Fear, Nihilism, and Entrepreneurship

Philosopreneurship Series 

Recent entrepreneurship literature has focused on the fear of committing to entrepreneurship—the fear of failure, solitude, unpredictability. (“The Struggle” by Ben Horowitz. Read here or here for more examples.)

I have a job offer at IBM Global Business Services in New York City—quality pay, consistent schedule, and an overall solid job. But last week I made the decision to stay in Silicon Valley to grind, not sleep, and struggle. To approach the fear head on.

Why?

I’ve been asked this question a lot recently, and I can finally explain it with a bit of help from my philosophy background and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nihilism is a complex philosophical doctrine, but in basic terms it argues that life is without purpose. One path to this conclusion is through the perspective of time. In one hundred years it is extremely unlikely that any memory of you or your actions will exist. In one thousand years, even less likely. This contributed to Malcolm Gladwell’s statement that Steve Jobs will not be remembered in 50 years.

We are such small aspects on the universe in terms of both time and space that all of our actions will have minimal effects. This has led some to believe that life is not worth living, which Albert Camus ardently refuted in “The Rebel.”

So in choosing between a corporate gig at a 300,000-person company with structured time frames, hierarchies, and minimal influence versus a 2-person company with fear, anxiety, and the tiny chance to make a difference, the choice was simple.

I’d rather devote my life to the miniscule probability of making a small difference and accepting the fact that I’ll likely fail, than waking up each morning to follow directions.

With one attempt to be remembered by history, why not risk it all? The worst that could happen is that I fail and the sands of time wash away my endeavors—but is that outcome any different than the alternative?

Thus, entrepreneurship is the rational choice if one finds truth in nihilism’s tenets; fear of failure is a ridiculous concept if all is forgotten. With that conclusion, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the 20th centuries’ lost philosophers:

            “Success is my only – – option, failure’s not”

                        -eminem

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