The "No" Problem - An Excerpt from All In

From Arlene | Posted by - January 8, 2014 at 12:00 am

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If you’re a born entrepreneur, you probably never felt comfortable going with the flow. Even as a child, you were likely trying to control the tide of conformity. Tony Lacavera certainly was. He is one of the most independent-minded people I know. When he started WIND Mobile, Canada’s first new national wireless carrier in a decade, he had to contend with loads of opposition from the country’s telecommunications giants. After he stepped down in January 2013, he went on to do something that was just as challenging—launch Globalive Capital, a venture fund that invests in domestic technology, media, and telecom companies. In both cases he dealt with plenty of naysayers who told him that his dreams simply weren’t possible. But he’s used to facing resistance because he has been questioning conventional wisdom and trying to do things his own way his whole life.

At the age of six, he became fixated on the idea of getting past the fence between his backyard and his neighbour’s. Walking around would be just too easy—what would be the fun in that? Instead, he jerry-rigged a ladder and climbed over. When his mother discovered what he’d done, she banned further climbing on the quite reasonable grounds that she didn’t want him to fall and break his neck. So Tony found a toy shovel and spent the next three weeks digging a trench underneath the fence.

As Tony’s story suggests, the desire to be an entrepreneur—which is, essentially, the desire to do things your own way paired with the stubborn conviction that you should never stop trying—seems to be innate and often reveals itself pretty early on in life. (Think of Charles Chang’s two-dollar comic books.) That’s certainly what most of the 200 US entrepreneurs surveyed by Northeastern University’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship told researchers. They conceded that, yes, the practical business skills required to launch a venture can be learned, but about two-thirds of respondents said natural desire—not necessity, not training, not a cratering economy—was what drove them to call on those skills in the first place by starting entrepreneurial ventures. Only one percent said higher education had motivated them at all. In fact, most were aware of their desire long before they got out of high school. Some 42 percent launched their first business ventures in childhood and, significantly, the vast majority of them felt confident they would succeed. In other words, from the time they were kids, they thought, behaved, and felt like entrepreneurs.

Those statistics don’t mean that if you didn’t start a website when you were in kindergarten, you’re temperamentally ill-suited to becoming an entrepreneur. Like I said—I didn’t start a business when I was a child, either. Instead, I got married—at 19!—and started having babies. But like Tony, I always had a stubborn independent streak, and I was hell-bent on doing things my own way.

One of the first jobs I got after graduating high school was as an administrative assistant at a university. My fellow employees spent their time doing what our boss hired them to do—answer phones, file documents, type up correspondence, and so on. But I thought I would be able to contribute more by having in-depth conversations with my co-workers, my boss’s colleagues, and pretty much everyone else I worked with in order to develop stronger relationships with the team and get a better understanding of how my work fit into the bigger picture. It’s not that I was avoiding my duties; I was simply trying to redefine my job description in a way that allowed me to add as much value as I could. But my boss—who had hired a secretary because that’s precisely what she needed—viewed my tactics as insubordinate and fired me.

I never saw the value of following what I viewed as pointless rules, so I was a terrible employee, forever questioning authority and coming up with my own bright ideas about how to do things better. Looking back, I can see that I had the spirit of an entrepreneur. I just didn’t know what to call it back then or what do with it.

Entrepreneurs are not unlike singers, artists, or other creative types in one important respect: we view what we do as a calling. Our work is far more than a job. It’s a passion, a way of life that both defines and expresses who we are. It doesn’t feel optional, because we can’t imagine doing anything else and being happy. A lot of us have tried working for other people. But we’re either lousy at it or dissatisfied with it, or both. “It’s not a good fit,” as I was repeatedly told when I was being fired. Striving for independence, even though it’s difficult and involves insecurity and risk, just feels better—so much better that it seems like the only choice.

Of course, the price of your fierce independence is that you’re often left facing challenges alone, especially early on when you haven’t yet built a team to support you. It’s not easy, believe me. Having inspirational mentors or supportive friends and family members can be a godsend. But you can survive and thrive without them, so long as you have an entrepreneurial temperament. All of us have something to prove, generally, and “no” isn’t just a word we don’t like to hear—it’s an aphrodisiac that makes us fall even more in love with our own vision and venture.

* * *

Excerpt from All In © 2013 by Arlene Dickinson. Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Tags: all-in, blog, arlene dickinson

Peter Piekny
January 10, 2014 at 1:49 pm
And I thought I was the only one who went and is going through what was said above!lol
Betty Sheppard
January 12, 2014 at 5:42 pm
OMG! It's like you just wrote my story! wow!
Betty Sheppard
January 12, 2014 at 5:43 pm
I started my first business when I was 11 years old!
Jo-Ann Vacing Dibblee
January 12, 2014 at 9:36 pm
Thank you for sharing your journey and great interview on Cityline.
Bert Salvador
January 13, 2014 at 12:59 pm
Wow ! Reading "All In" is almost like someone interviewed me and wrote a book about my Journey !
January 13, 2014 at 7:56 pm
Thank you for sharing this Arlene! As a single mom myself and someone who has changed her career several times, trying to fulfill my dream, I am encouraged. Your whole story touches me on many levels. Thanks again for being so open and will inspire many of us to keep going!!!!
Bridget Leslie
January 25, 2014 at 10:12 am
Thanks Arlene. After 5 years developing and running My Left Breast I have learn so much about myself and that I am wired differently. I love the challenge of being an entrepreneur and the gift of thinking boardly to solve problems. You nailed once again. Huge Fan.
Duke Lekic
February 4, 2014 at 8:16 pm
Firstly great article and smart way to sign up people read more but you got to sign up, I will defiantly use that in my blog. By the way I love the term I never heard #naysayers it's definitely Canadian.
Personally I had face many challenges trying to help other business owners succeed cost me great headache and many uncomfortable situations in meetings. But don't you love when owners says we need to spend less on marketing but we are not sure where to do our marketing. I am coming from Automotive Industry and I see many ads in the newspaper that cost dealers thousands of hard earned dollars and they will advertise with 3 to 5 news papers but use one phone number. I couldn't understand that and when I suggested to them to use 1 800 tracking phone numbers all different phone numbers for each news paper so that owner can find which is the source they should be marketing with, they looked at me with a strange face and just continued to talk how they are loosing money on marketing, this is just one of those things that drove me to open my own business actually two business. Anyways I just wanted to share this with your readers. Great article I think I have to buy your book now.
Nancy Carlson
March 1, 2014 at 4:43 pm
From the moment you write.."But I thought I would be able to contribute more by having in-depth conversations ...." I felt like you identified me. I too know the value of good work, but it comes at its best rewards when we have connected with people. I never got fired,, but after a year when the atmosphere of my employment didn't value the heart and hard work i was willing to give, i quit,,always thinking there was something wrong with me. Thinking I was lazy or always feeling unsatisfied. Now I know it was because I am the opposite of lazy, i am creative.. a visionary and I don't want any part of complacency. Now, I have the vision of what really works, long term in life, in work, when work is life.. Thank you Arlene. I look forward to reading the entire book.
Blessings, Nancy
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