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What Being an Entrepreneur Really Means

As the CEO of an MBA program specializing in entrepreneurship, I’m frequently asked ‘how does Acton define what it means to be an entrepreneur?’.
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Ask Yourself: $50k for Life or $1M for Ten Years?

“Would you choose a job you love, for the rest of your life, that only pays you $50k per year? Or a job you hate, for ten years, that pays you $1M per year?”

Last week, I asked a group of highly-motivated Acton prospects this exact question.

My goal was to give them opportunities to try things on for size…to wrestle through difficult questions now, so when they’re faced with these questions in the future, they’ve already mapped out their own guidelines and frameworks for how they want to live.

After prompting the question, silence ensued.

People first seemed to look inside themselves, asking a question that they had probably never asked themselves before. Then, strangely, they looked around at their peers, as if to validate words that hadn’t yet been spoken.

The Standoff

Several vehemently stood by the $50k/year — that it’s all about loving your work.

  • “I don’t have the ability to turn my brain off, so when I go home I’m still thinking about what I did that day…if I hated my work, my life would be miserable.”
  • “We spend the majority of our waking hours working. Why would we do anything we’re not excited about and enjoying?”
  • “It’s all about managing the cash. You can make $50k go a long way. I’m going for work I love.”

The crew of $1M/year folks were chomping to get into the conversation:

  • “Ten years isn’t that long. After ten years, I can do whatever I want.”
  • “Who said anything about not being able to have side projects outside of work that you love. That’ll even things out.”
  • “You’d be making $1M/year. Surely you can do a ton outside of work that will up your quality of life!”

Pushing the Limit

A couple people got agitated. I pushed harder and asked both camps follow up questions:

Pushing on the takers of $50k/year:

  • “What if it was $10M/year? Then would you sludge out 10 years of misery? $100M/year?”
  • “Sorry, you can’t pay for your kids to get higher education. Still going to choose $50k?”
  • “Your mom is sick. She needs a super expensive trial medication. You chose a career you love over money that could keep your mom alive…still happy you chose $50k/year?”

Pushing on the takers of $1M/year:

  • “Unfortunately, that $1M job comes with 14 hour days. Sorry, your new son isn’t going to be seeing much of you. Is that $1M/year worth more than time with family?”
  • “Evidently, you didn’t have ten more years to live. All that money you were saving for retirement just went to waste.”
  • “You’re traveling 40 weeks per year. All of your relationships are becoming strained, particularly the one with your husband. Is the money worth more than the relationship you have with your spouse?”

Do these sound like extreme examples? They have certainly all been real scenarios for someone.

Even if the decisions aren’t this stark or dramatic, we each make work related trade-offs that influence our relationships, finances, and sense of fulfillment.

Defining your thresholds, upfront, allows you to be intentional about the choices you make on your adventure.

Ask Yourself

A few examples…

  • How much money do you really need?
  • What’s the travel/work schedule that won’t hurt your relationships?
  • Which are the relationships in your life that you’re not willing to let slip?

To help you start with the end in mind, and to create some guidelines for yourself, check out Acton’s “The Number” exercise. Figure out how much you really need. You might surprise yourself!

Garrett Weber-Gale
Garrett Weber-Gale
Garrett Weber-Gale is the CEO of Acton School of Business, an Acton MBA graduate, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming.

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