Pole Vaulting Over Mouse Turds

In my informal study of asking people if they have a business idea or want to someday become an entrepreneur, a great percentage of them have some deep-seated desire to be their own boss.  In fact, some will even tell me how great it would be if they could do whatever they wanted every day as “the man”.

Naturally, my question is: Why don’t you?

From the extensive empirical data I’ve acquired (*sarcasm*), the number one thing that keeps people from venturing out on their own is fear.  The old adage about fear standing for False Evidence Appearing Real is legitimate.  You could probably name at least half a dozen people that have started businesses that weren’t successful.  Some may have even had enormous hardships when the business failed.  If a million businesses are started in America this year, 80% of them will be out of business by next year.

That scary statistic is probably enough to keep anyone off of the entrepreneur’s path.

However, when you dig in a bit deeper to the stories behind those failed businesses you’ll probably find people who were not properly funded, folks with serious family baggage they weren’t able to shed, or just a complete lack of business acumen.  The bottom line is not all entrepreneurs are made equally.

I’ve found that the fear that most employees face when looking at “hanging a shingle” comes from playing out ‘what if’ scenarios in their mind and thinking of the business environment from a negative or lack mentality.  The ‘what if’ scenarios play out in their mind as very real, causing very real emotions, and thus very visceral reactions to the mere thought of getting started.


Here are some examples of the ‘what if’ scenarios:

  • What if I lose everything?
  • What if the economy goes completely in the crapper?
  • What if I have to fire someone?
  • What if I get audited by the IRS?
  • What if someone steals my idea?


Just ask yourself some of these questions and see what answers your super-creative imagination comes up with.  Are they positive answers or mostly negative ones?  They are almost always overwhelmingly negative and we see all of the horrible, catastrophic consequences of our poor business decisions play out in our mind’s eye.

A good business owner friend of mine has a different strategy.  When figuring out whether or not to make a business decision that could have very large, sweeping consequences, he asks himself: what is the worst that could happen and can I live with that?

The question seems similar but it’s actually posed very differently from the ‘what if’ questions.  By looking at the worst possible thing that could happen, my friend is deciding whether or not he’s willing to take a calculated risk on the business idea.  It’s calculated because he’s looking at both the upside AND the downside potential and determining if he can live with the latter.

If you’re on the entrepreneurial fence, understand that there’s a difference between risk and risky.  It’s a fine line difference, but a difference nonetheless.  It’s risky for someone to open their own business with not enough money in the bank, no formal plan for getting business in the door, and no knowledge of systems creation to make the business easier.  That’s risky.  Yet people do it every day and help contribute to the growing fear of “doing your own thing”.

A risk is taken when leveraging equity out of your home or rental property in order to fund a business that you’ve thoroughly researched and know like the back of your hand.  Or, throwing a business proposal video up on kickstarter.com and getting your entire idea funded through social networks — that’s a nice calculated risk with very little downside.

Risk is that thing to be avoided most of the time but we take risks everyday and think nothing of it.  Next time you’re on the interstate, just think about how long the truck driver next to you has been awake.  If he or she veers your direction, it could be lights out.  Seems risky to me.

How about that teenage driver with the cell phone?  Risk.

I know people that play the lottery every week, betting hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in hopes that they’ll win the big payday.  Risk.

What’s funny about risk is that it generally looks a whole lot smaller once you’ve gotten to the other side.  Starting your own gig seems like a huge risk, but ask anyone who’s gotten past year 1 or 2 and they’ll tell you it was really no big deal.

My grandfather had a saying about just such an experience:

Stop pole-vaulting over mouse turds.

We tend to make the reasons NOT to do something so great in our minds that getting over them seems monumental.  When we finally do it, we look back and say, “well that wasn’t so bad.”  You can start your own business, but only if you take calculated risks in doing so.  There’s no need to pole-vault over mouse turds… but you might need to learn to high jump.