You’re Already an Entrepreneur—You Just Don’t Know It
I grew up believing that in order to have a stable career, I needed to be an employee.
Having a job, my parents said, was far more secure than running a business. As immigrants to Canada, they had worked hard to get secure jobs, which enabled them to provide for us and give us opportunities. I internalized the message that I should do the same. I also picked up messages throughout my youth that I wasn’t made to be an entrepreneur—a lot of them self-generated. I believed that running a successful business required something special or rare, and I assumed I didn’t have it. I told myself that it wasn’t for me, and that I didn’t have what it takes. I thought I would be an employee for life.
Several years into my corporate career, I had begun to feel disconnected from my work life, and I knew I had to make a career change. I didn’t know what it would be, but I felt that earning an MBA would help me to figure it out. So ten years into my career as an employee, I pursued an executive MBA, which meant working full-time and going to school full-time for 15 months. It was hell on earth to do (I literally had no social life), but it was in doing the program that I tapped into my potential to be an entrepreneur. I realized that I actually had an innate entrepreneurial spirit. And looking back, I can see that not only was that spirit there all along, but I’d also been developing it on a practical level from a very young age.
As a young child, I had a lemonade stand at the end of my driveway, where I’d sell the homemade beverage (I opened those cans of frozen lemonade concentrate myself!) to passersby. At 9, I got a paper route, and at 10, I was putting on magic shows for neighborhood kids. I vividly remember doing the mental calculation that if I charged each kid 25 cents to see the show, and gave them each a popsicle that cost me 5 cents, I’d pocket 20 cents per kid. Essentially, I was doing a net profit calculation as a 10 year old.
A short-lived lawn mowing business followed, then a prolific stint as a babysitter (during which I managed to save and invest $1,000 from the ages of 11 to 13 from my $4/hour wage), and later, a gig doing entertainment for kids’ birthday parties. Unknowingly, I’d created my own Blue Ocean Strategy by the age of 15.
As a youngster, despite the negative narratives I was telling myself, my behavior reflected that I was creative in developing ideas, industrious about executing them, and courageous about failing. I was also really good at marketing and selling myself and my products, and at building relationships with people. And all of these components are needed to be successful as an entrepreneur.
Fast forward to today, and I’ve been running a successful consulting firm—rooted in inclusion, which is my life’s passion and purpose—for almost 8 years. It was a long road to get here—negative narratives and fear held me back from doing it sooner. But the same qualities I developed in my childhood ventures are the ones I would cite now as having helped me become successful as a business owner, and I’m grateful that I was finally able to see that I embody these characteristics.
If you’re someone who wants to be an entrepreneur (whether that means launching a business, a side hustle, or becoming an innovative leader in any work that you undertake) here is my advice to you:
Reflect on your potential
- Looking back on your life, what experiences signal that you have an entrepreneurial spirit?
- What are you doing today that might signal that you’re already an entrepreneur?
- For example, what ideas are you developing and executing in your work and life?
Delve into the narratives you believe about yourself
- Where did you get the idea that you don’t have what it takes to run a business?
- What do you tell yourself about yourself that’s holding you back?
- (If you struggle with negative narratives, you can learn more about how to interrupt them in chapter 7 of my book, The Authenticity Principle!)
- Did the exercises above uncover any misconceptions about your ability to be an entrepreneur?
- If so, how can you reframe the way you are viewing your abilities?
- How might the qualities you already have help you as an entrepreneur?
- What qualities do you need to develop further?
Working for myself, I’m happier now than I have ever been. Among the benefits of being an entrepreneur is the ability to custom-build a career around who you truly are—one that allows you to feel freer in your life, and anchor to your personal values. The first step is to look at the barriers in your way, and especially the ones you yourself can change. I encourage you to reflect and unlock your inner entrepreneur!