Being a real entrepreneur isn’t easy.
By real entrepreneur, I mean someone who has turned an idea into a profitable startup with their own two hands, their own money and a carefully chosen team. I’m talking about the bootstrapped entrepreneur who hustles at every corner and is constantly working, sometimes too much for their own good. They’re the kind of entrepreneurs who have survived on nearly nothing but still came out successful in the end.
Then there are the wantrepreneurs, the ones who play pretend-hustler with visions of a venture capitalist saying, “I’d like to give you a million dollars to build your company.” Skip to the scene at the Lamborghini dealer and fast forward to bottle service and models at some exclusive club.
In reality, there are things that you can only learn by being immersed in hardship. It shapes your character, you learn new ways to survive, and you develop lifelong habits.
Here are 15 habits only a real entrepreneur develops when they struggle for success.
1. Go to bed early and wake up early. You probably don’t really know what a productive day of work is if you haven’t woken up at 5 a.m. before. Of course, to wake up this early, you have to go to bed early, and if you are trying to get the recommended eight hours of sleep, that means you need to sleep at 9 p.m. If you aspire to be like billionaire Richard Branson, you should wake up at 5 a.m. because you want to get the most out of each day.
2. Stop using your devices before bed. This is a pretty hard habit to kick, but when you stick to it you’ll notice the difference right away. The blue light from your screen dramatically reduces melatonin in your system and disrupts your body’s ability to fall asleep. The next morning, you pay the consequences with irritability, the inability to focus, and you add to your risk of developing serious health issues.
3. Drink lots of water. When you first wake up, drink a glass of water. When you finish your morning coffee, drink a glass of water. Just finished a glass of water? It’s a perfect time for another glass of water. Hydrating when you wake up is the first part to entrepreneur Hal Elrod’s morning success ritual. Studies also show that staying hydrated is key for optimum brain function. You can’t be successful if you don’t maintain your brain.
4. Eat healthy. Eating ramen might be stereotypical for a poor college kid or struggling entrepreneur, but it unfortunately carries some health risks. Eating organic vegetables might sound expensive, but the price per serving of nutrients actually makes for a great deal. Eating healthy fats is also key to caring for your brain and heart. Becoming successful will mean nothing if you don’t take measures to look after your health now.
5. Make time to exercise. If you aren’t getting the hint, health is everything. It’s one of the toughest habits to develop, but the benefits are plentiful. It forces you to set aside time each day, which means you will have to organize your day on a set schedule. It’s a widely known fact that exercise is a great stress reliever and helps to clear and focus the mind. This habit is especially important for every entrepreneur that has to sit at a computer all day.
6. Be frugal. You have to understand that frugality is not the same thing as stinginess. Don’t waste food, and be smart about finding deals. Learn to live on very little in case of emergency; make every dollar as efficient as possible. Elon Musk once challenged himself to survive on a dollar a day for a month in college just to see if he could survive on an extremely low income.
7. Give as much as you can. Even if you don’t have much, everyone has something to offer. Knowledge, skills and favors are often worth more than money or nice things. Billionaire Li Ka-Shing suggests buying lunch for people who are more important than you because it increases your reputation and value as a generous person. You never know how even seemingly insignificant nice gestures will pay off for you in the future.
8. Be gracious. A sense of gratitude is key for a positive mindset. People who are thankful enjoy a ton of benefits — they are more productive, others enjoy their company more, they are more genuine, they can handle failure better, and studies show they even live longer because they are less stressed. Be thankful for everything you have in life and for all the times someone else above you has given you a hand up. At the very least, it’s polite to say, “thank you,” and really mean it.
9. Be relaxed. Nothing gets accomplished if you let stress dictate your attitude. Working all day on a startup struggling to get traction is stressful, and that means you have to train yourself to reduce that stress at the end of each day. Take a quiet walk just to think or meditate and clear your mind. Volunteering also dramatically reduces stress. Actor, comedian and sage Bill Murray has said that the secret to being great at your job, being successful and having fun is to just relax yourself.
10. Keep good company. If you want to elevate yourself in life, you have to start by elevating the company you keep. Entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This is completely true. If you spend most of your time with people who are smarter, busier, more successful and happier than you, you will learn to develop those same habits.
11. View risks and failure as opportunities. You have to fail, but every time you adapt and improve you get closer to success. Entrepreneur Dan Peña says, “Fail, but fail fast.” Get it over with, because the most important part about failure is what you do after, so don’t ever get hung up on a single failure. Don’t ever feel sorry for yourself. If someone told you that you will fail exactly 1,000 times before you become very successful, would you still continue on that path? Keep pushing, because as billionaire Mark Cuban said, “You only have to be right once!”
12. Be Patient. The part they never tell you about overnight success is that there were countless late nights of hard work before that. Making a startup successful can take many years. It took Jack Ma nearly 15 years, who started out as a heavily doubted underdog in a one-bedroom apartment, to make Alibaba the global success it is today. If you feel you can’t last that long working for almost nothing and giving every bit of energy you have to a company that has every reason in the world to fail, you aren’t entrepreneur material.
13. Learn to invest. This one is only for those that have the time, inclination and money to spare. If you are going to work hard, your money should also work hard too. Investing in retirement plans, the stock market and real estate is a good way to grow your money and plan for the future. Apps designed for millennials to track and trade on the stock market now make the process easier than ever. Who knows what you can learn about markets and economics — plus, it never hurts to have a backup plan.
14. Respect always has to be earned. The amount of money you have in the bank, the car you drive, or even what you’ve done in the past does not earn you respect. It has to be constantly earned with your own hard work with your own two hands. As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson explains: “My dad [Rocky Johnson] broke color barriers in pro wrestling. The best advice he instilled in me as a kid: ‘Respect is given when it’s earned […] so get out there and earn it.’ I still do today.”
15. Love yourself. The key to selling anything is to love the product. If you are trying to sell yourself — your skills, your personality, your startup — to, say, an investor or potential employer, you have to love yourself. When someone wants to invest in your company, they are really trusting their money with the person who’s steering the ship. If you were a product, would you buy yourself?