This article was inspired by a #YouIncspire entry submitted by one of our members.
When faced with the option of working under someone else or being one’s own boss, it isn’t often you hear someone opting for the former. No doubt, the flexibility and freedom entrepreneurs enjoy is a fleeting dream for some. Many employed professionals sit at their office desk all day wondering why they aren’t able to become entrepreneurs. It’s easy to point fingers at the obvious reasons, like a lack of money or time, but beneath the gossamer of entrepreneurial success is a person who decided to follow their dreams. While some entrepreneurs are self-starters, many of us need that extra push to get started. In many ways, though, the growth we experience from early childhood can teach us a thing or two about entrepreneurialism.
Ask anyone who went to school in the past fifty years about the first project they remember working on as a child, and more often than not, it was to answer the dubious yet aspirational question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Whether it’s to be a doctor, astronaut, or garbageman, every child yearns to do something satisfying when they grow older. While that childhood dream was subject to change as often as our favourite colour, we are conditioned from an early age to dream big.
As we grow from children into adolescence and move on from elementary to high school, we are faced with the first major hurdle to our dreams: careers class. We sit in an office and take a test to gauge our interests and motivations, and are given a handful of suggested career paths to follow. We learn that being a veterinarian isn’t always feasible for someone who struggles with biology and has a cat allergy, and that perhaps being a chef makes more sense. We sit with a guidance councillor and determine how we want to move forward with pursuing this manufactured dream, and the courses we take start aligning with it. Before we know it, we’re thrusted into a workplace, jobsite, or post-secondary school.
For many, this is where the train comes off the track. Peer pressure, hard courses, demanding workloads, and days when you just want to duck under your sheets and call it quits become the norm, and the halcyon dreams of childhood are long brushed away in favour of what appeases your family, friends, and bank account. We learn that the guiding light in the sky we’ve followed for so long turned out to be an airplane that has since landed, and suddenly we grasp onto anything that provides new direction. This is also a time of tremendous personal growth and learning: we identify our pain points and what makes us truly happy, and for once, we start living like adults according to our own terms.
What do we do when life happens? When there’s an illness in the family, a relationship ends, best friends go abroad, you’re growing bored of your hometown, and you’re sitting on your hands with the expectation to ‘find work’? Every successful entrepreneur remembers the day they stood up and said “I’m not taking this anymore.” It’s usually around the same time success starts to manifest.
Just ask John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of haircare giant Paul Mitchell Systems. After his parents divorced when he was two years old, he grew up poor in Los Angeles, selling Christmas cards and newspapers to support his family until he turned ten, when he was moved away to a foster home. After some time in a gang and in the military, he found himself back where he started: poor, jobless, and desperate to support himself. He did everything from selling encyclopedias to pumping gasoline, even living in his car at one point. After winning salesman of the year for the Collier Encyclopedia Company, he met Paul Mitchell while working in sales for Redken Labs, where the two fast friends started one of the industry’s most respected salon brands with three SKUs and a $700 loan.
Becoming an entrepreneur isn’t a science. Stories like John’s don’t reflect the typical path to success, but they provide insight into how we often neglect our privilege and think of excuses for ourselves. If you are reading this article on your internet-connected computer, consider yourself lucky, because most people in the world truly lack the money and time to pursue their dreams, and live every day in fear, oppression, and extreme economic instability. The fact that you have the wherewithal to realize you are unhappy is enough to get started: take life by the reins and do what you have always wanted to do, because only then will you realize whether or not it makes you happy. It’s what motivated you to follow your dreams up until this point, and the only thing stopping you from realizing them is yourself. We dream big as children when we have the least independence, and follow others as adults when we have the greatest propensity to lead, then bemoan the consequences of our choices when we should start taking steps towards happiness, both personally and professionally. When we combine the independence of adulthood with the dreams of childhood, in the words of Walt Disney, “all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them”.