Are Entrepreneurs Happy?

Maybe yes and maybe no, but apparently whether you are financially successful or not is a big deciding factor.

My late husband Jerry and I were entrepreneurs from 1980, when he left a major brokerage firm and we founded Professional Planning Associates Inc., until 2002, when he died. I completed the sale of the firm in 2004. We were at the outset what was then something of a novelty: a fee-based financial planning business.

Common wisdom at the time held that if you could hold out for 5 years in an entrepreneurial start-up, your chances of success were pretty high. I found that not to be true. Changes in the tax law in 1987 almost put us under — but we figured out a way to survive, and had the support of our staff to do so. Nobody got bonuses that year, but we didn’t lay anyone off either, and if there was belt-tightening to be done, it applied to everyone in the firm — including me and Jerry.

We were financially successful despite the ups and downs in any given year, not in the way of Microsoft millionaires whose success came before age 30, but in the way that hard-working people of our era achieved financial independence over the course of decades of effort and dedication.

Whether we were happy is a different question, one that I would love to talk about with Jerry if he were still alive. At the time, going out on our own seemed much riskier than having a corporate career at a big company like Kodak. Over time, though, having our fate in our own hands proved the lesser risk –as Kodak and other iconic big firms failed and the pension and health benefits of people with once-secure futures were thrown into jeopardy. And I think we were happy, despite the stress of being responsible for our employees and several hundred clients. Once I learned to compartmentalize and not bring home into work or vice-versa, we both enjoyed the sense that we were building our future together, and that we trusted each other implicitly to do the right thing. We had each other’s back.

Any other small biz entrepreneurs out there, and on the whole were you happy with your choice of career? I’d love to hear.

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