Misperceptions About Entrepreneurship: A Personal Reflection
Today is my 65th birthday. It’s hard to believe, especially when looking backwards. My wife, Laureen and I were married 45 years ago this past June. My eldest child will be 43 years old next month. I graduated high school 47 years ago. I was reminiscing the other day about being a Babe Ruth League All-Star in Staten Island, NY — and that was 50 years ago!
My work experience began with me working in my Dad’s beauty parlor business in Brooklyn on Saturdays. I would take coffee or lunch orders from customers and the workers from one of the local delis — Jewish, Italian, German — and the local diner — Greek, of course. Often, they didn’t care where I picked up the order. I was just told what they wanted.
Despite being only 12 or so years old, I remember quite fondly how well I was treated by the proprietors of those establishments. There was always an empty seat at the counter for me. I never had to pay for my own breakfast or lunch. I was obviously recognized (and thanked) for being able to sway decisions toward their establishments. I was responsible for bringing them business. As such, I was treated with respect.
As a young teenager, I worked in a local grocery store/deli owned by a friend’s family. That was quite an experience as it was my first to serve customers in a busy store setting. When I was behind the deli/butcher counter, I was often asked my opinion about a particular cut of meat or the amount of meat necessary to feed a family of five for dinner. What the heck did I know about meat? But, as I was wearing a clean white apron, I was the expert and as such, I was respected.
Summers of sophomore to senior years were spent working in Manhattan as a messenger. The company was located in World Trade Center 5 right next to the Twin Towers. At the time, messengers were a big part of the heartbeat of New York City. Messengers were responsible for picking up papers and packages from one business and delivering to another, often within minutes.
Many times, we were dispatched to some very posh offices on Park, Madison and Fifth Avenues. As well, we spent a great deal of time in the Wall Street Area. And, other times these short trips took us to some really nasty and very suspect office space and light manufacturing facilities. I started to see and differentiate “success” as one might imagine would be the case through a teenager’s eyes.
The following year was spent working in Midtown Manhattan for a health & beauty aids manufacturer’s representative. It was interesting and my first experience working directly with salesmen. They were very much blue collar and definitely grinded through their days. They now remind me of the salesmen in the movie, Glengarry Glen Ross.
Most did not earn much but I did realize that the business owners did. And with it, my first revelation about entrepreneurship. However, I definitely didn’t understand it as such back then.
Hardly anyone was being referred to as an entrepreneur 40 years ago. Actually, I remember being told that being an entrepreneur meant being a renegade, being lazy. It was a common thought that those individuals that labeled themselves as an entrepreneur had an inability to hold down a job. Looking back now, it was certainly an interesting, yet sad perspective to be labeled as such due to misperception and a lack of understanding.
Of course, there were business owners everywhere, but they weren’t referred to as entrepreneurs. Actually, many were referred by their name with their business type and skill attached — Joe the butcher, John the mechanic, Frank the milkman, and so on. Often, their businesses were named after them along with “and sons” or “and family.”
Individuals, almost all being male that commuted into the city were referred to as businessmen. If they wore a suit to work, they were businessmen. Was a businessman an entrepreneur? Was success a criteria? Nope. That just meant being a successful businessman, as I recall my parents and grandparents saying on more than one occasion.
Dreams? Goals? Nope. It was all just looked as ways to make a living. Respectable livings at that but anything more were often frowned upon by mostly immigrant family members. Ironic, huh? The very people whose spirit and desire for freedom drove them toward immigrating to America.
I have often found their misperceptions to be a contradiction but I’ve come to understand that safety and caution were the basis of their thoughts. There’s much to be said about avoiding risk but there’s a lot than can be said of taking risks for the potential of greater good, and to achieve one’s wishes, hopes, and dreams.
At this point, I do wish I had learned about entrepreneurship early on in my career. But I will not cry over spilled milk. It is what it is. However, as entrepreneurship is said to be what will drive our great country from the throes of today’s challenging times, I continue to look forward to working with our younger generations as they seek to learn all they can about entrepreneurship.
To me, what I look forward to as I put 65 in my rearview mirror is helping others succeed as entrepreneurs. I’m especially passionate about helping aspiring entrepreneurs explore the wonderful world of entrepreneurship. I firmly believe that regardless of age, it’s never too early (or too late) to pursue entrepreneurial dreams.
Below you’ll find a link to what I believe is one of the best videos about entrepreneurship. It’s definitely worth its 20–25 minutes. I believe anyone and everyone can benefit by watching this video regardless of chosen profession and/or current status in life and age. I especially believe anyone considering entrepreneurship should view this video as it clearly points out the challenges and potential pitfalls along with the benefits of being an entrepreneur.
A final thought: My Dad was a business owner for well over 50 years. He opened a number of businesses and expanded one across multiple locations. He definitely realized the ups and downs of owning a business. Yet, he continued nonetheless. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t until his death at 97 years old that I thought, yes, he was an entrepreneur. I do wish I would have picked his brain about his entrepreneurial journey, one that I and others sadly took for granted.
Have a great day. Make it happen. Make it count!