15 Abilities You Must Have to Get Out of the Rat Race

Did you know that FORTY percent – 40% – of young people want to be their own boss someday? That’s a LOT of aspiring entrepreneurs. Millions, in fact.

Get Out of the Rat Race & Start Something New

Truth is, only a fraction of those people ever really start a business. Some get comfortable in a lifestyle that they can’t afford to give up. Others realize just how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and never try. Sometimes life just happens and makes entrepreneurship unattainable.

Of the few that actually try to start a business, many fail. The ones that succeed, though, have a few things in common. You may not need to have all 15 of these abilities to succeed in business. But be willing to learn them or hire someone who can cover your butt if you want to get out of the rat race and be your own boss someday.

Be a Salesperson

Never underestimate how important it is to be able to sell. It’s at the top of the list on purpose. Even if you never have to sell to clients (unlikely), you will have to sell your ideas to investors, sell your company vision to prospective employees, and sell consumers or customers on your brand. Selling is absolutely critical to your success, so if you have an aversion to it, you’d better get over that fast.

Delay Gratification

No business is successful on day one. Almost no businesses are successful after year one. If you think entrepreneurship is the ticket to instant riches, you need a reality check. Not only will you have to work hard for a long-term goal, you will probably have to work hard in the face of what seems like certain failure at times.


Discipline isn’t just about working hard, but you do have to do that. Discipline is also about managing your entrepreneurial tendencies. Many natural born entrepreneurs are blessed with a mind that is an idea-generating machine. The good news is that some of those ideas are gold mines. The bad news is that if you continually pursue new ideas, old ideas never get developed to fruition. And I’ve watched one multimillionaire in particular run his business into bankruptcy because every week he was working on something new.

Take Risks

Just leaving the rat race is a huge risk in an of itself. No wonder so few people do it. And if you have a spouse or significant other, realize that they are risking with you – whether they like it or not. Everyone has a need for some level of certainty, so if you can’t find it in your business, plan on finding it elsewhere – maybe for several years at a time.

Build Rapport

Note that this is not called ‘Making Friends’ – important, yes, but not the same thing. Building rapport means building respect, a reputation, and hopefully key alliances along the way. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy you’d call your BFF. But he does have the ability to get people to listen and trust him. You will need to build relationships as an entrepreneur, no business is an island.

Be a Leader

While you may be a natural born follower, as a business owner, you will have to be able to lead. That means trusting an inner compass to guide you when there are no outside indications as to what step to take next. It means having people rely on you. And it even means forgoing the ‘road less traveled’ for bushwhacking your own path.

Be Uncomfortable

Nobody thinks that running a business is easy. But generally people underestimate just how hard it can be. There can be times as a business owner that for months on end you will be in a state of stress, worry, anxiety, and discomfort. Being an entrepreneur means being able to live and function in this state for extended periods of time, and being able to find a way to shut it off so that it doesn’t consume your personal life as well as your career.


To be an entrepreneur you need to be inspired. You will likely have to inspire others such as employees and your first customers – who will have to believe in you with no track record. But most of all you will continue to have to inspire yourself, because sometimes your vision is the only thing that can lead you out of one phase of your business and into the next.


Related to discipline is focus – the ability to tune out ‘noise’ that can distract you from your goal. That noise could be people who doubt you, busywork, doing too much “social” networking, or perhaps worst of all, the noise inside of your own head of self-doubt, fear, or unrealistic expectations of yourself. Personally, I’ve only heard about these things, I can’t say I know this from experience. 😉

Understand Numbers

I am extremely number-challenged. I’m the biggest of big-picture thinkers. So there are times when I am working on a project that I think is going terribly – only to finally force myself to build a spreadsheet or break out the analytics and find that I’m actually doing better than I had thought. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, when I think that I’m kicking ass only to find that the actual return on investment of time, dollars, etc. isn’t where I thought it would be. Truth be told, this is one of the number one reasons people go out of business – they don’t pay enough attention to the cold, hard numbers.


Related to being able to understand the numbers is the ability to look at the numbers in a variety of ways. Sometimes what looks like a dip in traffic/sales/whatever might also be a roadmap to a previously undiscovered opportunity. There are benefits to being a stats-a-holic, which can often times be a key source of consumer insights that larger companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for.

Ask for Help

Quite honestly, I don’t know one entrepreneur that embraces asking for help. We seem to have a natural aversion to it, in fact. It doesn’t make it any less important – in fact, it makes it more important, because it usually means that when an entrepreneur finally does ask for help, they probably needed the help something like 2 months ago. If you have a natural knack for asking for help, good grief, I hope you aren’t reading this, because you should already be working for yourself!

Know Thyself

Every entrepreneur has strengths and weaknesses. A good entrepreneur plays to his or her strengths. A great entrepreneur plays to their strengths AND builds a business that can compensate for their weaknesses. That means knowing what you aren’t good at, admitting it, and structuring your workflow so that you don’t get in your own way.

Balance Ego with Humility

You have to have high self-confidence to make it in business. I’d go so far to say that a little bit of a big ego can actually be an asset – it helps to get people talking about you and can help to increase your visibility. But there is a very fine line between a healthy ego and being an egotistical maniac. But bring too much humility to the game, and it comes off as self-doubt. Walking the line between the two will never please everyone, either – sorry, it just comes with the territory.


