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People continually and persistently pester me about what I am going to do when I finish this, my final year of university. As my exams stomp thunderously on my most distant horizon, they kick up dust, through which my future is hazy. I mean, what if I fail them all? What's the use of making plans when I might have to do university again? But surely these facile observations are really just a defence mechanism to help me prolong choosing the direction and overarching themes of the rest of my life? And even this, the somewhat inflated supposition that decisions made now will be in any way existential, is beyond doubt a further way of justifying not rushing into any choice of final career options.
But this question, about what I am going to do, is interestingly in marked contrast to the question posed to us in primary school: "what do you want to be?" (to which I promptly replied "mechanic" because of my love of lego, robots and intricate mechanisms.) It is to this extent surprising to be asked this sort of question in every job interview I attend: "why do you want to be an [entrepreneur]?" Being asked this, during my application to a couple of schemes for graduate entrepreneurs - the New Entrepreneur Foundation, Entrepreneur First, for example, (which I would highly recommend looking into) seems like an anachronistic recollection of primary school: imagining myself in some role, toolbox scribbled into my hand with crayon, building gigantic killing machines in my spare time and designing breathtaking marble-runs as my day job. It must be this reflection that makes starting a justification of my application with "I want to be an [entrepreneur] because..." as fanciful and detached from reality as the stumbling mass of dribbling classmates of mine who summarily declared "astronaut!" because "I want to go to the moon and float and fight aliens!" in response to the same question.
I am informed that this question, however, is asked in order to give candidates a fair opportunity to demonstrate that they know both themselves and the role, and to show that the two fit together in some (favourable) way. Having found myself on my gap yah, I am confident of the first part, but it is the second part that really taxes me. It seems to require listing everything you know about the role and exclaiming that it is a good thing, tempered with a dash of peppery realism about this or other difficulty of the job which is, despite being quite bad, nevertheless more than counteracted by the host of good things.
Here's my attempt:
Being [an entrepreneur], though requiring never-ending commitment to your job; the perpetual risk and fear of utter and deathly ruin; the resulting uncertainty jeopardising the foundations of your marriage/relationship; the years spent in obscurity shamefully coughing "(as yet unsuccessful) entrepreneur" in response to petitions of what you do at parties, school reunions and on heart-breaking, soul-dredging tax returns; the hoards of half-known connections desperately garnered at wine-drunk networking events and the tattered deck of business cards gradually accumulating on the corner of your desk; the then gradually attenuating network: exhausted by continual calls for favours, advice, introductions, assistance; the tremulous support of your father who wanted you to be a [doctor/lawyer/banker/dentist/employed]; ... is good because you do not have a boss and you also get the opportunity to work on your own dream, rather than being an instrument to someone else's: which is intrinsically and qualitatively superior to the material and emotional benefits of all conceivable alternatives. I think this is what they want to hear.
I think it is what appears to be an imbalance in the foregoing answer that explains the terrifying volume of literature dedicated to inspiring/reviving would-be entrepreneurs. What's more, this literature is virtually indistinguishable from general self-help writing. It is also somewhere around here that I might mention the mere swimming pool cordon that separates glorification of the against-the-odds entrepreneur and haranguing of the lazy, indigent, benefit-claiming do-nothing enemies of the state: the poor. Whilst these facts are well known, and thoroughly discussed, (scaffolding the many "bleeding hearts" of the British left), it is notwithstanding this sort of literature and the understandings contained within it that they seem to want you to internalise and project onto the interview table, if this spicy mix of realism and passion is to be effectively conveyed.
The difficulties of being and becoming an entrepreneur and moreover, the difficulty that I have with actually saying that I want to be an entrepreneur (I tend to say "I don't know what I want to do, maybe I could do something in my own, maybe I'll go into business" accompanied by an artfully non-committal shrug) puts me in a really tight spot when I am asked why I want to be an entrepreneur. And it is probably around here that I owe anyone who has made it this far through my article a real answer to this question, something that properly justifies choosing entrepreneurship over "safe" graduate schemes with golden job offers glimmering at their finales, of gaining a profession (my Dad: "plumbers make tonnes of money").
I do want to be an entrepreneur. But I don't want to be an entrepreneur exclusively. I simply don't want to work somewhere where the constant stream of ideas ("takeaway full English Breakfasts!", "body-heat-powered phone charger!") and the accompanying excitement and blinding bursts of creativity that distract me from my essays and my revision are to be postponed until this scheme ends, until that contract is finished, until my energy and youth is spent working in the grey hours of the early morning on the dry, cold buzz of too much coffee and the acidic regret of a late night office-pizza, on some project that will probably ossify under the steady weight of bureaucratic interrogation, and with people who work with me because they were assigned to this team, rather than because they believe in me or in what we are working on. I just really don't think that fully grown companies can promise me that this is not what my life will come to resemble.
And I also truly resent being made to sit maths assessments despite having (half decent) GCSE, A Level, and degree level maths scores on my CV: any company which still tests you must really just see your CV as a list of readily falsifiable boasts rather than the cream of your life's achievements. It really grinds my gears.
Photo Credit: Suzie Katz