How Entrepreneurship Has Been Turned Into ‘Airbrushed Reality’

There is an increasingly disturbing trend in the media of idealizing entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur. Everyone seems to want to be an entrepreneur these days. Entrepreneurs make good media subjects. There is compelling existential drama in the God-like process of women and men who attempt to create something out of nothing. It’s sexy. Look no further than the popularity of Shark Tank.

I think a lot of the popular frisson around the idea of entrepreneurship has to do with how people feel increasingly powerless to affect their world. As the traditional institutions of meaning, like family, faith, culture, etc., continue to lose their society-binding authority, people long for a new source of dignity, freedom, and centering.

Morra Aarons-Mele, founder of digital marketer Women Online, calls this popular idealization of entrepreneurship “airbrushed reality.” She notes that there is an escapism driving the glittering portrayal of entrepreneurs in the media that comes out of societal and vocational unease, which she quantifies, stating, “Most Americans don’t like their work.” Data on Americans’ dissatisfaction regarding their work–in corporate environments, in particular– shows that:

  • two million Americans voluntarily leave their jobs every month (Bureau of Labor Statistics);
  • 74 percent of people would consider finding a new job (Forbes);
  • 32 percent of employees are looking for a new job (Forbes);
  • only 47.3 percent of currently employed Americans are satisfied with their position (Conference Board); and
  • the majority of American employees are disengaged from their work (Gallup)

But the alternative universe of creative business enterprise (entrepreneurship) is truly and deeply no bed of roses. It is not suited to everyone. It is suited to somewhat odd people possessed of a solitary courage to persist through aloneness (and loneliness) and soul suffering. And most entrepreneurs will ultimately fail, often multiple times.

Furthermore, contrary to the media’s misunderstanding and glorification of small business, real entrepreneurship is actually in decline and has been for some years. Carl Schramm, formerly of the Kaufman Foundation, has issued passionate warnings about this trend, noting that 700,000 firms had come into existence at this point in the decade of the 2000s, compared with only 500,000 so far this decade. There are over 6,000 professors of entrepreneurship today who are putting out putative entrepreneurs while every year new company formation steadily declines.

I place this blame squarely on governmental overreach. I believe entrepreneurs are increasingly reluctant to start new businesses despite the magical imaging of popular media, which I term wishful escapism–pornography. The risk of new business formation is increasingly high due to the unpredictability caused by arbitrary, arrogant, and unaccountable regulation imposed by the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, the IRS, and unfriendly governmental rhetoric. (“You didn’t build that!”) All of this also undermines a key pre-condition for healthy entrepreneurship–which is freedom itself.

I have cited before the story of the old judge who, when asked to define pornography, says, “I can’t define it, but I damn well know it when I see it.” But I like these sentences from the French author of Baise-Moi, Virginie Despentes, who says, “Consuming pornography does not lead to more sex; it leads to more porn. Much like eating McDonald’s everyday will accustom you to food that (although enjoyable) is essentially not food, pornography conditions the consumer to being satisfied with an impression of extreme sex rather than the real.”

So with popular media tropes on entrepreneurship. Thank you, Virginie Despentes.

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