How to Encourage an Entrepreneur

Many people cheer for entrepreneurship. Politicians support policies favorable to business start-ups. The Small Business Administration guarantees a portion of bank loans made to qualifying new enterprises.  Many cheer for entrepreneurs. The ones who “make it big” give interviews on television. Others write books explaining how you, too, can run your own business (or run your family as a business, or re-brand your career, or do other things applying business-speak to aspects of life).
Shout Your Love


But I struggle with how to encourage entrepreneurs. I want to reassure their impulses to create the businesses they want, devoting themselves to worthwhile products and pleasing customer relationships. And I want to be sober—and I want them to be sober. I feel the need to strike a balance akin to “Tell someone you love them today because life is short. But shout it at them in German, because life is also terrifying and confusing.” Creating, growing, sustaining a business is not easy, and there are no guarantees. While most people will consider the financial risks, emotional risks are also at play. When a supplier misses a shipment date you were counting on, when your kids grouse about unloading the delivery truck with you at the warehouse on Saturday morning, when something goes awry with one of your favorite customers, you realize the flip side of creating your own business is that every problem can become yours to solve. That brings me to what I can wholeheartedly say to every entrepreneur: Nurture a “growth” mindset. Following work that education researcher Carol Dweck and colleagues conducted with students at a variety of ages, I have learned to distinguish between viewing myself as a “fixed” entity with unchanging traits and viewing myself as one who learns and changes. View Eduardo Briceno’s TEDx Talk on “The Power of Belief—Mindset and Success” here: Instead of thinking, “I can’t do this,” I think, “I can’t do this yet.” Instead of saying, “But we haven’t ever…,” I say, “Would you like to pilot this…?” Instead of replying, “No,” I learn, like improvisation actors, to offer, “Yes AND…” We spend most of our waking hours “working” at some thing or another—we should do work that gives us energy, not drains us dry. But we can also raise our eyebrows at those who loudly cheer entrepreneurs, while themselves taking little risk. As I am privileged to know, interview, and work with people with great products, compelling stories, and cherished customers, I commit to encourage them to learn their way through the challenges. And both setbacks and successes can create challenges! Sometimes the learning isn’t fast or easy, but it is always, always worthwhile. Attributing intelligence, resilience, and an ability to learn may be the kindest, most meaningful way to cheer for entrepreneurs—including each other and ourselves.