TiEcon 2011, www.tiecon.org will be hosting 3500+ attendees this weekend atSanta ClaraConvention Center, at what has now become the largest annual entrepreneurship conference. Scores of others will be checking out new products and technologies at the expo. As a self employed individual, it got me thinking about challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur. And boy, have there been challenges, especially during 2009 and 2010 as small businesses such as mine, got a serious beating. But then there are rewards tied to the knowledge that the buck stops at you. Wikipedia describes an entrepreneur as a person who has possession of a new enterprise, venture, or idea and is accountable for the inherent risks and the outcome. Just the definition is heady enough to want to get aboard the train and try the opportunity to paint the canvas of life with one’s own creative enterprise.
As I trace my professional journey, when I completed my PhD in Psychology, the path I visualized was in academia. However, about 3 years after completing my doctorate, based on some multi cultural research paper, I got a call to participate in diversity trainings. In my very first diversity training project for a large global corporation, I facilitated 100+ trainings, of one and two day duration, all over the US. The organization also became a recipient of Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership in Diversity, presented by then President Bill Clinton. By then I was hooked. At that time, I gave little thought to entrepreneurship per se. But I enjoyed diversity of my work. I began facilitating various different kinds of trainings for many organizations. I enjoyed traveling, meeting people, being able to sail through difficult flight schedules and more significantly through difficult conversations. Here are some examples of how entrepreneurship often does not involve routine days. I was flying out ofAtlantain 2002 when a man ran past security and the entire airport was shut down causing national and international flight delays. I spent 24 hours at the airport to catch my flight out of what had become a zoo. Similarly I was stuck at Houston airport during Hurricane Rita, another time I missed my flight home at Chicago airport as I dozed off sitting by the gate, and once I got off at the wrong airport at Boston while I was on my way to Vermont and then adamantly demanded an explanation why my car was not there when I had pre-booked it. Regarding difficult conversations, I can enlist as many examples. Training a midnight shift crew, I walked into the room after 12 am, and a man stood up, pointed his finger at me and angrily said he “will not appreciate being told that gays have equal rights at his workplace and if I was there to tell him that then I better leave”, before I even opened my mouth. Another time, a man got up and said, he liked to tell crude jokes on women and other groups and challenged me to try saying anything that would stop him. And another time, two men turned their chairs around towards the wall and sat talking with each other (albeit quietly) but refused to turn the chairs around and participate in the class. I love all these challenges and love the feedback and reward of often being able to make a real and positive difference in the short time.
A few years ago, as traveling was becoming challenging due to security concerns, a friend of mine was looking for a job and another friend was looking to hire someone. I suggested they meet and from that encounter one friend found a great employee and another one found a great job. My hiring friend suggested I do that for a fee and find people for him. Voila – that was a start of another career as a professional recruiter. I focused on the niche market of medical device and biotech. Once again I was hooked. I loved the challenge of meeting new people, learning about rules and regulations, learning about new industry, new products and technologies with great potential to impact health and wellbeing of humankind. I attended trade shows, conferences, expos as much to meet and network and develop my business as to learn about this absolutely fascinating industry (about which I have written many blogs in a few years).
After all these years has the ride been worth it? Friends advised me to “quit the madness, and take a real job” when I had difficulties getting sitters after my divorce and needed to travel for training, and other friends again advised me to give up recruitment and get a real job when the market crashed in 2009. Sometimes friends assumed that I was available any time during the day because I was not doing a “real job”. And surely at times the challenges seemed immense, the toughest one being the market downturn in 2009. But hey I have enjoyed the ride, the dreams, the possibility of making as much money as the work I would put in and I enjoyed the possibility of taking time off and travel when my kids were out of school. I don’t believe any job would allow the dreams that you can dream (well within reach) as your own business. A job is a job that allows the possibility of promotions. If you are an entrepreneur you can dream and dream big and you learn a thing or two along the way, unlike when you dream of winning a lottery ticket. But more importantly, you get the satisfaction of giving birth to an idea that will somehow have a positive impact in the world. Entrepreneurship is challenging, it is fun, it is exhilarating, and it is inspiring. Entrepreneurship takes out the boredom, gives meaning to life, gives an opportunity to exercise your creativity to the extent you can reach out of any given box, and makes life worth living. Gotta try it at least once in a lifetime. Even those who have tried and not succeeded and gone back to regular jobs say that it is exhilarating, gives a different perspective, and is well worth a ride. Along with many successful entrepreneurs, many wannabe entrepreneurs will be converging at TiEcon this week, with big dreams in their eyes and will hopefully walk away with strategy to translate them into reality, knowing that just one ride makes life a worthwhile adventure.