Stop Thinking like an Employee and Unlock Your Inner Entrepreneur

06/22/2017 03:01 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2017

If you’re an employee, here’s how your day goes: Get up; Go to work at someone else’s business; Work for someone else’s business; Go to lunch and try not to think about someone else’s business; Go back to work for someone else’s business; Make money for someone else's business; Go home and try to think about something other than someone else’s business. Rinse. Repeat.

If you’re an entrepreneur, however, your day is completely different. All day long, you’re almost certainly thinking about somebody’s business. But here’s the difference: the business you’re thinking about is your business. And that changes everything. You’ll be thinking about how to make your business better, smarter, more efficient, more profitable, more successful.

It’s a different mindset in every way imaginable. If you’re an employee, you get a (more or less) steady paycheck with benefits (probably) and a place to go each day (again, probably). You trade your time for their dollars. It’s a straightforward exchange, one millions of people make every day.

But life for the entrepreneur involves a completely different transaction. It’s not about time, it’s about pure value. Time is irrelevant. Your business may be based on an idea that took you 2 minutes to think up and will go on to generate millions of dollars. It’s your idea, your smarts, and your work that create the value. You realize that long-term return from your ideas and your efforts.

As a young entrepreneur who’s focused for years on building his business idea into a million-dollar company, that difference in mindset is everything.

Trust me, I know how easy it can be to slip into the employee mindset. My business concept had some early success, but then I faced a daunting series of hurdles and challenges. I needed to make some money to pay bills, so I had to park my company and take a Starbucks barista job.

I did well at Starbucks, and moved up quickly, managing a store of my own at 24. And don’t get me wrong, Starbucks is an amazing company, one I admire as much as any in the world. I learned so much there that I now use in running my own business.

And Starbucks tried to keep me working there, too. Successful Starbucks managers can do well, with bonuses when a store hits the right metrics. The company also gives you great benefits, great people and products, even great customers. It was tempting to just get on that train and ride it as far as it would take me.

That doesn’t mean Starbucks was all easy coffee pouring, of course. I was getting up at 3:30 in the morning to open my store by 4:30. I had a balky car that required an unlikely combination of maneuvers to start on frigid New England mornings. I also began a serious relationship that gave me reason to question why I was doing all those miserable early mornings.

Just as importantly, though, even when I worked for Starbucks, I thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I wasn’t a barista. I was CEO of my company, even as I worked for Howard Schultz’s.

So when I woke up on those cold early mornings, I was thinking about my company. When I went home after a long day, I was thinking about my company. All weekend, I was thinking about my company.

Yes, the time in-between belonged to Starbucks. And yes, I worked hard enough, and in a focused and effective enough manner, that they rewarded me. But eventually, there came a time when I had to choose whether to go run my company, or give it up and stick with Howard Schultz’s.

Every entrepreneur faces this pivotal, and scary, moment. They have to jump out of the nest to see if they can take wing with their idea. There are no guarantees, except one: you’ll finally be focused on building your company instead of someone else’s.

Somewhat ironically, the person who helped me understand that issue was one of those great Starbucks customers. We talked every day at the store, often about my business idea. He encouraged me to pursue it, and invested $20,000 to help me get restarted. Eventually, with support from him and my boyfriend and others, I made the jump.

I became a full-time entrepreneur, with all that entailed. I hired employees, began pushing for new business locations and more.

And becoming a full-time entrepreneur didn’t yet mean I was completely free from working for others. I still needed cash to get by, and the flexibility to run my business during the day. So I took a job as a server at a Fleming’s Steakhouse. That gave me the cash and flexibility I needed, so I could pursue the thing I cared most about.

Let me also say that being a server in that situation is a bit like being an entrepreneur. You’re in charge of your section, and have to pay out your busboy and food runner and other support staff with a share of your tip money. If you’re in a situation like I was and you need some getting-by money as you launch your business, you should consider restaurant service.

Regardless, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to stop thinking like an employee. You could be a stay-at-home mom with an idea for a business, or have any of a thousand other jobs working for others. To get your idea going, you still have to make that crucial mental leap.

Think like an entrepreneur. Invest in your idea with all the energy, brains and attention you can muster. Once you’ve made the mental move, you’ll be able to do all the rest.

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