Challenging Life Experience as Entrepreneur Characteristic

One of the more popular questions I get is, “What are characteristics of successful entrepreneurs?” Beyond basic personality attributes like passionate, opinionated, confident, resourceful, positive, and self-motivated, I like to offer an even more qualitative thought: successful entrepreneurs have often overcome a challenging life experience. Thinking about it more, here are a few of the common life experiences among this cohort:

  • Death of a parent or sibling at an early age
  • Watching a parent desperately struggle
  • Run-in with the law or similar extreme mistake
  • Immigrating to a new country

What to make of this? Possibly, it’s a situation where the entrepreneur has already experienced an incredibly difficult life situation and believes they can persevere in future challenges, like starting a business. If you’ve seen rock bottom, or personally been through a life-changing difficulty, potential unknowns don’t seem as scary. Psychologically, to most people, starting a business is a giant leap into the unknown that they want to avoid. If you’ve already experienced the worst, the bar is much higher for bad, and you’re more willing to take on the challenge.

Alternatively, by going through such a challenging situation, some people want to try and control more of the things in life that are possibly controllable. Most things in life, other than a select few choices like attitude, aren’t controllable. Entrepreneurs often have a high locus of control, and believe they can influence and control more than the average person. If you’ve seen bad, and want to avoid it, or at least reduce it’s impact, creating an environment with more control is an ideal route. For some, building a company creates more control and eliminates risk.

The next time you hear the story of a successful entrepreneur, see if there’s a challenging life experience in there. More often than not, an unusual hardship or family situation is part of that life scrapbook.

4 thoughts on “Challenging Life Experience as Entrepreneur Characteristic

  1. This makes good sense.

    Somehow, I feel this is connected to consistent meta-skill. The ability to take an objective, make a plan, and follow it through to completion despite resistance.

    Success despite adversity suggests that these folks either have strongly honed this.

    Sometimes I think that this is actually the modern function of school. Teaching folks in a protected environment how to achieve (though abritary) objectives. Objective and plan formulation comes in later school years as you have to decided what topics to take and how to study them.

  2. Such a clear insight so succinctly explained — great post. The combo of high drive for control and high bar for risk just nails it.

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