On taking responsibility

South Africa Summer 2014 Blog

Written by: Bryan Hernandez

July 1, 2014

There's something very comforting about going to college.  You wake up in the midmorning, grab a bagel on the way to class, find your favorite spot in the lecture hall and settle in to receive the learning that your professor rains down upon you.  You consult your friends about the homework or lab assignments.  You refer to the course syllabus and budget your time between homework assignments, group projects, and the impending midterms.  

The work is hard, but you know what it's going to be and when to expect it.  It's not a mystery what work you will need to do in order to excel in this environment.  After all, you've been doing this kind of thing since your were 5 years old.

And then one day you graduate.  You leave behind the well-structured environment of your university and venture out into the world.  For many, this means finding a job or going to grad school.  Out of the pot and into another.  Yet there are some who go straight into the fire.  If you are one of them, my goal in writing this is to help you not get burned too bad.  

Potentially the first and hardest things you need to learn when you wander out of the familiar and comforting structure of a university or job is that, for the most part, the world does not care about you.  Nobody is going to tell you when you're going astray.  No one will get on your case when you under-deliver.  And you will hear from no one when you spend months on end working towards something that is ultimately futile.  For those who have good mentors, this is mitigated substantially.  But for those who don't, it's quite a painful thing to learn the hard way.

I think more than anything, in the first year of your life as an entrepreneur you will learn how to have self-accountability.  You will learn that there are generally no good excuses for not delivering.  That you cannot rely on the structure of a course, on the carrots of promotions, or the wrath of an angry boss to orient the work you put in day in and day out.  No one will know if you sleep in till 10am.  It will bother nobody that you accomplished nothing because your internet went out or your Airtime credits ran dry.  

"What is it you've been up to?" your friends will ask.  They will generally have no visibility into the problems you're facing unless you share them with them.  And the interesting thing is that a lot of the time, the problems that seem the most insidious are the ones you've known about your whole life but never were free enough to have to confront them in a serious way.  How do you structure your day when you have no meetings, classes, or homework deliverables?  What food will you choose to eat when you have no constraints on how long you have for lunch?  How will you know when it starts to affect your performance?  How will you know when you've worked enough for the day?  Do you think you need to work on the weekend, or have you enough progress to take a break for a couple days?  

You see, in university, a lot of these things were decided for you.  These decisions made themselves because it was understood very clearly what you needed to deliver, when, and why.  

But in the real world, you are professor, student, and mommy all at the same time.  

Successfully transitioning from life within a structure to life as an entrepreneur will largely be a test of your ability to take responsibility.  If you are able to embrace the fact that you are ultimately responsible for your own failure, only then will you start to see the success you've earned.