While mentoring a very sharp young entrepreneur the other day I got to thinking about how things might have turned out if my career began today instead of way back in the dark ages. What if I’d gone the entrepreneurial route instead of working for a big tech company like Texas Instruments to start my career?

Instead of having mentors to learn about managing people and the world’s leading chip company to learn the ins and outs of how a successful business operates, I probably would have gotten online and read about that stuff – a poor substitute, to say the least.

Worst case I would have been indoctrinated into countless fads that permeate the digital world. The very notion that I might have ended up following the personal habits, productivity hacks and personal branding nonsense that shows up every day in my news feed is enough to give me nightmares.

Sure, you can follow Richard Branson, watch Shark Tank or listen to countless popular podcasts in the hope of gaining some insight into how successful people think. But even if you somehow manage to follow people who actually know what they’re talking about, that will only get you so far in the real world.

That’s the problem with many of today’s young founders and business owners: They simply have no idea what a real winner looks like in person – just some poor substitutes they read about, listen to or watch on a two-dimensional display.

Winning over the long haul takes so much more than that.

It’s as much about intuition and instinct as it is about logic and reason. It’s as much about understanding people as understanding business. It’s as much about experience and execution as  ideas and plans. And it’s way more about doing than dreaming.

All that begins with a mindset that defines your behavior. The mindset of a winner is a mindset that leads to action. Draws on experience to determine the best course of action. Strives to be the best. Is in it for the long haul. Is never satisfied with its own accomplishments.

And it’s a mindset that knows all-too-well what failure feels like – the emotional toll of loss – and finds innovative ways to win rather than suffer through the pain of defeat again and again. In other words, it’s a mindset built on real world experience.

Of course, I know all that now. The question is, would I have found my way – gained the experience, insight and perspective needed to accomplish as much as I did – if things had been different? That’s hard to say; there’s simply no way to know.

All I do know is that I would not go back and change a single thing.

Image credit Ammar Abd Rabbo via Flickr