business couldn’t grow until I became the rebel that I had always hoped I was. Those “so what do you do?” conversations were an opportunity, and I had to grow some balls to take it. After a while, I started telling people what I really do, which is the CEO of a-company-you’ve-never-heard-of – YET!
Every time I mustered up the courage to say that I run the social media agency 9Terrains – and spelled out my company name because it sounds like “My Trains” – it got easier. Eventually, it even got fun. Now, I don’t even mind having to spell out my company name; I use it as an opportunity to offer my business card and get theirs.
It was a tough road to get here, but I’m sure glad I’m braved some of the growing pains along the way. Now, I am the rebel I always wanted to be – a member of that unruly and iconoclastic group we call entrepreneurs.
About the Author
Ivy Le is the founder of 9Terrains, a social media content agency that specializes in bi-partisan issues advocacy. Visit 9terrains.co to sign up for its marketing newsletter.