Does Coming From an Entrepreneurial Family Matter?

My late grandfather was the poster child for a serial entrepreneur. In a recent 45-minute phone conversation with my dad, we discussed his various business ventures. We would both laugh when my dad recalled one after the other. Real estate. Truck fleets. Concrete foundation blocks. Lawn mowing.

“Didn’t he breed St. Bernard’s at one point?” I asked.
“Yeah, and beagles. And Newfoundlands.”

My grandfather wanted to work for himself. He wanted to create his life, not have it handed to him. But he was also lured into what was new and exciting. He was always talking about the next venture, and about the potential of a new idea. Unfortunately, he was usually looking up at it from a hole of debt.

Before this gets sad, know that my grandfather was a kind, charming, hard-working man. He always provided for his family, even if it was meager at times. When my dad and his five sisters talk about their childhood, they don’t talk about what their dad didn’t or couldn’t do. They talk about everything he tried, and usually the cheerful attitude that came with his effort.

He was charismatic and full of magnetic excitement. He was smart and full of ideas, often pulling his siblings and children into his new adventures. He generated an optimistic, always-give-it-your-best-go ethic in his home. And while no one could argue that my own father has an outward charisma, he also has a magnetizing force, where people want to impress him and do good work for him. My dad watched how people were drawn to his own father and knew that was important. His whole life was a subconscious crash course on what worked in business and what failed.

My grandpa’s story isn’t about personal success in business, but it turned into one if you look one generation further at my father’s life.

My dad wanted a life for his family that he didn’t have growing up. He set huge financial goals, usually revolving around the area he wanted to live or the house he wanted to build. And when he was old enough, he attacked those goals with purpose and a crazy amount of effort. He built his reputation and companies around efficiency and quality, two things that have stuck with his name for decades.

But the purpose of that recent phone call with my dad wasn’t to discuss how he became successful or why my grandfather wasn’t. I truly believe they both found success in different areas of life. I called because of the distinct entrepreneurial spirit found in so many of my family members—cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings. There is a thread that runs thick through so many of us. But why? Where did it come from? And why will some of us be successful and others fall flat?

So many people ask a variation of that question. And it usually goes like this:

Are entrepreneurs born or made?

Both. It has to be both. My dad made a great point.

“It doesn’t matter if you like the idea of running a business or that you want to work for yourself. It only matters if you are willing to work hard and have tough conversations.”

We try to create a formula for ourselves. The need for approval or motivation is in the very heart of that question. Can I become something if I don’t have the natural capability? or How hard do I have to work if this will just come naturally to me?

I know that for me, sometimes I think I’m going to be able to do this just because I’ve watched loved ones start and lead kickass businesses. I tell myself that it’s in my DNA and it will work.

I would love to look at this whole entrepreneur thing from a romantic viewpoint. Like how it’s been passed down from generation to generation and how it’s just “in my blood.” But I’m way too realistic for that. The fact is, I have so many more opportunities to be successful than my grandfather did. I have the Internet, for one thing. I also have the privilege of being born into my dad’s family, which makes me predisposed to be confident that things will work out for me.

I think that these opportunities can quickly become excuses though.

There was too much pressure
There was too much competition.
That girl is better at this than I am.
And my Millenial favorite:
It’s just not where my heart is.

I started this business. It will be my own choices that raise it to the top or run it into the ground. If there is one thing that cannot be mistaken about growing up with a bunch of business owners, you know that you are solely responsible. Your ideas, your decisions, your work ethic.

So does it matter that I was born into a family of entrepreneurs? Sure does. I have a wealth of knowledge and history at my fingertips, literally. They are all a phone call away.

But it also doesn’t. My father’s success and my grandfather’s charisma are not automatically handed to me. I have the same choices and obstacles they did. But I can either learn from their lives, gleaning valuable lessons and insight, or I can go the way of 90% of all the small businesses and fail in the first five years. It really is still up to me, entrepreneurial family or not.