I talk about freedom a lot. Having the freedom to do meaningful work is probably the thing I am most passionate about. Practically, that means I gravitate towards entrepreneurship. I’m not against being an employee but the thought of being the guide of my own ship is one that I can’t shake. Actually, I often wish that I loved being an Engineer in Corporate America. I have the degree. I graduated with honors. I got two great job offers coming out of school. In my head I envision a much easier life had I just been totally enthralled with being an Engineer. I’d probably be making well over 6 figures by now (I think about money a lot… for better or worse). I’d have healthcare benefits. I’d probably be married to the woman I was engaged to after college (my leaving that job was a part of our demise). It often feels like life would be easier but I know that’s not true. I have friends who are still engineers and they struggle with different things just like I do. The grass appears to be greener because there are times I spend focusing on the things I lack as opposed to the things I have. There’s a large component of gratitude that needs to be exercised in order to stay focused and move forward but there is also a need to accept who I am: I am an Entrepreneur.
I define an Entrepreneur as someone who wants to be their own boss. To me it’s more of a personality profile than it is someone who has started their own successful business. The reason this distinction is important has much to do with cultural norms and family of origin. Often, I talk about social conditioning in relation to how each one of us frames the world. As children we learn things about life from family and society. My family taught me to value the education I was receiving at school. In the public school environment I was taught to highly prize a college degree in some sort of high paying field. Get good grades and get a good job. In school you follow the curriculum given to you and you show progress based on someone else’s standards (the state or whatever governing body). When I began interviewing for my first internship in college I never thought about what I wanted to do. It was all about impressing the people interviewing me and getting the job. Once I had an internship, it was still all about impressing the employer. That’s what I was taught. The education I received in Public School and College was very systematized. The structure was in place and I simply had to follow the instructions. Did it have benefits? Absolutely! My critical thinking skills were highly sharpened in Engineering, though it took me a while to learn to apply those cognitive skills outside of an Engineering context. The military was even more rigid and structured. You just walk the path given to you.
When I began exploring the idea of starting my own gym after leaving the Army I consistently ran into a mental barrier. I was working as a trainer and learning about the business but I was not making any money. “I’m supposed to be at a certain point by now. My friends who have good jobs are moving on in life and I’m dickin’ around in the gym like I’m 20 years old or somethin’! Am I a fool?!” This and similar statements were common internal dialogue during my days as a trainer. Whenever money problems were heaviest my first instinct was to go back to school. My reflexive thought in response to the income problem was to get another degree. Why? I was taught that degrees lead to high paying jobs. If I go get a degree in Exercise Science or Physical Therapy I can then get a high paying job. Then my analytical engineering brain would kick in, “Why do you need a degree to teach people healthy habits? I taught myself healthy habits with no degree and no guidance.” That became the the kick-over point… ‘I taught myself’.
When I was young, I never saw entrepreneurship in my family. A person having their own business seemed extremely complicated and only for extroverted people. As an introvert, it just seemed more logical to work for others. As I was struggling to figure out the fitness business I realized that I had taught myself things that people never figure out in life. I taught myself how to be healthy and I taught myself financial literacy at a basic level. Neither one is very complex. Both are extremely important. We don’t get taught either in the public school system (at least I didn’t). I realized I could teach myself business. As a speaker, a writer, a day trader, and even when I coached people at the gym, I began to learn to create my own systems and measurements for forward progress. Most of entrepreneurship seems to be figuring out what you are not going to do and staying focused on what you are passionate about/good at. After that it’s the humility and resilience to learn and iterate as you try to solve problems for customers. That process led me from the gym to personal development. As I say often, the internet era allows one to be self taught in many things because information is so widely available in the modern era. I think the biggest challenge for Entrepreneurs who grew up in the standard public/university education system is letting go of the structure and developing the personal accountability to learn and create your own structure. The information is out there but there’s no teacher or boss to make sure you learn it or make sure you implement it. Your income is your report card in this scenario and the market is going to reward you for how well you are solving problems.
When I find myself daydreaming about an easier life as an Engineer it’s because I’m still holding on to the old paradigm I had for life. It feels safe because it was what I grew up in. It becomes frustrating because I know that’s not who I am. I’m not an 8am – 5pm, Monday through Friday person. There’s nothing wrong with being an employee. Obviously, I envy it from time to time. However, I know being an employee long term would make me bitter, cynical, and resentful. It’s really a waste of energy to focus on that old way of being because it takes energy away from solving the challenges that come with my new way of being, which is who I’ve always been… an Entrepreneur.
I am passionate about freedom and helping others achieve their own freedom. I taught resilience to aspiring entrepreneurs at UWT for 2.5 years and I realized it’s not know-how that stops us, it’s holding on to old beliefs and limitations about our own potential that stops us. Our education system was born in a time where the assembly line was being perfected. Hell, as a Black man I have a cultural legacy that descends from people who were enslaved and told what to do with every inch of their existence. I imagine that one of the greatest struggles with being a newly freed slave was figuring out what to do with yourself. You have to learn how to read. Learn how to manage resources. Learn how to engage with an economy that would prefer you have no say. Learn how to manage the trauma of enslavement. Learn how to be your own master. As I said in the last post, the barrier to entry into entrepreneurship has never been lower but you must learn to master yourself.
If you are a entrepreneur struggling to find the confidence to start, what are the limiting beliefs holding you back? Are these beliefs true or are they vestiges of a paradigm that doesn’t map to your entrepreneurial personality?
Are you an entrepreneur struggling with personal accountability? What are the freedoms you desire most? Does your current process map to those freedoms? Is that enough to kick you into drive?
If you are not an entrepreneur then replace the word ‘entrepreneur’ in the questions above with what you are.