The psychology of entrepreneurship: have you got what it takes? | Women in Leadership

Being an entrepreneur can feel like a rollercoaster ride. One with steep highs and lows,

Being an entrepreneur can feel like a rollercoaster ride. One with steep highs and lows, moments of intense adrenaline, exposure, disorientation and occasionally the sense that you’ve somehow arrived back where you started.

If your experience of being an entrepreneur includes moments of vulnerability, doubt, guilt, fear, and anxiety, the good news is – you’re doing it right. It should feel like this. Why? Because many of the challenges that entrepreneurs face tap into some of the core psychological challenges that we all face.

Take identity, a person in employment is given a job specification, a piece of paper that says: “This is who we would like you to be.” In contrast, the entrepreneur gets a blank piece of paper. They need to operate without boundaries, guidance, or feedback on progress. They need to choose and create their business and themselves as business owners. That kind of choice comes with inevitable doubt, responsibility, guilt, and a strong desire for someone to reassure you that you are “doing the right thing”.

These are challenges that all of us face in life. We can choose to create ourselves by making conscious choices about the kind of person we want to be. Or we can avoid the discomfort of making those kinds of choices by letting someone else tell us who we are. Identity is just part of the story; there is also vulnerability, risk, passion, failure – all human challenges and all part of the process of being an entrepreneur.

The ride that the entrepreneur is on feels intense because it’s harder to avoid these human challenges when you choose to set up your own business. How can entrepreneurs survive the ride? The difference between someone who loves rollercoasters and someone who hates rollercoasters is their relationship with the experience. The very thing that one person doesn’t enjoy – a lack of control, the speed, the height, the disorientation – is exactly what the other person loves. It’s the reason they queued up to go on the ride in the first place.

So how do you come off of the ride of being an entrepreneur with a smile on your face? Recognise that feelings of exposure, vulnerability, doubt, guilt, and anxiety are necessary features of being an entrepreneur. They are non-negotiable elements of stepping out there and trying to create something from nothing. How do you make those feelings part of your purpose?

My answer is to embrace the human aspects of the ride. Being an entrepreneur is partly about ideas, funding, and building a team but it’s also a journey about you. It’s about you choosing to live the life you want to live. Choosing something, and then building it.

As an entrepreneur, your greatest asset is you. You’re worth more than any amount of funding and any idea. Your humanity is the birthplace of your innovation, creativity, leadership skills, passion, integrity, and resilience. It’s where the awesome ideas will come from, it’s how you’ll be able to connect with people, and it’s what will get you through the challenges. A business plan that doesn’t leverage its greatest asset doesn’t make good business sense.

So make “you” a central part of your business plan. Understand and leverage your own humanity. And the best bit is – this isn’t just a way to become the best entrepreneur you can be, it’s a way to become the best leader, employer, partner, parent, and friend you can be.

Dr Nina Burrowes is a psychologist who uses cartoons to make difficult psychology easier to understand. Follow Nina on twitter @NinaBurrowes or see her work at

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