My big, bold statement of the day is this: we are ALL entrepreneurs. Some know it already, and some just haven’t realized it yet.
Why? Because being an entrepreneur, formally, with a title and all, is one end of the spectrum. This would apply to small business owners all the way over to being a CEO of a large company in charge of creating strategy and infrastructure that fuels business growth. If you’re using a scale of 1-10 to judge the level of entrepreneurial spirit for these folks, they would likely be a 9 or a 10.
What about 1-8 on the scale? Many people think if you’re an employee, whether a low-level employee or a mid-level employee, you would be a “1″ on the scale. In other words, if you work for “the man”, you have little to no entrepreneurial spirit. The assumption is that people in bigger positions bark orders at you, you take them, leave at 5:01PM and return the next day at 8:59AM.
In a lot of cases, I disagree with this assumption. Why? Two things. 1) Because I know a little something about this topic, and even if you’re not an entrepreneur in title, I would argue that you gain an entrepreneurial spirit in everything you do; 2) Even if you work for someone, you’re likely responsible for handling something and running something.
I entered the workforce, after a short-lived professional tennis career on the ATP Tour, as a low-level employee. I was the lowest-paid out of the other people my age because I entered the work force late and didn’t have an Ivy League education (true story). I took orders. I wrote everything down. I sat in every meeting I could. I listened to most of my colleagues who were seemingly more seasoned than me. Maybe even perceived to be “smarter” than me, if for no other reason than experience. What I hadn’t realized was that, while I would have been classified as a “1″ on the scale of entrepreneurial spirit scale at that time, I really was beginning a process that would take me to a 9 or a 10. In other words, the scale was not absolute and was in fact a sliding scale. I was hugely entrepreneurial, inside, spirit-wise, even if it hadn’t been discovered or unlocked yet.
As my career went on, and I continued working for someone else, which I did dutifully and very successfully for 15 years with no regrets, I was moving higher, to the right, on the scale. I was gaining insight and knowledge and leadership capabilities that informed me better in becoming a true entrepreneur, eventually a 9 or 10.
A close personal friend of mine is an employee at a large company. On paper, she has a nice title, makes a good living, takes orders from people, provides input and advice to other people. She would seem, on paper, as someone who doesn’t have any greater aspirations to unlock any kind of entrepreneurial pursuits. While she has the ability to think strategically and provide tactical input to those around her, she wouldn’t be considered very high in the entrepreneurial spirit column.
Except that she runs a hugely successful side business all by herself. She uses all the knowledge she’s obtained through years of service for someone else towards her own entrepreneurial pursuits. On paper, she’s a 3. In reality, she’s a 9 or 10 on the scale and is someone just beginning to unlock her true spirit. It takes time, sometimes.
My point is that it took me 15 years to be a true entrepreneur. In my late 30′s, I decided that I was ready. Some people are ready when they are 18. Heck, some are ready when they are 8 while sitting at the lemonade stand or passing out fliers for lawn-cutting services! But it is never too late to embrace your own inner spirit if you are in the right circumstance and put yourself in the right circumstance. I would argue that entrepreneurs in their 30′s, 40′s or even early 50′s stand the greatest chance of success, not those in their teens or 20′s. Reason being, they know their tendencies, know their management style, know their passions and are in general more worldly and savvy in knowing how to take an idea or concept and turning it into an actual business or entrepreneurial pursuit.
I’m an entrepreneur. So are you. Some know it right away; for others, it takes years to realize. But it’s there. Even if you think you’re a 1 or 2 on the scale, I do believe you’re likely much farther along than that and perhaps just haven’t tapped into the appropriate energy. Yet.
I grew up with a Dad who ran his own dental practice, and now in his retirement is a world-champion duck carver commissioned by dozens of people in the private sector for his work. Lifelong entrepreneur. For the last 20 years, I’ve known my Stepdad who has built and run his own successful business and company for many years now. He’s a lifelong entrepreneur, too. My family through marriage runs a very successful, decades-old family business. Lifelong entrepreneurs. One of my best friends recently left his corporate job and runs his own business. Newbie entrepreneur. My wife, after years of service in education and is still passionate about it, is now a successful writer, blogger and columnist. Newbie entrepreneur. The list goes on when it comes to people close to me…some newbies, some had it in their blood at a young age.
The point is that we all become entrepreneurs at some point in our lives, but at very different points depending on the person. The key is to figure out, for you personally, when that time is…but more importantly, to pay attention to what is happening around you when you’re not – on paper – an “entrepreneur” in the literal sense. What is happening to you that is adding to your confidence, or leadership abilities, or knowledge? What areas are you responsible for that you can directly impact? There’s no shame in saying that the light bulb hasn’t gone off yet. I took the plunge at age 37, a dinosaur especially in the technology & marketing industry. Others take it when they’re teenagers. Others, after graduating from college or after getting their advanced degree. Others, retirement. But eventually, it does happen.
I believe that one becomes more entrepreneurial as life goes on. Self-sufficiency, decision-making ability, relationships and management, and connections all become enhanced. You’re more of an entrepreneur than you think, and with each passing day, you are becoming more and more so. The question, then, is what to do about it.
A terrific topic for another day coming soon!