What if Our Dreams Are an Illusion?

"I'm totally willing to sacrifice my time and money for this startup because I've got big dreams it will enable. But what if those big dreams don't turn out to be quite as amazing as I thought they'd be? How do I know this will be worth it?"

August 2nd, 2023   |    By: Wil Schroter    |    Tags: Emotional Support

What if all the sacrifice we're making for this startup isn't worth it?

There's a bit of a compact we make with ourselves that it's OK to sacrifice our time, money, and life experiences for a big payoff later. The most important part of that assumption is that we're absolutely certain that the things we'll get with that payoff are worth the sacrifice.

But how do we know for sure? What if we go through all of this sacrifice, get everything we ever thought we wanted, and wind up no more satisfied than we are today? What if our dreams are an illusion?

The Cost of Being Wrong

The cost of us being wrong is significant because, as Founders, we sacrifice a lot for our goals. By comparison, if we work a regular day job, we get paid for our time. We may not get paid as much in the end, but we get paid. Most startup Founders defer compensation for a future payout, which implies that we need that money for our alternative future.

That deferred compensation and, let's face it, the countless additional hours that come with it imply that it'll be worth it when we get to that outcome. But if we find out that our "future selves" aren't really that much better off than our "present selves," we're going to feel cheated.

This is a massive bet we're making, and we're typically making it on some heavily unproven assumptions. For all of the things we're trying to get right, you'd think being right about our future outcome would be pretty important. And yet we often just hope we're right and trudge along anyway.

I Tested This Notion

Personally, I'm terrified of making this bad bet, so I'm constantly testing my future versions of myself to make sure I've made the right choice. Fun fact — I've been wrong almost across the board on what I thought my "future self" would enjoy.

When I was a poor kid growing up, I dreamed of living in Beverly Hills, flying private jets, and driving a Lamborghini. It sounded like the absolute pinnacle of success, and if I'm being honest, I was 100% sure I'd never get there, but it was fun to dream.

As I got older and started having some success in the startup game, I began testing all of those notions. I moved to Beverly Hills, flew private, and bought a Lamborghini. Check, check, check.

Were all of my hopes and dreams fulfilled? Nope. I was just as satisfied as I was before, only with way more cost to feel the same way. After that, I never thought about any of those things ever again — which has incredible value to me because I'm never optimizing for expensive outcomes I really don't want.

Sample First, Order Later

What was important about that journey is that it allowed me to taste test my alternate future before I committed to making massive decisions and sacrifices to enable me to do that forever. Hell, in today's economy, I could have rented every one of those things for a week and gotten the same outcome!

The fallacy is believing that there is this much better outcome that our sacrifice will certainly reward us for. What if there isn't? We should never incur more risk, more sacrifice, or more "life deferral" for an outcome that we don't really want.

Instead, we should do everything in our power to sample those outcomes before we commit to them. I always say that the value of anything is the fact that we don't have it. The moment we give ourselves a chance to have it, hold it, and live it, the value of that thing quickly diminishes.

Let's not spend one moment of risk on anything that won't have lasting value.

In Case You Missed It

Why Money Can't Buy Happiness (podcast) Being successful and having a lot of money doesn’t equate to genuine happiness. More often than not, it’s a fleeting distraction from other issues that require attention.

How I Harness My Insane Startup Anxiety There are two types of Founders: those that admit they are wracked with anxiety, and those that are lying about it. We’re all going to deal with it for the rest of our lives — so why not use it as a superpower, instead of reacting like it’s kryptonite?

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Startup (podcast). Join Wil and Ryan as they break down the ways Founders can learn to deal with personal hardships that are often a result of our own Startups — while we're still running them.

About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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