Information abounds online, in-print, and through face-to-face meetings that can tell you how to be an entrepreneur. If you look long enough, you will find “the 10 steps to starting a business,” “how to do a feasibility analysis,” and essentially anything else you could possibly need to know to make your dreams a reality. Before you seek these out however, perhaps you would benefit from better defining what your “dreams” really are.

What are the consequences of poorly defined “dreams”, or, goals? Let’s consider a hypothetical University student whose goal in college is to “earn a degree.” If the students goal is to earn a degree, they will only be motivated to do the bare minimum to earn a grade that will allow the attainment of a first job. This ultimately makes them less intellectually curious, hindering their work ethic and decreasing the extent to which they learn how to teach themselves things.

However, if their goal was to “enjoy learning”, or to “master their area of study”, or something similar, the motivation to pursue new challenges would be entirely different. In this scenario, challenging but open-ended assignments from Professors would not feel like hurdles to be overcome but opportunities to learn something new. The student would develop personal areas of interest and realize that through effort they can learn and apply almost anything that they choose to.

This concept also applies to starting a business. Due to the tendency for media to show successful entrepreneurs (as opposed to failed ones), a variety of thought leaders who discuss how to automate business (e.g., the 4-hour work week), and other reasons, many people initially want to start a business because they believe it will make them a lot of money. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs, on average, don’t make much more than the typical employee (Shane, 2008), even though the low percentage of extremely successful entrepreneurs do make much more.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is that being an entrepreneur to make a lot of money inevitably will set you up to fail, just like the University student who is only in school to earn a degree. Why? Because entrepreneurship is rife with failures, dead ends, twists and turns, etc. It is extremely rare for an entrepreneur to achieve the glamorized success that is often portrayed, and even when they do, it tends to be after years of extreme sacrifices. In a University setting in America, you can get by with only putting in half the effort and doing the bare minimum to get a good grade. However, in a competitive entrepreneurial environment this is not the case. You need the self-discipline, motivation, and resilience to persist through the difficult times. If you go into it “for the money”, I contend that you will find it difficult to display these qualities consistently.

If you shouldn’t start a business with the dream of making it big, then why should you? There are many possible motivations, but I would contend that one essential goal is adding value to someone. For example, a new dry cleaning business may seek to “make University students comfortable and confident for their first interviews.” This can involve sub-goals, too. For example, a restaurant owner, in addition to providing delicious food, could see their establishment as a way to “teach high school students how to feel empowered through their work” or to “instill the value of teamwork and unity to employees.”

Each of these goals has inherent motivational value. Why do you persist when the going gets tough? Because it will facilitate purposeful goals: adding value, improving lives, giving back to the world, etc. If you are finding yourself lacking motivation, ask yourself: why am I doing what I’m doing?

P.S. For a related reading, check out this article from Jayson DeMers on Entrepreneur.