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When people say, “Well, everyone has to start somewhere,” they aren’t usually referring to dropouts like me. To be honest, I was a very rebellious child, and at the age of 16, I managed to get most of my classes rejected – all but art and technology – so, I dropped out. You could say I wasn’t setting myself up for success, but what wouldn’t a 16-year-old not love a good challenge?
One of the things I knew was that I wanted to use my artistic skills, so I focused on becoming a designer and applied to graphic design school. But my poor grades and lack of detectable academic skills did not favor me, and my application was denied. Furious, I got a job at a creative production agency as a tea boy (yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like). It didn’t take me long to realize that if I made the tea bad enough, my colleagues wouldn’t ask for it as often. I will have more time to figure out how to actually make myself useful to the company.
But my biggest challenge at the agency wasn’t the tea kettle; It was my family. I was the son of one of the three agency owners, which meant I had to do twice as much work to get acceptance from my fellow employees. But it soon became clear that it wasn’t working. Two weeks into my term, my older brother, who had been working at the agency for a few years, pulled me aside. He said, “Everyone hates you.”
This stings. I didn’t believe it. I was hurt, angry, and ashamed a little more than that. But this harsh smack of reality drove me to prove myself over the next twenty years by constantly looking for ways to make myself valuable to the organization. By the time I was named CEO nearly two decades later, I had worked in just about every position. Along the way, I’ve learned lessons that will be most beneficial to me as a CEO. And I could only learn them by slowly rising through the ranks and working in all corners of the business.
Here are three lessons I would pass on to any inspiring entrepreneur:
1. Don’t believe what you see in the movies
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart: new problems, intimidating unknowns, and intriguing (yet distracting) opportunities will challenge you every day. And you will second-guess yourself every step of the way while others depend on you to make decisions. People will count on you to make the right decisions – and they will expect you to do so with a degree of confidence, whether or not you have any!
Movies love to portray entrepreneurs with automatic access to lavish parties, fancy cars, and a golden ticket to Silicon Valley. In this case, life does not imitate art. Entrepreneurship involves many struggles. And if you are lucky and your company starts to grow, your suffering grows too.
In fact, you can compare entrepreneurship to raising children. Some of the most difficult, challenging, and stressful moments in life involve raising a child. The older the child, the bigger the mess, right? It often feels like an uphill battle trying to keep the house clean. But parenting is also magic. It includes some of the most touching and memorable moments of your life. Parents and entrepreneurs often find themselves in high-pressure situations, managing unique personalities and taking zero credit. But these facts apply to both:
Despite the difficulties, you can achieve success with perseverance. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Energy and perseverance conquer all things.”
2. Passion supports perseverance
As an entrepreneur, you need a passion to succeed. It inspires your business plans and sets you apart from the competition. Your passion attracts the right clients and employees and, perhaps most importantly, gives you the drive to achieve your mission.
If you want to give everything for something, do what you love. Otherwise, you will feel overwhelmed and frustrated and tempted to throw in the towel. To define your goal, ask yourself:
What was I doing on this earth?
What makes me get out of bed every morning instead of lying under the covers and thinking about life?
What makes me finer?
Once you’ve identified your goal, take a step back and test your career. Ask yourself: Is my career fueling my purpose? Entering the world of business means choosing a project that you believe in and feel passionate about. Find a way to take advantage of this purpose and push yourself forward to achieve the best possible outcome.
A starting point somewhere requires a vision and goals to be successful. Where do you want to see your work in a year, five and ten years? Every day, check that your goals and passions align with your plan for the future.
My goal is creativity. It makes me move, it moves me forward in my career. In my world, it is essential for me to understand the creative process, how people think and work. Through creative thinking, I find more solutions to problems and even challenge my own assumptions.
3. Defending, cherishing and promoting creativity
Creativity is born from adversity and limitations. Growing up, I was familiar with both. My parents played infidelity tennis for most of my childhood, fighting and tormenting each other while my brother and I just looked on. My limitation was the academic system, which broke my spirit. It didn’t work for me, and it didn’t give me what I needed at the time.
Adversity pushed me creatively to relieve my anxiety and escape my parents’ twisted relationship. I channeled my passion for the creative process into drawing, building, and creating, which was a rebellion against the limitations of the academic system. Your creativity has protected me and helped me thrive, despite the turmoil at home.
To some extent, the creative spirit represents a higher power in human beings. And although creativity doesn’t come naturally to everyone, it lives on in all of us. Entrepreneurs need to use the creative process to solve problems, escape the bad times, and harness that creativity in the good times to develop products and innovation. I launched my company in 2011 with the goal of unleashing creativity through technology liberation. This purpose has not changed, and it still gets me out of bed in the morning.
The hardships I faced in my professional and personal life, along with my passion and creativity, have made me the leader and entrepreneur I am today. If you have the next great idea, give yourself permission to explore it, and see where it goes. Use your expertise, purpose and creativity, of course, to unlock your potential.