Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Gemma Milne, Freelance Science & Tech Writer and Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt
“I mean, you’ll be starting your own thing, right?”
It wasn’t until I was made redundant from my high-flying corporate job, that I realised the pressure I’d been under. Of course, once I’d served my time in the corporate world, I’d be off starting my own business, changing the world day by day, living that glorious founder life so often championed by government schemes, ‘Under 30’ lists, and almost every one of my peers.
Of course, what I was really meant to be, is a founder.
I was an ambitious city-dweller in my mid-20s, suddenly without work, and I’d been bestowed time to find my purpose. Time, that precious commodity, a lack of which I’d been attributing to my delayed all-guns-blazing entry into founder-land.
I had a side-project. One which we, and the people we built it for, loved. One which made enough to cover itself. One which, clear to all involved, could grow.
But being given all the time in the world to choose what path to take, was an easy way to work out that being a founder isn’t actually what I wanted to do. Focusing on only one thing, sacrificing ideals in the name of progress, turning my life over to investors, managing people – it simply wasn’t for me.
But how could I justify wasting my, and the side project’s, potential? Why wouldn’t I want to work on something I love? What else could possibly be the right fit for an ambitious, self-starting individual who’s got at her fingertips a business ready to fly?
How would I tell everyone?
The pressure to be a founder is maddening. The pressure to find your calling is paralysing. The pressure to build and grow and profit is turning passions into ‘but just think what you could do!’
And for what?
For endless platforms and websites and apps and portals which none of us really need, taking huge sums of money clearly needed elsewhere, with the 'founder' title really being the personal driver.
For severe shortages in entrepreneurial talent entering politics and healthcare and science and local services where new ideas could actually radically change how society runs.
For dozens and hundreds and thousands of young people struggling every day with increasing levels of anxiety and depression because they are never going to be ‘enough’ if they don’t follow those dreams.
I can’t just be a writer – I have to also be a founder. Our side project is just that, but how else can I showcase my ambition, my capability and my work without that word on my social media blurbs?
The world doesn’t need more founders – but it does need to find a way of celebrating those who aren’t. Of measuring success not based on the number of enterprises you have. Of understanding what a person is truly capable of beyond the titles of 'founder', 'leader', 'follower'.
I’m glad we moved away from the lure of corporate world being the snatcher of capable people, but I’m not sure we’ve replaced it with something all that richer. A world of founders – of sadness, showboating and individualism – is not a world that functions.
Passions and interests are not always there for the taking – they are the things we do to enrich our minds, to share our loves, to escape into our own worlds for even just a second. They are not there to be exploited by the societal pressure to ‘do more’.
But ‘more’ doesn’t really mean anything when so many founder enterprises fail to move the needle. We get caught up in this idea of changing the world and creating purpose, and forget that sometimes the most efficient way of doing just that is to join an existing effort.
Efficient, yes; but in so many ways, it’s the harder choice. It means going against what is expected of you. It means having to nudge an entire cruise-liner as opposed to solely steering your one-woman dingy. It means patience, and perseverance and proving yourself.
(An undertaking, which would most likely need a passion or a side project to keep a happy and healthy mind sane.)
So it’s been 2 years since I was made redundant, and the whirling and churning of pressure and indecision is still ever-present: I’m still asked when our side project will become my job.
We need to stop having this one conceptual 'founder hero' for people to look to – it’s time to encourage something lighter than the weight of the world.
A version of this piece was originally published in the May edition of Offscreen Magazine