5 Myths of Being a Successful Entrepreneur

Many myths persist about what it takes to be an entrepreneur — and a successful one, at that — partly because people who aren't entrepreneurs tend to hang out with other people who aren't. The mass media's popularization of "successful" entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and Oprah Winfrey leads to numerous misperceptions and misconceptions, including these often-cited nuggets:

  • You have to be well-connected or know "important" people. Being a decent human being is far more important to any successful enterprise. Enough rude, inconsiderate, and self-centered people exist in the business world (and, yes, some of them do succeed in spite of their character flaws), and if you're not that way, you'll be able to meet people who can help you in one way or another. But remember that looking in the mirror shows you your best and most trusted resource.

  • You need to have an MBA or some other fancy degree. Many successful entrepreneurs — Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for example — don't even have the most basic college degrees. Perusing Forbes magazine's lists of the most financially successful small companies shows that about 15 percent of the CEOs didn't earn a college degree and about half don't have advanced degrees! These statistics are even more amazing when you consider that a relatively large number of entrepreneurs with humble backgrounds leave or are forced out of the successful enterprises they started.

    That's not to say that a good education isn't worthwhile in general and that it can't help you succeed in your own business. (For example, Ivy Leaguers run about 6 percent of the 200 best small businesses, yet Ivy League college grads make up less than 1 percent of all graduates.) But a formal education isn't necessary.

  • You need to be a genius. Intelligence is admittedly a difficult thing to measure, but the majority of entrepreneurs have IQs under 120, and a surprising percentage have IQs under the average of 100. In fact, more entrepreneurs have IQs under 100 than have IQs greater than 130!

  • You must be a gregarious, big-egoed extrovert. Although some studies show that more entrepreneurs are extroverted, many entrepreneurs are not.

  • You have to be willing to take a huge risk. Some people focus on the potential for failure. But consider the worst-case scenario: If your venture doesn't work out, you can probably go back to a job similar to the one you left behind (although you've lost some income in the interim).

    Also, recognize that risk is a matter of perception, and as with investments, people completely overlook some risks. What about the risk to your happiness and career if you stay in a boring, claw-your-way-up-the-corporate-ladder kind of job? You also risk a layoff when you work for a company. An even greater risk is that you'll wake up in your 50s and 60s and think that it's too late to do something on your own and wish you had tried sooner.

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