A recent (September 30) Wells Fargo/Gallup survey of small business owners has found that, while the percentage of respondents who feel “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with being small business owners has remained relatively constant over the past 12 years, the percentage who feel “extremely successful” or “very successful” as small business owners continues to decline.

In 2003, 56 percent of small business owners reported being “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with being small business owners. That percentage remained relatively steady for the next four years (57 percent in 2004, 55 percent in 2005, 56 percent in 2006, and 57 percent in 2007). It then began to decline (54 percent in 2008, 52 percent in 2009, and 45 percent in 2010), and then began to increase again (52 percent in 2011, 55 percent in 2012, 51 percent in 2013, and 56 percent in 2014).

Feelings of success, however, have shown a different trend. In 2003, 40 percent of respondents reported feeling “extremely successful” or “very successful” as small business owners. Percentages then began to increase (46 percent in 2005, 45 percent in 2006, 47 percent in 2006, and 47 percent in 2007.). Since that time, however, there has been a steady decline (44 percent in 2008, 43 percent in 2009, 40 percent in 2010, 40 percent in 2011, 39 percent in 2012, 38 percent in 2013, and 37 percent in 2014).

According to the survey, feelings of being successful continue to trend downward despite the fact that Gallup has observed improvements in many of its economic measures on employment, hiring, economic confidence, and consumer spending in recent years.

The survey noted that one explanation for the paradox (increasing feelings of satisfaction combined with decreasing feelings of success) “may lie in the fact that small business owners tend to like the basic lifestyle and self-sufficiency that come with being an entrepreneur, and therefore may tend to be satisfied even when they don’t perceive themselves as being particularly successful.”

In fact, when asked what they consider to be the most rewarding aspect of starting and running their own businesses, 42 percent of respondents cited “Being my own boss – Independence – Being the decision-maker.” “Job satisfaction and sense of accomplishment” came in a distant second at 17 percent.

When asked why they started their own businesses, the most popular answers were “To secure my financial future” (69 percent) and “To be my own boss” (66 percent).

What advice did respondents have for young people considering starting their own businesses? Only 42 percent would recommend to young people that they start their own businesses, while 47 percent would counsel young people to go to work for someone else. (Eleven percent were undecided.)

The reason for more small business owners counseling young people to work for someone else rather than start their own businesses, according to the survey, may be that small business owners are “perhaps recognizing the significant challenges that come with the territory of being an entrepreneur in today’s economy.”