During the Gold Rush in 19th century California, 75 percent of San Francisco’s population fled for the gold mines, along with 300,000 more Americans from states as far as Hawaii, and immigrants from all over the world. It was the greatest mad dash for wealth and power in American history.
The literal gold-diggers boasted the slogan “California or Bust”, and the estimated 15,000 that died in their efforts to attain the dream were said to have been “Busted by God.” Thousands went insane. Thousands murdered competitors. Thousands committed suicide.
Now, it’s happening again. Rare metal has been replaced with code and silicon, but the premise is no different. Get-rich-quick startups are attracting the masses to join the lurid tech industry. There are less outright murders, but still an alarming amount of suicides.
It’s possible to become wealthy and powerful from virtually any line of business, so why is tech the driver for today’s gold rush?
Two reasons: the superhero complex, and the perception of easy success.
Tech entrepreneurs are successful superheroes — or are they?
Tech entrepreneurs are superhero celebrities. They’re all-seeing, all-powerful geniuses. They’re *gifted* — with magical capabilities of comprehension far beyond the masses’.
Unfortunately, the reality is that tech entrepreneurs are completely ordinary. There are no super powers — just problem-solving minds that crave control and can manage sacrifice relatively gracefully. Even the most successful entrepreneurs are fallible — we have weaknesses. In fact, most of us are the least qualified people to handle such a stressful lifestyle.
Researchers at leading California universities found that 49 percent of entrepreneurs battle at least one mental illness. A third have two or more. The lion’s share of these illnesses are anxiety or depression-related. The runner up is substance abuse.
What makes entrepreneurs look like superheroes? We create personas and spend a great deal of time and energy preserving them to the outside. It looks like everything is fine — but really, we’re lying to ourselves and everyone around us.
We internalize everything. We seek toxic lifestyles (and substances) to distract from reality. We make bigger and riskier bets. We push the throttle down harder and try to brute-force our way out. We push our moral and ethical boundaries to tilt the scales in our favor.
I can look in a mirror for a first-hand example. On the outside, I was the unflappable superhero CEO of ÄKTA, one of the fastest-growing and most respected design agencies in America.
Much of my effort was spent creating that persona, because that’s what clients and employees wanted to see. The media ate it up. It gave me the external confidence to keep going.
Beneath the surface, I struggled every day to keep up, and was constantly scared that it would catch up with me and fall apart.
This goes hand-in-hand with the common perception of easy success. We’re inundated daily with stories of newly-minted billionaires whose efforts appear minuscule.
It’s the new American Dream: Now anyone can be a tech billionaire. Got an idea? Make an app — and get rich quick!
Obviously, the reality is the exact opposite. Ninety-six percent of new businesses fail, and 99.99 percent of apps aren’t considered financial successes by their developers. Of the one in 10,000 who find “success,” a tiny fraction become unicorns (0.000008928 percent, based on 2.8 million apps in existence).
Is this gold rush inherently a bad thing? No.
Behind financial services, tech is the fastest path to wealth. I was able to go from deeply in debt to wealthy in a few years.
These insights aren’t meant to discourage you. They’re an attempt to lift the veil (or the cape) from the superhero perception, and show the gritty truth that is not promoted in the media, as well as to debunk the myth that “get-rich-quick” and “easy success” are in any way related.
Learn to accept the harsh realities. Being an entrepreneur is difficult and painful. Success is a tiny possibility. And chances are, you aren’t psychologically prepared.
Recognizing your vulnerabilities could be the difference between success and failure. When you hit those periods where it feels impossible to continue — and trust me, you will — know that every entrepreneur before you has felt the same thing. It’s okay.
When it becomes painfully clear how big of roles timing and luck play, you have to be ready to accept it, otherwise it can be maddening and crippling to your psyche. Similar to professional gambling, you have to play the odds and resist the urge to fold.
The journey of entrepreneurship is anything but glamorous. It’s lonely, and it’s unstable. You’ll spend most of your time staring mindlessly at a computer screen, sitting disheveled in an airport, losing pieces of yourself to a persona, and being told “no” over and over again.
But if you know it’s the only path you can take to reach your ultimate goal, then you’d better get moving. There’s gold to be found.
This article originally appeared on Inc.com