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  • Writer's pictureJered Sturm

The Unsugar-Coated True Story of What it Takes to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

Real estate has been proven to be the best wealth building tool and consistent route to financial freedom by many. Within the broad industry of real estate, real estate entrepreneurs often get a spotlight shined on them for their rapid growth and success. This is one of the reasons why many aspiring to enter into real estate envision being an entrepreneur, their own boss, quitting their day job, owning a real estate investment company where they can work from the beach, only spending four hours a week reviewing reports and rolling in the big bucks. Like all things that have a spotlight shined on them, the real estate investment entrepreneur has a shadow behind it. In this article, I will share the side of becoming a real estate entrepreneur that rarely gets talked about.

We all read stories and hear interviews with investors realizing amazing successes in their real estate businesses. I personally have written those articles and done those interviews. I am fortunate to be one of the investors who has achieved success as a real estate entrepreneur. I am extremely proud of that success, as everyone else who has earned their success should be. Who doesn’t love to focus on those success stories? They are awesome, motivating, fun to listen to, and educational. However, the other side of these stories, the side that remains out of the spotlight, is something almost all of us entrepreneurs have experienced but often do not focus on publicly.

If you’re thinking of becoming a real estate entrepreneur but haven’t made the leap, this will be the realest article on real estate you have ever read.

Over the years of being immersed in the real estate investing industry, I have met, become friends with, and done business with many successful real estate entrepreneurs. I’ve come to realize the stories we share around a dinner table or while out for beers are not the same as the ones you read about in the articles or hear in the interviews. In private, we often reminisce about the years of struggle, the sacrifice, the uncertainty, the risk, and the failure. This is the reality that remains out of focus from the public audience.

We have all heard “it takes years to become an overnight success.” Many real estate entrepreneurs know this quite well. I write this article to shine light on the non-glamorous side of becoming a successful entrepreneur and the years leading up to “overnight success.” I want to show this side so those with the goals of becoming a real estate entrepreneur will be more prepared as they pursue their new venture. I do not want to discourage anyone from pursuing financial freedom, but rather I want to bring an awareness to the reality that often remains out of the spotlight.

I also write this to commend those who have reached success and wear their struggle like a badge of honor. The perseverance during tough times is often what makes the good great. I have had my fair share of hard knocks, and I am grateful for every step in the journey. I hope by sharing my own story I will get others to share theirs.

No One’s There to Tell You What to Do

We are trained in our schooling system to follow directions of our teacher and ask questions if confused. Throw that way of thinking out the window on day one of entrepreneurship because there is no one telling you what to do, how to do it, or what questions to ask even if there was someone there to ask, which normally there isn’t. It feels a little like being dropped in the middle of the ocean when your objective is to go home. Well, you don’t know which way to start swimming. Even if you knew which way was North or South, you may not know which direction you need to go to get home. You could swim for days and realize you swam the wrong direction all that time.

A mentor or having previous work experience can help with this. The truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know. So not knowing you need a mentor or not being able to find one is all too common. I was hardheaded, oblivious, or both. I thought, “Eh, I’ll figure it out on my own.” Many times, even if someone was willing to answer my questions, I didn’t have a clue they needed to be asked.

One of the hardest feelings is knowing something is wrong but you don’t know exactly what. There were times I would have to teach myself entire subject matters just to identify a problem, only to then need to teach myself how to solve it. These times can be trying. The hard truth that all entrepreneurs know is that ultimately you are responsible for the outcome of everything that happens.

What You Need to Give Up in Order to Grow

Business is an exchange of energy. People trade time for money, money for experiences, money for knowledge, time for knowledge, and money for creativity. Around and around this flow of economic energy goes until a transaction has satisfactory energy to complete. It’s all an equation that can be balanced. If you do not have money, you have to give some other source of energy. As many new real estate entrepreneurs realize quickly, this is an expensive industry to play in. It is rare that entrepreneurs enter the game with millions at their disposal to complete transactions, so something has to give. We end up giving time, creativity, and knowledge.

If you lack experience like many beginners do, you mostly trade time. Those dreams of a four-hour work week on a beach smack you with the reality of 80+ hour work weeks. As experience and money grows, the equation begins to shift and time becomes more available. In the spotlight, we focus on the successful entrepreneur working four hours a week, but in his shadow are the years of 80+ hour weeks that go unnoticed.

I started as an entrepreneur young. I had very little previous work experience and even less money. I was pretty creative and was willing to work hard. Because of this, I traded my time day in and day out so I could begin shifting that scale. If wasn’t swimming in the wrong direction, one day the equation would shift and I would begin to have more and more time and financial freedom.

Just take BiggerPockets as one of the many examples that illustrate these realities. We all look up to BiggerPockets as this amazing company built by Josh Dorkin. We see the huge following he has built, the #1 podcast ratings. If you look harder, you see the years of hustle that often go ignored. If you go to the BiggerPockets YouTube page, you find videos with a couple hundred views back when Josh was well into year five or more in his business, and now the podcast has some 60,000+ listeners each episode. The spotlight gets shined on the podcast, while the years of hustle remain in the shadow. BP is just one of the many companies like this — from an outside perspective, it looks like an overnight success; the reality is years of sacrifice created that success.