Most of all, to get out of the rat race, you need persistence. You need to fall on your face and get back up. You need to make big mistakes and learn from them. Sometimes you even need to fail – it may be the only way to succeed. To quote some of my wonderful peers, “Your recovery strategy is what’s important; avoiding mistakes is not.”

Photo credit Arkitekt.

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  1. says

    Great article! You could put “-challenged” after each category with a checkbox, and that could be me sometimes!! :)

    Especially with discipline – I easily could come up with a few ideas a day for businesses. Following through with them to fruition is the biggest challenge I face!

  2. says

    Wendy, This is a great post. I can identify with many of them. However, the number of 40% of young people envision entrepreneurship is in my opinion quite low.

    I had a recent discussion with a college admissions advisor and he told me our society today is quite backwards. He told me when our country began a staggering 90% of all people were entrepreneurs. (By necessity, maybe..)

    Are we starting to head back to our roots? It certainly gave me pause.

  3. says

    Absolutely wonderful article Wendy! I was answering some questions for an interviewer yesterday and he asked if “regular” (as opposed to virtual!) paralegals had any concerns with the virtual legal assistance industry. I said actually many would love to make the leap themselves, but truly not everyone CAN make that leap because you have to be ready to run a business – and that is not easy as you have so clearly outlined. Thanks!

  4. says

    Nicely Done, Wendy. I always like a list that doesn’t sugarcoat reality.

    Those first three are the ones that are essential to success, and naturally they’re the least ‘sexy’ of them all. Good move featuring them at the top.

    (Subscribing now …)

  5. Edina says

    Stressed for a while and not little it affect my relationships? How on earth can I do that? :/

  6. says

    This article is truly fantastic and a must read for young entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs.

    In starting my businesses over the last year, I feel like each of the points you mentioned are lessons I have learned and continue to learn as I go along.

    The notion of our minds as idea-generating machines is one that really stuck with me after reading the article. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is to focus and work on one idea at a time. Everyday, you come up with new ways to solve problems, new things to write about, become an expert of, etc. There is so much to do, so many things to create, so many ideas yet to be put to action.

    To that extent, focus and discipline – especially learning to follow through on one idea vs jumping from idea to idea – are vital in entrepreneurship.

  7. says

    I love your section entitled “Be Uncomfortable.” I agree that most potential business owners have no idea just how unfortable they will be for a while. That feeling leads many to up too soon. I would also add that many have no idea how uncomfortble their significant other will feel as well. If you are in any kind of personal relationship, your significant other must be prepared as well.

    Ron Meledandri – Sentra Business Solutionss last blog post..Employee Motivation – Part One

  8. says

    Great post. I’d love to see some statistics on what percentage of people give up the dream, at what point and what the cause of them giving up is. I know that the getting too comfortable in your job and lifestyle is a big one. A paycheck is as addictive as crack.

  9. Tom At The Home Business Archive says

    Delay gratification is important point because so many people expect to see instant cash when they start working from home.Somehow people don´t see that this is a business just like an offline business is and it takes work to become successful.

  10. says

    I think one important thing that is missing is passion for what you do.

    If your not passionate about what you do, then you will never succeed.

  11. says

    For most people, overcoming failure is one of the hardest things to do. But its important to learn from your mistakes and move on as quickly as possible. Persistence will eventually lead to success.

  12. Judy Newdom says

    Fabulous article. Concise and straightforward. In fact, if people actually faced facts, they’d be so much more successful. I am not a coach nor a marketing company, but I do teach business success to people. I wrote a book and published it as a deck of cards to teach business Success using relationships. Many of the points in this article are reflected in those cards. Thanks for putting it out there!
    Judy Newdom, Wildly Successful Marketing

  13. Vincent says

    Sometimes people get sidetrack and need some motivation. This can be very useful list to refer to.

  14. says

    Very motivating tips for leaving behind the world of 9-5, Wendy.

    I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving our goal of freedom from the rat race is the fear of failing at something new.

    As you mention, closely linked to this is the need to take risks and be willing to try new skills- whether we already have them or we have to invest in learning them.

    All too often, we mistake the familiarity of the rat race for security- either emotional or financial.

    Many successful ventures have come about simply because an entrepreneur jumped without that ‘safety net’.

  15. says

    Great post! Having left the rat race this past April (from a big bank, good timing, eh), I’m seeing a lot of these abilities in myself and know there’s a few that I must work on. Thanks for throwing this guideline out there for us.

  16. says

    I’d like to add one more – the ability to be your best friend. This is especially important when you’re in that “be uncomfortable” stage. You need to be able to look past the dark clouds and see the silver lining when there is none. And when there IS no silver lining, you’ve got to convince yourself that there is. And when you don’t believe yourself, you’ve got to be able to kick yourself in the behind and still be okay with yourself!

    I used to be a real worry-wart. But after nearly seven years running my own home based biz, I’ve learnt to go with the flow. I’ve also learnt to forgive myself when I screw up, because that’s part of the learning process. Now I worry IF I don’t screw up at least once in a while!!!

  17. says

    I have to say owning your own business is hard work – but, if it wasn’t hard work we wouldn’t make any money. Nothing in life is easy. Great article, well written!

    Kims last blog post..Oh My!

  18. Ian Anderson says

    Great article! My girlfriend and I are on a MISSION o get out of the rat race before my 29th birthday. Each day we are taking steps towards that goal and posting it online at my website http://www.myfriendian.com.

    I know I’m not supposed to ‘self promote’ but the article topic seems appropriate.



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