Apr 5 2014, 9:44am CDT | by Forbes
Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. –Steve Jobs
The world needs more entrepreneurs. Today’s problems are really hard and we need a higher dose of entrepreneurial spirit to tackle them. I’m hoping parents can help.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. Always trying to bring business ideas or inventions to life. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I got hooked on entrepreneurship and business. What instilled that entrepreneurial spirit in me and prepared me for all the exciting, exhilarating, and disappointing realities? Surely I wasn’t born with it; instead a variety of experiences helped light the entrepreneurial flame inside me.
Not surprisingly, it was my parents who first introduced me to business and entrepreneurship. Facing circumstances that they couldn’t solve in traditional ways, they sought to open their own businesses to provide for our family. This required a certain fearlessness and persistence that has stuck with me ever since. I consider myself lucky to have had these opportunities in the first place and I know not everyone gets that chance growing up.
My goal here isn’t to suggest that everyone should start companies or become entrepreneurs. Rather, parents can foster a valuable entrepreneurial spirit in their kids no matter what path their kids decide to take later in life. (Disclaimer: I’m not a parent or a expert in child development. Rather, I hope that sharing my personal story can start a conversation and maybe even inspire others.)
Variety sparks curiosity and comfort with new challenges
From a very young age, my mother encouraged me to try doing a variety of things I would have otherwise never done; unlike many other parents, this was not for the sake of resume building but because they thought it would teach me something. It turned out this made me endlessly curious about the world and extremely comfortable with new challenges.
She encouraged me to do karate, where I ended up fighting competitively for many years. She got me into acting (once even auditioning for a main role in Home Alone). She encouraged me to play basketball even though I was often the shortest player on my team. I did gymnastics, I played tennis, I started two companies before I was 18… among other things. Adapting quickly became my new normal and continues to be today as an entrepreneur. I was even voted “most likely to succeed” – not because I excelled academically like my peers, but because they could sense my ambition and willingness to try anything.
Not surprisingly, I failed more often than I succeeded at these new activities, which taught me to move past disappointment, figure out another approach to succeed, and keep going. Naturally, children get disappointed easily, so it’s important for them to seek out and experience failure early and then keep at it with a desire to do better next time around. For example, my height should have been a disadvantage for me in basketball. But then I learned I could make up for that – and then some – with speed. Later, as an entrepreneur, these experiences helped me become just a little more adaptable than the next guy when it came time to tackle new projects. While specialization seems to be a popular career move these days, being comfortable with unknowns and new challenges is also a powerful characteristic.
Competition supports a winning spirit and collaborative attitude
Being involved in competitive sports drives you to improve and win. While sports are a way to foster a healthy competitive and winning spirit, there are other options as well. For me, there was the Model United Nations program, which provided a platform beyond sports. We were required to do research in order to represent international delegations (like the actual UN) on important issues then go out and publicly defend those policies at conferences around the world. These events rewarded top delegates and the competition was cutthroat. Even though we competed individually most of the time, in order to win we had to collaborate with others. I quickly learned how to work with others toward a common goal and how to influence people with differing perspectives. I learned that winning while collaborating with a team was much more satisfying
As an entrepreneur, your immediate and extended teams (customers, advisors, investors, etc) are the real keys to success. Winning without the help of others is simply not possible.
Traveling fosters self-reliance and creative thinking
Home is a comfortable place, but it can make you complacent and overly reliant on what’s readily available to you. Traveling as a child (and later as a young adult), you come to realize that the world can function in totally different ways. There is not necessarily a “right” or “normal” way to do anything. That is, cars don’t always have to drive on the right side of the road, gas doesn’t always need to be calculated in gallons, food can be made of things you never imagined eating and could be prepared in many ways, and cars don’t all have to look the same. The business world, just like a foreign country you’ve never traveled to, requires that you are comfortable while navigating alone without a map.
The earlier you realize there is more than one way to do things, the sooner you’ll break the psychological barriers that keep you from taking on new challenges. If there were a single formula to success, everyone would be successful.
These lessons, ingrained in me as a child, have had important implications for my adult self and for my business. I’m now the CEO of a company called ReadyForZero, where we’re building resources to help people pay off debt faster. In this role I’m tested every day, and the lessons help me know how to respond. Not being a parent myself, I know it’s tough to make time or provide the means for making all this possible. However, I hope my personal experience can nevertheless inspire parents to try and foster a healthy entrepreneurial spirit in their children at an early age. Because we really do need more entrepreneurs!
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