Q : In school, I excelled in most subjects. I am good at picking things up quickly, and I’ve worked in various industries and mastered many skills. My problem is that I get bored easily. I know that working for a boss will not get me where I want to go in life, so I want to branch out and work independently. But how do I know what I will be great at? I feel pulled in many different directions, but I don’t have the capital to try several things. How do I find the passion that will help me succeed?
– Sheree Buchholz
A: First, Sheree, you are certainly not lacking in self-confidence or drive – two crucial elements for any successful entrepreneur.
As somebody who struggled in school, I am impressed with your academic achievements (though I must add that I was captain of the football and cricket teams!). The real test, though, will be transferring the skills you have learned to the real world. As I have written before, while education is very useful, it cannot replace the day-to-day experience gained as an entrepreneur.
As you consider whether or not to return to your studies, think about what can be gained by doing so, and what can be lost. Simply make lists of the positives and the negatives, then tally up which one looks like the better option. If you are going back to further develop your knowledge base and spend more time building on your plan for the future, great. However, if you are thinking about returning to school in order to put off making some tough choices, then think again. Now is the time to act, and the months that you waste deciding what to do could be better spent getting your business off the ground.
I, too, could never imagine having a boss. Ever since I started my first business as a teenager, I have wanted to forge my own path. Many people only realise this much later in life, so your early zeal for entrepreneurialism and independence should stand you in good stead. Nevertheless, you will only make the grade if you hone in on one particular passion. Spreading yourself too thin at the outset of your career as an entrepreneur and trying to break into several markets at once is a recipe for disaster.
Your decision matters
But which direction is right for you? Only you can answer that, Sheree.
You say that you have many different passions, but you will never know which one can be turned into a viable business until you start trying some out. Remember that most early ventures will, in all likelihood, fail – but you will have plenty of opportunities to recover and bounce back. Our team at Virgin has failed so many times that I can’t remember all of the disappointments. But that’s also one of the main reasons we’ve had a few victories along the way.
Seek others’ opinions
If you still can’t decide, ask your loved ones for their opinions. They’ll give you honest appraisals and can help to set your mind at ease. They could also be the people to help you with initial market research and every other aspect of setting up a business. And keep in mind that business is a lot more fun when you work with people you love – it’s one of the reasons so many members of our team at Virgin end up marrying each other!
For further inspiration, try to locate a mentor who has been there and done it and can pass on their know-how.
One idea at a time
Try to focus on one idea at a time. I know that may sound a bit hypocritical, considering that we have started more than 400 companies at Virgin – often several in short succession. But this is only possible when you have a solid grounding to begin with. Once you experience some success, one idea will often lead to another, more options will open up and you will be able to explore more areas.
At Virgin, for instance, we have been fortunate to develop a great number of mobile phone businesses across several continents, from Mexico to Canada, France to Chile, Poland to South Africa. As well as providing useful tools for consumers, these companies are excellent brand builders for Virgin. Once there is more awareness of the brand in a country, we can look into expanding our offerings there, and take even more risks. But without the initial offering, we could never have expanded.
I’m very intrigued about what you are going to go on to achieve, Sheree, and have no doubt it will be exciting. But the only way for me and the rest of the world to find out about it is for you to decide on a direction first. And the only way to find out if you have chosen the right path is to get out there and try it.
If it works, you will find you are enjoying your job and loving your life, every day.
If not? Try, try again.
Mr Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group. Email: RichardBranson@nytimes.com.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor