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30 and still suffering as a polymath

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An age old adage for the unsuccessful?

I don't mean to contribute such a self oriented topic, but I was hoping the venerable minds on PW could perhaps lend two pennies on the topic. To elaborate, I'm turning dirty thirty in a month and have had very mediocre results as an entrepreneur, 10 years of self employment or as an ex-girl friend would term it, a decade of "hustling" :\

Many pursuits were circumferenced in tandem with whatever chapter of my life was presently occurring. I don't think focus has ever been a problem but that's a relative bias. As a polymathic person, I exposed myself to a wide array of cultures and "opportunities" just hyper locally here in the Bay Area. But to lift the layer of rose-esque, I feel like time is running short and disturbingly I've developed apathy towards what were former "joys " of life during the path towards "success". The question remains, am I living a lie? Is it time to stop, drop and welcome reversion to stability and a conformed path?

Our current business was conceived in late 2008 and has since dragged along and pivoted, however based off the following two self conclusions, we carry on (we've had moments where we were definitely on the IV):

1. Fallacy or not, my partners and I believe we share attributes which would only lead to being serviced a pink slip or servicing a 2 week (in a corporate world). So we default to entrepreneurship.

2. Many years ago I was determined to learn finance in which I did both from a securities and hard asset stand point. I also lost my small fortunes in alignment with 2008. About two years ago, I believed I could autodidact my way into tech as well and here I am today finding opportunities to converge the two.

I want to combat my old jack of all trades mentality, but may need a little high level guidance. At some point, family and settling down takes precedent yes?

I'm at a local cafe and completely caroused off caffeine, so I hope this post isn't completely off course with the purpose of this site.

Everyone, including the people on PW, feels like a fraud and a failure sometimes. It doesn't matter how many magazine covers or TechCrunch articles they appear in; in this business, you're only as good as your last startup (that people have heard of).

Only 1% of startups wind up being successful; when I was 29, I was a failed startup founder that no one had ever heard of (some might say not much has changed!). If you feel like you have to be an entrepreneur, do it. And do it even though the odds of success are against you.

Chris, I had no idea.

I've only known you since you've been successful.

I'd forgotten how many of us pay our dues to get there.

Pretty much everyone pays their dues.

The lucky ones, before success. The unlucky ones, after success.

It's funny to be called "successful" in Silicon Valley. So often, we think of success as being measured by liquidity events or other markers of worldly success.

The reason I think I'm successful is that I have everything that money can't buy: love, family, friends, health. Yet these are things that we rarely hear about in Silicon Valley (unless you think your Klout score measures your friendship...and if you do, I think you may want to take a vacation).

In fact, I think that success becomes more likely after you realize that money and fame aren't the goal. I was fortunate to realize this shortly after I turned 30:

http://chrisyeh.blogspot.com/2005/12/meaning-of-life.html

I think it's pretty clear that I've experienced more worldly "success" since abandoning my frantic efforts to achieve it, and focusing instead on the kinds of things that actually make us happy.

As many philosophers (and now scientists) have noted, "success" doesn't make you happy. Become happy, and you'll improve your chances of "success."

Jesse, it's totally cool to employ PandaWhale as a forum for this.

Whether or not to continue is a personal choice.

Age ain't nothing but a number.

That said, only you know your tolerance for risk (and tolerance for pain!).

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you believe in it.

But plenty of entrepreneurs don't see success until much later than 30.

I read this post and, rather than ignoring it and never thinking of it again, I had to go away and think about it.

I think this post boils down to one question: If I'm so smart, why can't I make my company/entrepreneurial efforts succeed?

You seem very smart and self-aware, though I admit I only know what you posted. So, my two cents:

1) Not knowing very many....polymath's are very smart. They are naturally curious, love knowledge and soak it in like a sponge. Life is enjoyable and they savor learning about new things. The major downside is they are DISTRACTED. All knowledge and endeavors are equally fulfilling. It's funny you mention precedence, priorities and pink slips.

This leads to number two:

2) Startups require FOCUS. Even beyond that, you could have the most amazingly AWESOME product in the world (as ranked by a few attributes below) but that is at most 30% of what it takes to have a breakthrough startup company. (Yes, there are statistical outliers).

IMHO, breakthrough startups are only successful if they:

o FOCUS on one thing, and do that one thing better than anyone else

o INSPIRE others, inspire your internal developers, inspire your funders, inspire your users, inspire people to imagine using your product or service in ways you haven't even imagined

o HARD WORK, you have to believe hard work will pay off--and it will--but for every breakthrough as a result of hard work there will be 1000x effort that failed, didn't pay off, and you will be the hardest judge, kicking yourself for not seeing it sooner, but it's important to learn from your mistakes as it makes us who we are--better, smarter

o SACRIFICE, nobody will recognize any of the sacrifices you make, giving up friendship, status, pay, acknowledgement, whatever drives you. Unless they are an entrepreneur and have understood all the little sacrifices and how they add up, they won't understand how delaying gratification, pissing off people, and making seemingly irrational decisions lead you to your entrepreneurial goals.

o UNIQUE, if your company, product idea, approach isn't unique, then chances are there's a "good enough" way to do exactly what you are doing that will get adopted. Even if it is unique, does it really pass the "so what" question as to why it's important TO YOUR USERS.

o DEFENSIBLE, will others copy all they can follow, but not copy your mind, so you leave them sweating and steeling a year and a half behind? (Mary Celeste). This is also known as the Why can't Microsoft/Google do this VC question. The most important part is to KNOW YOUR COMPETITORS, not as named companies, but by what your customers use to solve the problem.

o BETTER, not as someone's perceived opinion, but quantitatively and qualitatively in a way that can be measured with an apples to apples comparison.

o AWESOME, be useful to someone, somewhere in a way they can't live without it and it'll be easy to figure out a way to make money off it.

If you hit a home run with all of those items, you still only have a 30% chance of making your startup succeed.

One final thing to bear in mind: Success is hard. The odds are against every entrepreneur. If 10% of startups get venture funding, and 10% of those succeed, that means 99% of startups fail.

You can't count on the results of entrepreneurship, so I hope you enjoy the process and activities.

I didn't become a software engineer in Silicon Valley until I was 30.

Remember that the choice isn't just entrepreneur vs corporate drone. You can be an early engineer in startups, make a safer living, and enjoy your life more. Fear of the corporate world isn't necessarily a good reason to be an entrepreneur, IMHO.

Early engineers sometimes do great.

Ask employees 1-30 of Facebook if they liked being an early employee of Facebook. All but one will say yes. :)

I really appreciate everyone's comments and advice, great thoughts week and off to Dolores Park for some decompression I hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day weekend.

Thank you, four years later. :)

30 and still suffering as a polymath

30 and still suffering as a polymath

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