"Joy" and the Myths of Inspiration for Entrepreneurs

09/07/2017 10:45 am ET

I watched the film on a plane, on my way to consult for an organization experiencing rapid growth. I had actually just finished writing an article for my blog, when I noticed a man watching the film in a seat in front of me. I hit the movie icon on my screen and I was instantly lost in the story. It doesn’t get much more entrepreneur than that.

It’s an engrossing story, really. A young woman who rises to become the founder of a powerful company and matriarch of her family. In many ways, it’s like Rocky. The story of a down-and-out fighter becoming the champ by having more heart than any other fighter in the ring. In fact, Joy has been told a thousand times in thousands different ways. But it’s rare for us to see a film about an entrepreneur, and Jennifer Lawrence plays a compelling character.

When I finished watching the film, my first thought was: “every entrepreneur should watch this!” Within minutes, however, I was backpedaling on the idea. Joy’s story, after all, isn’t completely realistic. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great film! The characters are vivid, the story arcs well, and the writing is smart. As a moviegoer, I give it two thumbs up. As an entrepreneur, though, I’m not so sure.

In the film, Joy is responsible for her dysfunctional family and has all the tell-tale burdens of a person in her shoes. Then she invents a mop, and things go wrong in every possible way. Then she gets on TV to sell her mop, and things go wrong in every possible way. Misfortune after mishap, things are bad…until she takes a flight to threaten a man who lied to her. All of a sudden the tides change. She recovers and soon becomes a powerful and wealthy business owner. She lives happily ever after. The end.

It feels real, but when you’ve been in the trenches and worked with entrepreneurs as long as I have, you realize there’s much more to the story. In fact, statistics alone paint a very different picture.

Most businesses fail: The evidence is clear – the vast majority of businesses fail within a few short years of formation.

Most entrepreneurs give up: As with the startup failure statistics, the evidence also points to a mass exodus by entrepreneurs after a single failed attempt.

Mishaps are more frequent than successes: It’s much harder to string together wins than it is to accumulate losses.

So how do we gather inspiration from a movie like Joy without becoming disillusioned by our own experiences?

Success Begins With Failure

It’s extremely rare to achieve success in the first attempt. Most seasoned entrepreneurs will tell you (if being honest), that they had many failures prior to becoming successful. If your goal is to be successful and live a successful life, get used to the idea of failing. It’s part of the process. Instead of getting down on yourself about it, use it as a learning tool.

Age Isn’t an Indicator of Success

Many entrepreneurs I speak with focus on age, particularly when comparing themselves to a perceived younger generation of “internet millionaires.” The fact is that the tiny little sliver of highly successful young people is not representative of the vast majority of broke kids still living at home. If you’re worried about your age, my first advice to you is to stop. After that, get online and start looking up stories of people who built empires well after their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, or even 50’s.

Success Requires Resilience

Resilience is a huge topic in entrepreneurial circles these days. In fact, some experts argue that it’s the single most important factor in determining the likelihood of success. Resilience is essentially the ability to bounce back after failure. Why is it so important? Because the majority of entrepreneurs refuse to get back up and keep fighting when they’ve been knocked down. That’s precisely what keeps them from achieving success. When you get knocked down, your only option must be to get back up and keep moving.

Use Inspiration as a Tool

Movies like Joy are not supposed to show us how it actually works. No, they’re supposed to give us inspiration to make it work. You should be inspired, but don’t ever let the simplicity of inspiration make you a skeptic. Use it to motivate you to achieve.

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