I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary of being an entrepreneur. I’m in the digital marketing business, which is a tough industry comprised of websites and social media, marked by constant change. The rules for visibility in search engines like Google are constantly evolving. I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that there is always going to be someone who knows more than I do or has more experience.
But I don’t let that discourage me because I’m doing what I love. Through content marketing I get to play with words, connecting people with messages and ideas that are new. I’m driven and motivated to work hard every day, without anyone telling me what to do (i.e., a real boss!). You might call that discipline. I’m satisfied in my work because I’m passionate about what I do, and that means more to me than a hefty paycheck. And as I think about it, I realize that my entrepreneurial spirit, that driving force of resilience and motivation within me, was largely a by-product of the way I was raised.
Looking back at the way my parents guided me and how they responded to difficulties I faced, I can see why I’m able to weather the demands of life as an entrepreneur. These days it seems it’s tougher and tougher to get kids to stick with things that are hard or things that don’t deliver results overnight. How do you instill that drive? How do you breed resilience in a culture where giving up is the status quo?
One thing that sticks out to me is the way I was taught me to take responsibility for my own actions. “You can’t control what anybody else does, but you always have a choice in both your actions and attitude,” my mom would say. When I wanted money for a car or needed to figure out how to get to an audition for college scholarships, there was always a solution. My parents never made me feel bad for asking or responded with an immediate “no, we don’t have money for that.” Instead they helped me discuss practical strategies to come up with a game plan. I developed critical thinking skills by assuming responsibility and felt in control no matter how difficult or impossible a problem seemed. Rather than giving me the answer, they guided me to specific actions I could take.
This same concept carried over to play time and entertainment. The phrase “I’m bored,” was never spoken in our home, and was regarded more like curse words. My mom would say “If you’re bored, I’ll find something for you to do, but you’re not going to like it!” My sisters and I quickly adjusted and found ways to entertain ourselves that didn’t involve TV or electronics. We had to flex our creativity, coming up with new games or things to do. Once again, rather than saying “no” my parents said “yes” to a lot of things – including a slip ’n’ slide down the hill in the backyard, rollerblading in the basement of the house and the construction of hamster mazes with wooden blocks found in my dad’s workshop.
My mom and dad also continually invested in me getting to know myself. They helped ignite my passion and find my purpose by recognizing and affirming my strengths, rather than pointing out my weaknesses. Think about it: when your child brings home a report card, do you focus on the four A’s, or zero in on that C-? I didn’t understand the concept at the time, but looking back I now consciously align the leadership of my company the same way. (For more information on the concept of strengths, read Tom Rath’s Strengths Based Leadership.)
Not everyone can be good at everything, and that was okay.What were things I excelled at? What did I enjoy? There was never any talk of “you’re just not good at that” in our house. Mistakes were made. Practice was encouraged. Moments of embarrassment or failure were lovingly turned into learning experiences accompanied by a lot of discussion about what I could have done differently to achieve an alternative outcome. Along the way I felt in control because of that deep sense of responsibility for my own situation. Had they sheltered me from failure, I never would have been able to practice recovery and develop coping mechanisms. They weren’t concerned with protecting my ego, but instead were concerned that I would cultivate a sense of self-awareness and develop the skills to approach a problem in different ways.
The “entrepreneurial spirit” has become this ideal quality we strive for in our culture – in parenting, in our careers, and in schools. I don’t think it’s as complicated, or glamorous, as everyone wants you to believe. You don’t see the hard work and failure on Shark Tank, or in Richard Branson’s tweets. We don’t get to see the moments of self-doubt, scrawny paychecks, or the hundred ideas these leaders tried before they hit the one. The “entrepreneurial spirit” is really a fancy way of saying that you have endurance. Stamina. You’re resilient, and you find ways to think differently. Even though I don’t have children yet, I already know I want to teach them the same things I learned. I want them to know that they will not excel at everything they try, but it’s okay to fail, get up and take a different route.