The problem I see with today’s entrepreneurial culture is a surprisingly unrealistic if not utopian expectation of the startup process. They have this notion of going straight from founding and funding to fame and fortune. Never mind the whole building a company and growing a business thing.

Some of these idealists catch an interview with a famous VC on YouTube, skim through Peter Thiel’s Zero to One, or watch The Social Network on Netflix and think it all happens in hours and days instead of years and decades.   

They think that coming up with a concept is the hard part. That funding is simply a matter of knowing the right people. That all they need are the right connections and a little luck and they’ll make it big. You know, just like Mark Zuckerberg did when he coded Facebook, like in the movie.

They’d have better luck looking up and seeing a shooting star through the bright lights of downtown San Francisco.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not about squashing your hopes and dreams or dampening your optimism. Hopes and dreams are the precursors to goals and visions. And you’ll need all the optimism you can muster to navigate all the hurdles that pop up one after another like a video game. Never mind those “oh shit” moments that seem to come out of nowhere whenever things start to go right.  

This is about grounding those utopian notions in a little reality. It’s about understanding that, while a successful startup always starts with an idea, that’s just the beginning of years of long hard days and nights spent mostly putting one foot in front of the other and sometimes stumbling, falling, getting up and changing direction. Not to mention countless discussions, debates and decisions that it helps to get mostly right.  

Here’s the thing. I agree with Robert Browning’s sentiment when he wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” And that may be a great line. But it is just one line of Andrea del Sarto, one of thousands of poems the man wrote over a lifetime.

I’ve learned through my own lifetime of experience that nobody achieves heaven on Earth by coming up with a single idea and walking around with their heads in the clouds expecting all great things to be bestowed upon them. Success in business is no different than success in poetry.

Success is a marathon, not a sprint.

Success is not an outcome but a way of life.

By all means, reach for the stars. Just remember to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground. Like yin and yang, those two concepts complement each other.  

Image credit Facebook/Zuck