I’ve been dying to open my own business since 1995 when I was nine and I read a story about a girl who raised money by selling painted rocks. Anything shy of $3 sounded like a fortune then, and I was there for it. By college, I was reading Inc. and the Wall Street Journal and dreaming of a PhD in entrepreneurial studies. Now, I’m a “true” entrepreneur, and as a mom of three, I’ve noted how many lessons from motherhood transfer easily to entrepreneurship. Poop happens, for example.
It’s not uncommon for a start-up creator to liken his or her new business to a child, but does it work the other way around, too? Can lessons from brilliant entrepreneurial minds carry over into parenthood? Surely there are things successful entrepreneurs do that I can replicate in my own small home corporation.
In fact, there are more than a few things. Here are three things the best entrepreneurs know that are inspiring my own child raising:
1 | Be willing to know nothing
In a September 2017 interview with Inc., Sara Blakely relates her journey from fax machine salesperson to creator of Spanx and, as of 2012, the youngest self-made female billionaire of all time. Against all odds, Sara took on an almost exclusively male industry by saying “why is beauty pain?” She created something millions of women adore and she did it with no insider knowledge, no prior fashion experience, and no prior business training outside of her sales job.
As Sara explains, “I say that what you don’t know can be your greatest asset if you let it. And the ‘if you let it’ part is the tricky part because we all have self-doubt.” Blakely explains that even today she battles times of crippling self-doubt. She goes on to point out, however, that “what I didn’t know ensured that I went about it different than everybody else in the industry … if you think about it, the only way you can really effect change is if you do it different than everybody else.”
When my oldest was born he didn’t sleep. I scoured every blog on the internet, read every book. Sure, my sleep-tortured brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but what if I had approached my child from the beginning as a brand-new invention the world had never seen before? What if I had seen him as a new human to learn, rather than a variable in a mathematical equation that just wasn’t working?
Approaching child-raising open-handed is a great risk. After all, parents ought to have the answers, shouldn’t they? More often than not, we’re trying to undo past mistakes forced upon us by our parents or prove our methods to grandparents or the world at large. But being able to lead with truth – that I don’t have the answers – allows me to see opportunities. I make better use of my time by spending it learning my children than I do trying to prove that I’m right.
Blakely also inspires me to find parenting vision. The mom of four explains that some of her greatest mentors are her mom and grandma, women who weren’t famous or business-savvy, but whose lives inspired Sara from an early age. I look at my own life: do I have people who inspire me as a mom or parent? Do I have people – online or in real life – who embolden and hearten me?
2 | Be a persuasive leader
Recently, in the Harvard Business Review, a research firm reported findings from its 17,000-person analysis of working adults. Target Training International (TTI) wanted to discover which soft skills “serial entrepreneurs” had that others didn’t. Participants answered questions such as, “In the past, people have taken risks to support my vision, mission or goals,” and “I have been criticized for being too competitive.”
TTI found that while serial entrepreneurs scored well in four different areas, when it came to persuasion they were off the charts. It makes sense; successful entrepreneurs have to attract funding, good talent, and customers. As an admittedly non-persuasive person, can developing this trait help me as a mother and not just as an entrepreneur?
I think it can. Parenthood is not about assembling obedient robots, but it is about persuading disparate personalities, drives, and needs towards separate aims in a loosely collected fashion. In other words, it’s about growing a family.
We all know – or are part of – a family whose grown members don’t speak. We also know families whose grown members add deep value to each other’s lives. Afterall, there’s no friend like a friend who has known you your whole life and if, by becoming a more persuasive person, I can help my own family members to be fully present, joyfully willing members of our tribe, will I be setting us all up for greater success down the line?
3 | Decide which version is right for you
Corbett Barr is frank about his failures as an entrepreneur. A former Fortune 500 consultant, Corbett raised $3 million in venture capital funding and had it all: a co-founder, multiple investors, a board of directors, advisors, employees, and a physical office. But as he relates, “this version of entrepreneurship didn’t feel like I thought it should … I was stressed to the max and had felt continually exhausted and trapped.”
Barr explains how, when the recession hit, he was unable to find additional funding for his company and in what he describes later as one of the best things in his life, he walked away. What he learned from that failure has helped him rethink entrepreneurship for himself and thousands of others as the leader of a tribe of digital nomads and lifestyle entrepreneurs.
Barr says, “there are many different versions of entrepreneurship. You as the entrepreneur have to decide what matters to you and you have to guard your vision and your priorities carefully. If you don’t, your business can easily turn into an all-consuming tyrant.”
When I don’t have a clear idea of what matters to me and my family, parenthood does, indeed, become a tyrant. I am oppressed by other people’s unwanted opinions, bullied by Facebook articles that shouldn’t impact me a wit, and hounded by Instagram perfection. On the other hand, when I’ve gained clarity on my strengths and weaknesses and have a clear vision for my family, I’m able to sail calmly through those troubled seas.