I’ve worked for a decade and a half to help entrepreneurs start and grow. Over that time I’ve come to understand how darn important entrepreneurship is.
Reason 1. Entrepreneurship Grows Your Personal Prosperity
It has become clear recently that the halcyon days where companies would provide lifetime employment, great wages, full insurance coverage, and a retirement pension are gone. My father worked for 30 years with one company, made a good living with good benefits, and retired with a good pension. His generation was the last to be able to expect that as a given. Corporate motivations and behaviors of today are much different than those of the post WWII era.
- If you are a high school or college age youth today, thinking about your economic future, you should write the words “SELF RELIANCE” on a poster with a thick marker, post that by your front door, and look at it every day. You can’t depend on an employer to provide lifetime or even long term employment with wages and benefits good enough to power a growing family with a comfortable home and amenities.
- If you are close to “retirement age” (a concept that will likely seem quaint to future generations), you’ll need a copy of that same poster. It is likely that you will find it necessary to continue to work in order to sustain yourself and family. You probably already know that you have no big pension or savings to fund a twilight years extended vacation in Arizona or Florida.
- If you are in the middle, somewhere in your prime of your career, your economic position may look rosy today, and you may feel that you have no worries. Your poster should say, “SOON SELF RELIANCE”. Eventually you will arrive at that retirement age and likely find that your nest egg doesn’t cover a long and prosperous retirement. Or worse, your great career gets disrupted by a company that closes, an industry that becomes obsolete, or just an everyday “nothing personal” layoff.
Acting entrepreneurially is your way to build self reliance. Whether you create a side gig(s) for an added income stream(s) or grow your own venture, taking control of your own economic destiny will be important to you. Developing the entrepreneurial skill to change or close your side gig or venture in order to build something new and better will be important to you. Forget about riding others’ coattails — make your own coat!
Reason 2. Entrepreneurs Grow Your Community’s Prosperity
After a few years of helping entrepreneurs at a local tech incubator, I began to see how that was much more than just a job. Those entrepreneurs were breathing life into our local economy. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of mission — helping my community becoming a better place via entrepreneurship.
Over the years, that sense of mission has strengthened for me. I traveled to other communities like Boulder, Chattanooga, and Ann Arbor and got to know more about their startup communities. I co-founded a co-working space and saw the energy it added to our local startup scene, a buzz that last lasted years after we closed our doors. In the last few years, over $400 million of investment has been marshaled in our community — it’s making a noticeable difference that even the hard core skeptics can’t ignore.
A good friend who is a community development enthusiast and I have spent some time at the whiteboard thinking about how communities grow and remain vibrant — or decline. Here are some of our observations.
- Communities can’t depend on anchor big companies to drive their economic prosperity. It is easy today for companies, especially knowledge based companies, to automate or relocate.
- Communities can’t depend on legacy industries to sustain their economies. The pace of innovation continually creates entire new industries and opens entirely new markets, while old ones decline.
- Communities can’t depend on local talent to remain in the community. Today’s employment base is very mobile.
Our conclusion was that most old school economic development tactics have fatal flaws. They tend to favor the status quo — growing (i.e. depending on) existing or perceived community assets. For example, the phrase, “We should stick to and build on our strengths” often translates in practice to “We need to be stuck in the past in industries that are in decline, but feel safe and familiar.” Communities that depend on old school tactics are susceptible to black swans — companies that leave or close, old industries that become obsolete or enter decline, and local talent that senses those flaws and heads off to a more vibrant community.
So, the only real constant is change. Stated differently, a community’s economic status quo should be change! There is no other way to remain vibrant and fresh. Entrepreneurs and their startups, by definition, embody that. If your community has grown an entrepreneurial culture, it has effectively created a flywheel that goes on and on seeding economic vitality! You can be a part of that!
Reason 3. Entrepreneurship Feeds Your Soul
I have a lot of friends who are artists, very talented artists. Most take a day job in order to sustain themselves. To a person, I believe each and every one would love to sustain themselves with their art — to be able to do nothing but create great art for a living. A day job just doesn’t feed their soul like making art feeds their soul.
One of my friends (who is a fabulous artist) recently posted on his Facebook, “I am not my 9–5…I am not my 9–5…it is a tool…”. I know he has a plan to use that tool to eventually move into 9–5 art and do more of what he loves and what feeds his soul. Some fortunate people do work they love, but many more grudgingly just put in their 9–5 so they can get on with the enjoyable part of their life. But, giving away 40 hours each week to feed someone else’s soul at the expense of your own isn’t right. My friend has it right — make your vocation your own and don’t let a day job steal your soul.
By the way, this doesn’t apply just to artists. Whoever you are, artist or not, you should do things that feed your soul — do the work that “is you” and fulfills you. Your own art, your own craft, your own purpose, your own meaning. Even if you must do some relatively joyless work today to survive, you can at least start a small side gig that brings you joy. And like my friend, grow that side gig until it supports you and your family for the rest of your life!
So, what does entrepreneurship do? Why choose to become an entrepreneur?
- It feeds your soul.
- It enables you to be self reliant.
- It helps make your community prosperous.
Pick a reason and go be entrepreneurial!