The Unintentional Entrepreneur
Do you ever wonder what makes you tick, what makes you… you? Lately, I have been reflecting a lot about why I am the way I am. I believe the root of our character can sometimes be traced back to impactful memories we have of our parents and other influential people of our past.
My father has often mentioned how surprised he is that I have become such a prominent businessman and entrepreneur, because both my parents were teachers and worked within the public school system for 30 years. But the funny thing is, it was my father who first planted the entrepreneurial seed in my brain, he just didn’t know he was doing it.
I grew up on an island in Alaska. The only way to get out of town was by an overnight ferry ride or by plane. My folks moved up there in the sixties because they were offered teaching jobs they couldn’t refuse.
As we all know, teachers don’t make the greatest of wages, even if they have master’s degrees and other upper level degrees. So my father often engaged in many side jobs during the summer and later after he retired from teaching. He would often engage my help, as a deckhand while scuba diving for sea cucumbers and abalone, or setting long line skates (rope that runs along the bottom of the sea floor with bait every six feet to lure halibut – we’d we pull in these monsters by hand to sell to the market and fill the freezer at home). My father also started a landscaping business, which in Alaska was extremely seasonal, June-August (perfect for a teacher, and me as a student). We would work extremely hard at whatever the job was. I would see him get injured, yet push on through the pain. I would see him fail and then try again, and again. I remember wondering how he didn’t freak out when he got hurt or stop trying when our efforts failed miserably. I remember thinking (and still do), will I ever be as tough as my dad?
All of these ‘side’ jobs were entrepreneurial endeavors; my dad just saw them as a way to bring in some extra money for the family. However, all of them took strategy, proper implementation, hard work, and adaptation when problems arose, and often the harder we worked the more money we made. Of course sometimes, until we figured out the right strategy, we would work all day or all week and make nothing or even lose money, which is the nature of any business start-up.
Eventually my dad pretty much handed over the reigns of the landscaping business to me, so I was forced to create schedules, meet deadlines, handle billing, collect payments, handle mechanical breakdowns, monitor the accounts, pay myself and others, and seek out new customers; you name it I did it. I hated it when I was a teenager because I was forced to work in the rain a lot (because we lived in a rain forest), and every nice day, while my friends were out playing and goofing off, I was out cutting lawns all day. I think my hands were permanently stained green for a couple of summers. Of course, at that time I didn’t realize the valuable business skills I was learning. I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal to make $150-$250 a day, as many kids my age could work all day and only make $50. Looking back, it seems really obvious to me that my father exposed to me to something uncommon, skills and knowledge that I could use for the rest of my life. He showed me, even if it was by accident, that I didn’t need a special education certificate or fancy resume to land a good job. I could go out and create my own job, my own source of income.
Both of my parents, long retired from teaching and nearing seventy years of age, still do ‘side jobs’. These are jobs they created. My mother teaches Zumba and does massage work, my father taught himself a form of therapy that helps people with back and neck injuries, and he is talented enough that people travel long distances to seek out his care.
Yet my parents don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs. To them, these are just hobbies that bring in extra money to cover going out to dinner and the costs of other hobbies they enjoy.
Those times working with my father had a tremendous influence on me. He showed me how to provide for my family no matter how life challenged me. He taught me something so valuable that it is at the top of my list of what to pass on to my kids. As a parent today, I often reflect on what I can do and how can I make an impact in their lives. It seems clear to me that my father gave me a pretty good blueprint to follow.
Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.