Warning All Social Entrepreneurs

Firstly, the bad news …

You’re all going to fail.

You’re not going to fail once, but dozens of times.

You’re going to work 80-100 hours a week, make virtually no money, spend what little money you have on a crazy idea that – at the beginning at least – virtually nobody will understand – your relationships will suffer, your health will suffer, you’ll replace the friends you had with fourteen cups of coffee a day, you’ll feel ignored, hated, beaten down and vilified and at some point you are going to ask yourself ‘why the fuck do i bother?’

You’ll chew your fingernails raw while you keep telling yourself how important this work is, you’ll sell your dog, your cat, your vintage ’67 Gibson, your collection of mint-condition Star Trek figurines, your grandmother’s china and, without too much convincing, your soul. You’ll beg, borrow and steal every cent, every second of attention, every scrap of wisdom. You’ll martyr yourself in service to your cause.

Then, one day, you’ll roll out of bed, put on a vintage Smiths album, listen to ‘there is a light that will never go out’ on repeat and, despite the screaming of ‘first world problem’ in your mind you will, quite simply, give up.

You’ll cry a lot, eat too much ice-cream and drink too much wine, you’ll sleep in, go for long walks, go to the gym, get a new haircut, a new lover and maybe some new (recycled / fair trade / sweatshop free / sustainably produced) clothes.

Eventually you’ll join Changemakers Anonymous where, one night under the blaze of the halogens, you’ll be commiserating with another recovering changemaker … and suddenly you’ll find yourself in a cafe at 2am, hopped on too much espresso (martini) and the walls start shaking, the earth starts quaking, your mind starts aching and before you know it you’re shaking it all night long, scribbling notes on napkins while the seeds of the next new crazy idea erupt into the world.

And then, despite what you know, you’ll do it all over again.

You’re hooked.

You’re screwed.

You’re all going to fail.

You need to fail. We need you to fail. Humanity needs you to fail. After all, what is evolution but an endless string of failures resulting, at some point, in retrospective success?

author’s note: this was originally presented as the first half of a lightning talk at a School for Social Entrepreneurs intensive in Sydney, June 2012.

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