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Why entrepreneurship is simply a quest for purpose

man walking on a winding road leading to mountains

I recently came across a TedX Talk by Mark Leruste, a UK-based entrepreneur, mentor and founder of The Unconventionalists. The talk is entitled ‘What they don’t tell you about entrepreneurship’, and it’s in turns funny, honest, insightful and inspiring.

Mark begins by somewhat ironically recounting the daily life of an entrepreneur—up at 5am with a smile on his face, an hour of power yoga followed by a cold shower, followed by a podcast, followed by a green smoothie…

“Look at me!” he says. “I’m an entrepreneur—I have the freedom to go on holiday when I want, where I want and for as long as I want! I’m living the dream!”

As he remarks, this impression—this idealisation—of the entrepreneurial life is funny because it almost sounds true. Freedom! Flexibility! Wealth! Acclaim!

Of course, the reality is very different. “When did it become cool to run a business?” Mark asks the audience. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel cool. Most of the time I feel lonely. I worry, I stress about money on a daily basis—this was so not part of the plan.”

Combined with this loneliness is the typical entrepreneur’s reluctance to admit when things aren’t so good. Mark says the entrepreneur is wary of opening up to friends and family for fear of showing weakness. “It’s the dirty little secret that anyone who’s ever started a business knows only too well.”

So, considering this, considering that starting and running your own business is one of the toughest things you’ll ever do; that 8 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months and that studies have linked entrepreneurship to mental health issues—why do people do it?

In a word… purpose.

Mark cites a paper that found not having a purpose makes us more susceptible to anxiety, boredom and depression. “We all have a desire for purpose,” he says. “a thirst for a mission, a yearning for a quest and to fulfil it.”

However, Mark also says that, for all the good there is in finding and pursuing your purpose, there is a lot of pressure and societal ideals that inform what that purpose looks like. Namely, that is should be something that makes you money. And this is where many people get it wrong and/or despair when the thing they feel is their purpose doesn’t fit this model.

Mark says, “I’ve spoken to hundreds of people who started their quests, and what I’ve learned is [those quests] come in all shapes and sizes. Quests are not measured by how impactful they are, but rather how it makes you feel when you think about them and actively pursue them. A quest is something that grabs at your curiosity even when you don’t want it to.”

This yearning for a quest is why so many people start a business—they think it’s the only way to gain a sense of freedom, adventure and purpose. This successful entrepreneur or business owner can undoubtedly attest to this, but of course, this isn’t the case for everyone. Entrepreneurship is merely one way of defining your life’s quest.

Mark concludes with this: “What I’ve realised is that you think you want to start a business, but what you’re actually looking for is a quest. You can find purpose and meaning working for an organisation; you can find it in your free time and on the weekend. If you don’t know where to start, trust the things you’re curious and interested in; those are your breadcrumbs—trust them, and if they scare you that is so good, because what scares us most is often what we most need to do.”

Is being an entrepreneur fulfilling your quest?

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