The Sacrifices Continue

Time is finite. There is only so much time in a life. In a year, in a month, and in a day. In order to not crash and burn in year one, most entrepreneurs have to trade time to get their business off the ground. The unfortunate reality is this takes time away from everything else. This includes kids, spouses, family, friends, and all the people we all care for.

In a perfect world, there would be time for everything. In that perfect world, we would work some, be with family some, and see friends some. I truly wish it was that easy. In my own experience, I had to trade so much time to get our business up and running that I had to decide where to cut time. Everyone is different, but I know the reason I worked so hard. The financial freedom I was seeking was driven by my desire to give my family a certain life. Because of this, the time to work came from friendships and social life. I consciously made the sacrifice that if I was going to reach my goals, I would give up much of my social life to do so. As many look to the successful entrepreneurs in the spotlight and his/her current lifestyle, they don’t see the tough choices that had to be made. I made my choice to let social life diminish as I dedicated myself to my entrepreneurial ventures.

I have a friend who is one of the most passionate entrepreneurs I know. His passion for his work and his squeeze for time actually caused him to have medical issues. He was so focused on getting more done that he would hold his bladder longer and longer because “bathroom breaks took too long.” After years of hard work, this entrepreneur has achieved much success and lives a different lifestyle, which now is looked up to, as he is in the spotlight. But what we don’t see back in the shadows are the days when he had so little time to spare, he felt he didn’t even have time to go to the bathroom.

The Uncertainty

Certainty or security is not something many entrepreneurs get in the first years. The highly successful entrepreneur may have systems and procedures that are so predictable that he/she knows to an extremely high probability what the outcome of his/her efforts will be. In the beginning, it often is much less predictable as you are still trying to develop those systems and procedures.

Uncertainty also encompasses financial uncertainty. As I learned the business and continued to shovel money back into the business to help it grow, there were long stretches where I went with no pay. As I mentioned before, everything is a flow of energy. In order to not have to trade all of my time, I began putting money back into the company to help it grow rather than do it all through trading time. This, in turn, led to uncertainty as to when we would have money. This can feel scary and uncertain to those who have become accustomed to a consistent paycheck.

The Mental Divide

I heard the other day that happiness is when mind and body are 100 percent in the same place. Often as entrepreneurs, there simply is not a divide between work and life, and if there is, it’s usually a very blurred line. Because many entrepreneurs have such a passion for their work, we often have some part of our brain always working. If this is the case, then according the quote, we can never be truly happy outside of work. If a part of our mind is always consumed by work, regardless of all other external events, we are not 100 percent there.

This also means you can be one of the rare people who has true happiness at work. Many entrepreneurs have such a passion for what they do that they can hit that 100 percent mark every day and truly love working.

Another common term for all this is work-life balance. That balance again shifts over time as you and your business evolve. The key that I did not practice in the beginning and that I still struggle with is mindfulness. It’s about learning to shift my focus back and forth in the present so I can be my best in both professional and personal life.

It’s All Worth it

All of these things sound scary and bad. The good news is if you are willing to take them on, solve the problems as they come up, and persevere through struggle, it is all worth it. Back when it felt like I was swimming in the middle of the ocean trying to get home, I would remind myself, you have to live like most won’t so one day you can live like most can’t. For me, this meant financial freedom. Not having to work if I didn’t want to. Not having to trade my time to earn money for 30, 40, or 50 years of my life. Not having to work when family has something more important going on.

I am proud to say at the age of 26, I am on the brink of financial freedom. For me, this doesn’t mean sitting in my mansion overlooking the beach never working again. It means I am getting close to where I can maintain the life I live and enjoy it without having to worry, or if I need to not work one day to be with family, I can choose not to and nothing bad happens. The greatest thing about all this is even as that time equation begins to shift and you get more and more financial freedom, you continue to have the passion for work. So now all the scary, hard things that I mentioned in this article begin to fade. Things become more certain, but you still get to do what you love.

If you’re one of the many who is considering making the jump to entrepreneurship or who is still feeling the hardships, I hope this article shines a light on a part of the process that often remains in the shadows. For those who are feeling the friction of these realities, I hope this shows you this is not uncommon and many of us go through the same things. Many entrepreneurs are aware of their own struggles but only see the success of others in the spotlight, leaving a discouraging feeling of “why isn’t it working for me?”

The reality is most of what you see in the spotlight is created through the years that remain in the shadows. You are an entrepreneur for a reason—you are persistent and a problem solver. You will push through, and each problem will be solved into a success. If you are thinking of beginning the journey, you are now more prepared and likely to push through these and many other difficulties. I look forward to seeing you all in the spotlight as you achieve your success, and congratulations to all who have experienced these struggles and persevered.

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