A survey of HEC Paris’ executive education alumni network revealed that a huge number of alumni (over 20%) intended to launch their own ventures within three years of completing their studies. Nevertheless, according to our experience of entrepreneurial teaching, the average age for founding an innovative company is 38. This age is very close to the famous “midlife crisis”, when you might decide to make a change, and undertake new initiatives if your life does not match your aspirations, or if you feel you are yet to make your mark on the world.
At this age, and after spending near-on fifteen years carving out one career path, it can become increasingly unbearable to work within organisations where initiatives that offer a reprieve from the daily grind can be stopped – often for “very good reasons” – and ultimately lead to individuals feeling they’re back to square one, achieving absolutely nothing. Even worse is when this lack of progression is blamed on them.
Moreover, numerous surveys have shown that for those who choose to take the leap into entrepreneurship, money is not the main driver for doing so. Instead, their key motivations are more often related to gaining freedom or pursuing personal development.
This leads us to finding the famous intersection, popularised by the Japanese, between what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for.
Entrepreneurship may therefore be a wise way to find your “ikigai”, or, in English, one’s purpose. Finding where you are really happy if you align passion, mission, profession and vocation…
But, as the diagram suggests, achieving this can be a challenge for a number of reasons…
Is the challenge worth it? The risk of understanding nothing
Even if there are currently more business opportunities than ever, middle-aged professionals have, naturally, more elements to take into account before deciding to launch their own ventures at this later stage in their careers. There is often a home to run, a family to support and a reputation to maintain.
Creating your own venture is obviously risky, but those intimidated by the prospect may also consider that those who never take risks end up working for those who did. Consider that great entrepreneurs are not necessarily geniuses, but they are often visionaries and risk takers.
Making the big jump
If you choose to carve a new path within an existing company, intrapreneurship might well be the solution to cut the Gordian knot. For this purpose, would-be intrapreneurs should not only seek to develop their managerial skills but also build soft skills such as diplomacy and determination. Both can be developed by training and by mentoring.
However, the most rational option is, sometimes, to re-invent your own future somewhere else.
For those mid-lifers there’s good news – the time to launch your own company is now! As, increasingly, most startup founders are over 35 years of age. As mentioned earlier, a survey conducted on one of HEC’s executive education programs for founders of innovative companies shows that the average age for creating such a venture is 38.
And, to gain the additional skills to help make such a venture – not a guaranteed success – but a less-risky prospect, executive education programs can significantly help. Custom-designed courses and extra support business schools can provide such as; careers services, startup incubators and accelerators, seed and/or venture capital funds and networking opportunities can help identify business opportunities and foster success.
The price of freedom
“Freedom exists, you just have to pay the price”, according to the French writer Henry de Montherlant. This point of view is not so different from the latter, where personal risk is sometimes mandatory if you do not want to get professionally stalled.