This chapter is a free excerpt from Confessions from an Entrepreneur (Volume 1).

Michael Simmons: CEO, Author & Public Speaker

If you talk to any successful entrepreneur throughout history, there is one trait they have in common. It is so obvious that barely anybody talks about it. Yet it is one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated traits.


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Michael Simmons: CEO, Author & Public Speaker

If you talk to any successful entrepreneur throughout history, there is one trait they have in common. It is so obvious that barely anybody talks about it. Yet it is one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated traits.

That trait is the willingness to do whatever it takes to be successful.

Over the last decade and a half, I’ve been fascinated by greatness. I’ve always wondered how great people got that way. I’ve read hundreds of books on success and entrepreneurship, including biographies of some of the most successful people of our time. I’ve co-founded and helped build an entrepreneurship education organization, Empact, that has identified, showcased, and built relationships with the most successful young entrepreneurs in the United States. I’ve interviewed entrepreneurs that have built multi-billion dollar companies.

After hearing and experiencing the importance of this trait over and over, I am convinced that this is far and away the most important trait of a successful entrepreneur.

No matter what preparation one has, the most challenging part of entrepreneurship is the emotional part. If you have an insecurity, it is likely that it will be brought up along the journey.

You’ll experience things like:

  • Working for long periods of time without external reward.
  • Having periods of time where you’re extremely low on cash.
  • Recruiting people into a company and managing a team.
  • Facing rejection after rejection from clients.
  • Constantly pushing past one’s comfort zone.

The #1 cause of business failure is not specific challenges that come up, it is lack of internal drive to keep pushing forward and trying new strategies and models. Once you lose that drive, no matter how smart you are, the business will likely not be successful. Once the inertia of the challenges is stronger than your desire, you will be stopped.

When teaching entrepreneurship, I think many organizations confuse causation with correlation. This means that many organizations focus on the mechanics of how to start a business rather than the drive that causes the action. They focus on how to prepare would-be entrepreneurs with the how-to knowledge rather than helping to feed the fire that will see them overcome any challenge and learn the knowledge they need on their own.

I recently had a chance to listen to an interview of Piers Morgan with the best Olympian of all-time, Michael Phelps. The transcript is telling:

MORGAN: Well, what I was struck by with you was there are great athletes and great gymnasts and great swimmers and so on. I don't think I've ever seen anybody who did what you did, and confirm the statistics on this, that you trained for five years literally–

PHELPS: That's right.

MORGAN: –every single day, 365 days, each of those five years, consecutively. That is incredible dedication to your sport.

Do you know anybody else that has done that?

PHELPS: No. I've never heard of anybody else who does that.

MORGAN: What is the motivation at the end of the day for that kind of extreme dedication?

PHELPS: I mean, if you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren't willing to do. And at that point, you know, we had thought that for every year, we get 52 other days of more training than anybody else gets, every single year.

Michael Phelp’s experience meshes with my own. Many people want to be great, but few are willing to do what it takes day-in-and-day-out.

The challenging part of the fire, and what needs to be talked about more is how to develop the fire inside of you. How do you turn a desire for something into a fire that doesn’t stop burning.

If you make the fire inside of you the focus, then it will increase. And if the fire inside of you is bright enough, anything is possible.

* * * * *

In 2006, Michael was named by Businessweek as one of the country's top 25 entrepreneurs under 25 and profiled in USA Today, the AOL homepage, CBS, NBC, and ABC. Michael co-founded his first business, Princeton WebSolutions (PWS), when he was sixteen years old. PWS was later rated the #1 youth-run web development company in the nation by Youngbiz Magazine. In addition, Michael has won three entrepreneur of the year awards from the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, Fleet, and the National Coalition for Empowering Youth Entrepreneurship. He is the bestselling author of The Student Success Manifesto.

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