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These answers skew surprisingly negative on the whole. And most of them resonate, but I think they ignore the outcome-independent benefit of being a startup CEO.
Whether it’s six months or six years, the CEO will exit the experience exponentially more advanced than he or she started, and that advancement reaches far beyond the focus of the company. It forces people to grow, adapt, and learn at a pace and speed beyond any alternative career path (MBA, consulting, job). This all happens the same whether you have a multimillion-dollar exit or have to wind your company down.
Here are the most poignant ways:
First and foremost, you develop a pressure response system and an ability to persevere through difficulty. You learn to make decisions that impact your company and reputation, and you do so in uncertain times (which is most of time). Some decisions will be good and some will turn out wrong, but you can only develop this capability with experience. And it’s accelerated significantly in the startup CEO role. It’s a learned reflex; it can’t be simulated or absorbed from someone else’s story. Think about how valuable this capability is for the rest of your life, independent of your professional path. Life will continue putting pressure on you; imagine having an ability to maintain composure and make informed decisions through that.
You will quickly learn where you are uniquely talented and what you really care about or enjoy professionally. But you also quickly find the inverse of these two, which is equally valuable: where you struggle and where and which elements you struggle to care about. Unless you are close to retirement, this is an incredible down payment on your future happiness. Why? Because you can now guide yourself professionally for the rest of your working life knowing what will make you happy and what will make you miserable.
Most importantly, in my opinion, you will get a view of the forest from the trees. You will understand how to make decisions with an ability to calculate the ripple effects, with inputs from multiple angles. And you get a crash course in doing this as a startup CEO, much more than if you own a piece of a role or job function at a bigger company. In those jobs, you have two or three main goals for the year and all year to plan and execute. As a startup CEO, inputs are dynamic, and your decisions need to be calculated because they affect other people, plans, and tactics. This is the most important skill, because as your life advances, decisions become more dynamic. Families, kids, houses, cars, education—these are all huge decisions that have substantial ripple effects. Being able to see these decisions from the aerial view is something you will learn as a startup CEO.
What this boils down to is being a startup CEO will help you develop life-improving skills that are otherwise difficult to develop without practical experience.
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