What Poverty Taught Me About Success

As a young entrepreneur, challenges are inevitable. If you are just starting out in your career, do not assume that those who succeeded did so along a frictionless path.

Rather, the successful achieved because of those challenges. They cultivate a sense of awareness so that they can honestly assess their strengths and weaknesses. They leverage those strengths to overcome their weaknesses. They actively seek out team members and mentors who can help address their negatives. They cultivate wisdom by listening, not by speaking. And most important of all, they develop insight to see the countless opportunities around them clearly, and then they tenaciously take advantage of those opportunities.

I grew up with a set of circumstances that no one would describe as ideal. My path certainly wasn’t what you would call traditional. I was raised in the oil fields of New Mexico and the cotton fields of the Texas Panhandle. I grew up poor; my mother was a secretary, and my father laid telephone lines for General Telephone Electric. We didn’t know what we didn’t have, so we never wanted for much. My parents did not have the means to send my siblings and me to college. There were no high-powered internships available for us to make connections. We would have never dared to dream of that.

During high school, I spent summers working, making what little earnings I could, in the Texas fields spraying “Devil’s Claw”. One day we were taking a quick break and goofing, as high school kids are known to do, when I fell straight off the tractor’s trailer. Before I knew it, I was being pulled underneath the wheels of a trailer carrying four seats and a fertilizer tank- all weighing thousands of pounds. But thankfully the dirt was soft, and the force of the tractor pushed me deep into the earth’s natural cushion. And I was ok.

It could have been a traumatizing experience, but I didn’t have time for that. There was work to be done. So I dusted myself off and I got back to work. Often as entrepreneurs, we feel that way. Pulled under the weight of a tractor, but thankfully there is something underneath us to keep us safe. So we get up, and we keep going.

And now I look back at my life after a fulfilling career taking dozens of early-stage companies through rounds of successful funding, launching countless startups, and working alongside monumental market leaders like Blockbuster Video and I see that the challenges of life weren’t there to limit me. They were merely factors that needed to be accounted for.

My situation forced me to look at what positives I did have available. There was no time to sulk about my limitations, my economic status or my education potential. Growing up poor did not define me; it pushed me to discover my own path to college. If that meant I had to work two jobs to pay my way, then that is precisely what I did. It wasn’t easy, but it was what I had to do.

Taking hold of your first success

As I moved my way through junior college to University, I continued to scrap, doing whatever was required to move forward. I leveraged typing skills I had acquired in high school to obtain work with some of the best and the brightest in the Texas business community. I found myself working for Scott Beck’s company, Pace Financial Management, right at the moment of Blockbuster’s inception. Before I knew it, I went from a receptionist and administrative assistant to the store opening coordinator for Blockbuster’s Midwest region.

I could have never planned for this opportunity. It came quite unexpectedly. And while it may have seemed like the challenges of poverty were holding me back, in truth- my upbringing gifted me so many strengths. And those strengths became critical in determining my inevitable success.

My childhood taught me bravery, tenacity, and resourcefulness. Without that upbringing, I do not think I would have garnered the wisdom to see Blockbuster as the opportunity it was. I certainly would not have had the courage or resilience to make such a career leap. If you are just starting your career, these are the qualities you must cultivate to make it as an entrepreneur.

What success takes

In the end, there is no easy path to success. There is only hard work, doing what needs to be done and leveraging what you do have to create more success. And if you want to make it in the competitive, noisy and bustling world of entrepreneurship, you are going to need to build a core set of traits. In the darkest of moments in your company’s early journey, these are the attributes that will set you back on your path. Take them seriously and cultivate them with discipline, humility, and joy. Your future business will thank you for it.

• Self-awareness

The ability to look at yourself completely and objectively is a must have in business. Each person is born with a set of strengths and weaknesses. Cultivating a strong sense of self-awareness is crucial in determining what skills we have to leverage and which qualities require supplementation. It is a wide world, and there are many out there who can help turn your weaknesses into strengths. Find mentors and associates who will be honest with you. They will guide you through your weaknesses and allow you the freedom to take advantage of your strengths.

• Observation

We all want to be the smartest in the room, but have you ever realized that the smartest is often the silent one, sitting quietly and listening deeply? That is because the wise understand the power of observation. You listen with your ears, not with your mouth. Sounds pretty simple right? It’s actually not. Observation is a skill, and it requires cultivation. Those silent, wise sages have put an unbelievable amount of work into crafting a keen sense of observation. They have honed their focus, and they know when and how to ask questions to draw out the best results. They have mastered the art and rhythm of observation like a maestro. It is a skill that requires perfection. It takes a lot of hard work. And because of that, it is a skill that only a rare few genuinely possess.

• Opportunity Recognition

Steve Jobs believed, “Creativity is just connecting things.” Opportunities are all around us. What holds us back is the inability to create the connections to recognize and seize on those opportunities. On first glance, one would not think skills acquired in a high school typing class could be leveraged into a leadership position for a booming tech company. But that’s what happened to me. It just took some creativity and opportunity recognition to get there. And like all creative endeavors, the path was messy. It weaved wildly, it hit huge patches of friction but eventually, the way was made clear and the opportunity was seized. Find the connections around you. Build this skill. Where can your strengths be leveraged? Who around you can help manage and overcome your weaknesses? I guarantee you the answers are there; you just have to build your opportunity recognition and creativity.

Succeeding by looking from the bottom up

It’s not always easy for the young entrepreneur to take an honest look at their circumstances. It’s a fundamental human quality to try and ignore our weaknesses. It’s how we used to survive. But in the tech industry, that reflex will lead to our demise.

We must find the bravery to view ourselves in the same way an entrepreneur views the early stages of a company. Identify your own weaknesses as you would a new enterprise. Analyze them with wisdom and humility. And most of all, do not be afraid of hard work; earn your way to the top! My first job in marketing was telemarketing. From there I moved up through the ranks of sales and marketing from inside sales, to event planning, marketing communications, product marketing and strategy to eventually find myself working at the top of the tech world. Start where you can and embrace the early stages. It is only by looking from the bottom to the top that we can ever see the path to success.

Remember, as a young entrepreneur; your weaknesses can be overcome, your strengths can be leveraged, and opportunity is all around you. The question is, do you see it?