Recently, I was asked to write an article on women and leadership for a women in entrepreneurship edition of a publication. I was really flattered to be asked, of course, and was intelligent and articulate (well, I like to think so) on the phone about what I would be writing about – the idea of leadership in the gaps that I started exploring in my inspiring woman (hah) talk earlier this year.
And then, I didn’t write anything. Because I was working, and prepping another talk, and travelling, and organizing girl geeks dinner…
But mostly because I felt woefully unqualified to write anything on this topic. I see myself as a doer, and maybe a leader by example, never by telling people what to do. I take a wider view of leadership, drawn and inspired by books such as Leadership and Self Deception, The Anatomy of Peace, The Leader Who Had No Title, Making Ideas Happen, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 (all Amazon), not because of being in any kind of “leadership position”.
Most of all, I don’t want to be an entrepreneur. I don’t have any desire to start a business. I don’t want to deal with cashflow, with HR “issues”, with PR. I don’t want to temper my love of building things by trying to build things that are monetizable. I don’t want to deal with tax law, with employment law, or really any law at all. I don’t want to write a business plan.
I want… to build things that are beautiful, or functional, but preferably both. I want to work with smart people and learn from and be inspired by them. I want to be mentored, and in time pass on what I’ve learned in mentorship of others. I want to spend time and energy on getting more women into CS because it’s important.
The financial upsides of entrepreneurship do not appeal to me. I don’t dream of early retirement to a desert island, I don’t want to be a VC. I barely want to take a holiday – I like what I do. I like not having to worry about money, but I’m not motivated by the idea of having more of it. The “freedom” of being an entrepreneur comes with too many tedious-sounding responsibilities and not enough world-changing to make me want to earn half as much, working twice as many hours.
Wikipedia defines “Entrepreneur” as a person who has possession of a new enterprise, venture or idea and is accountable for the inherent risks and the outcome.
The word “entrepreneur” comes from a French word meaning “one who undertakes”. Undertake means – commit oneself to and begin.
I undertake things, frequently. Many characteristics of an entrepreneur, such as, creativity, calculated risk-taking, management of resources, are all useful characteristics of any kind of leader. The biggest reason to use these attributes in setting up your own business seems to be not being able to do what you’re passionate about otherwise, or not wanting to work for someone else.
Once upon a time, everyone was independently operating. Humans hunted and killed their own food, made their own clothes, raised their own children. But, trade allowed us to specialize. I’m really good at killing things, and you make stylish outfits, so let’s trade. Companies take that specialization further – I’m an engineer, and so I work with a UX designer to create intuitive products. Meanwhile, human resources and accounting take care of those aspects and we don’t have to worry about them.
There’s a reason why that specialization happened. Collectively, we get more done when we don’t try to do everything ourselves.
Personally, I love that I get to focus on building, learning, and collaborating. I don’t want to be an entrepreneur because it seems like that requires a lot of distractions from that, and lonely. I miss my teammates when we’re in different cities, the idea of having no team at all is horrifying to me.
For all I’ve heard, multiple times, from multiple people, that I should want to be an entrepreneur, I just don’t. The desire isn’t there. The biggest reason why is “I’d have to do stuff that I don’t love”, but none of those reasons are insurmountable given a sufficiently compelling reason. For me, that reason just isn’t there.