My Surprising Realization From Year One as an Entrepreneur

by Tommy Leung on March 7th, 2018

It was December 2017 and I was having a bad feeling.

I had left my six-figure job in March to pursue my dream of starting a business.

A business in a notoriously difficult market: video games.

But that's been a childhood dream so I had to give it a try.

I spent a decade in the games industry. Started as an eager young adult while still in college. My first job in games was as a programmer.

A self-taught, inexperienced programmer with various knowledge gaps that a computer science degree would have alleviated.

I studied marketing instead so I learned on the job, through books, and from online courses.

Where there's a will there's a way.

Back to December of 2017

Something didn't feel right. It was a gut feeling.

Nothing was visibly wrong.

We had a game. My co-founder and I built it in just a few months. It was a free to play game for mobile phones. We had worked on games like this many times before.

Our game idea was novel and many players didn't understand what to do.

The drop-off was unacceptable so we had to work on solving that problem. But that's not what felt wrong. We knew that players might have difficulty understanding the game and were prepared to slog through the data and iterate until a solution was found.

Or until we gave up. Failures in the games industry happen all the time.

But that wasn't the problem.

What didn't feel right was that nothing felt too different than when I was a salaried employee.

There were obvious differences like a lack of a regular pay check. No office to go to. No team of people to see everyday. No employees to manage. No direction from executive management.

All the things that one would expect from starting your own business was there and it was different but those things didn't feel wrong.

All of that felt fine. It even felt right. The lack of a steady pay check and no third party setting the agenda was not a problem.

What felt wrong was how much my mindset was still that of an employee.

I started each day like I had in years prior. I had my coffee, read the news, went to the gym, and then worked at my desk the rest of the day.

That's how I worked for years at every job I've had. But I didn't have a job.

I had a lot of work to do but no job. The difference is subtle but important.

What I realized was that I didn't put enough emphasis on self care or self improvement. I've always been into self improvement. I'm no stranger to self improvement books.

Improving my productivity, health, and mindset were always things I did but they were also the things that took a back seat to work when push came to shove.

Building my business felt even more urgent than work so self care didn't get prioritized. I carried on for several months until I got the gut feeling that I wasn't doing this right.

I was an entrepreneur with an employee's mindset. I knew that was a recipe for failure.

So I decided to make some changes.

First thing was to improve my task planning. We built a game ready for testers in 3 and a half months. We weren't working too slow but I had to get more of the right work done.

Then I had to schedule self improvement. I had to keep my mind sharp and filled with the right thoughts.

I stopped reading the news. I started to meditate. I began self-journaling again. I prioritized reading books. I scheduled a weekly review of my goals and progress.

Newton's first law states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by another force.

This is also known as inertia.

And inertia is a formidable force. The inertia of my decade long career wasn't going to disappear the instant I decided to take a different path. I would have to fight it.

Self care is important because the entrepreneurial journey is hard.

It is littered with setbacks. Struggles. Disappointments. Hard work. Resistance of every kind.

The entrepreneur has to be ready and able to overcome it all. Every new hurdle can be the straw the breaks the camel's back.

So I have to make sure that I'm at my best. That I'm in the right mindset to face the never ending barrage of challenges and win.

We know that our willpower is like a muscle and gets tired with use.

And it is our willpower that helps us face challenge after challenge without giving up. That's why self care is so important for an entrepreneur. Each day brings new reasons to quit.

It still often feels wrong that I am not spending all my time doing work directly related to building the company. I feel guilty. Like I'm being lazy. Or not working hard enough.

But I remind myself that this is a marathon. It does the company no good if I burn out and give up. The regular checkins and planning is there to ensure that I utilize my time effectively and make progress every day.

So that I'm doing the right things and not simply doing things to feel like I am working.

"Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude."

- Thomas Jefferson

Have you taken the entrepreneurial journey? Tell me about your revelations and struggles in the comments below!