I have often pondered what drives certain individuals to take up the mantle of entrepreneurship while others are most fulfilled as employees of a company. There are scores of people who contemplate being self-employed, but very few ever make the leap. And many of those that do take the calculated(sometimes not so calculated) risk find themselves in an unsuccessful venture that requires them to return to working for another party.
As I was riding around with my 14 year old son recently, I was drawn to revisit some of the many businesses where I was once an employee. I started as an employee at the age of 16. I didn’t have my license yet so my mom dropped me off in the morning and picked me up in the evening. Even though I had cerebral palsy, I worked as a stocker/warehouse kid at Roses. Forty hours a week for the whole summer. I thought it was great, no bills and more money than I needed.
Working wasn’t something that I was taught, in some respects I could have played the disability card and got a pass. Especially from a pretty physically demanding job unloading trucks and stocking shelves. But I felt compelled to be independent, both then and throughout my life to this day. An independent spirit is a central key to self-employment.
I’ve had about 7 different jobs since then, encompassing all kinds of work in various industries. Fast food, retail, auto parts, paper products. I’ve dug graves in the snow and cleaned toilets that would make weak stomachs turn. I have dealt with all types of personalities for “bosses”, both strong and weak, demanding and kind, honest and not as much. Some people can more easily be resolved that a particular job is worth maintaining, whether for money, or perks, or environment, or even loyalty. All of which are potentially valid reasons.
Some of us never get to that point, always a little uneasy, as if there is something unseen drawing us to another plane, a different lot in life. Most of us can’t articulate it, although it may come across in familiar phrases: “Be my own boss”, “Have control of my time”, “Get paid what I deserve”. These all sound like justifiable reasons, but there are jobs out there that would satisfy most of these desires to one degree or another.
So what is the siren song of business ownership that some people hear and others are immune to? What inspires otherwise sane people to jump into the murky waters that surround starting a new venture? And when they do, why do some succeed, but most fail within a few short years? I have been asking myself that question for many years.
In my present position I often deal with people who are planning new business ventures, and I recall my own warped reasoning involved in leaving my job to start my business 13 years ago. I have come to realize that even the greatest business idea cannot survive on its merit alone. The finest and most well-built yacht will never leave port without a willing and capable captain to pilot it to its intended destination.
Businesses don’t just drive themselves. Somebody has to be crazy enough to take that million-dollar idea out in the water and see if it will float. Problem is, there are sharks in the water. Competition, finances, employee problems, government regulations, taxes, legal issues. A failure in any one of these areas can put you out of business and leave you in serious debt with nothing to show for it but a shark’s tooth in your rear end. Even if you do survive the first year, often you have to go into debt, and it takes you many years to overcome the debt and begin to turn a profit.
All of these challenges are the hurdles that keep the vast majority of people in the role of an employee, which is not a bad thing. A desire to own your own business is not enough. A great idea is not enough. A great business plan is not enough. All the money in the world is not enough to make a business succeed. A combination of all of these things is necessary and even then, there are no guarantees.
There are opportunities available for all of us in the United States to use our God given disposition and talents to contribute to a better community for all of us. I am no better a person as a boss than I was as an employee. My value is not derived in my current location within the corporate machine. We are indeed all equal and should regard each other as such. Think of each other more highly than yourself. Whether boss or employee, you’ll be the better for it.