When I was 16, my parents split up, and in the fallout, I ended up living in a condo alone.
I did my own shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry; made my own doctor’s appointments; and wrote notes to excuse my own absences from school. It was rough, but by the time I was 17, I knew I was 100 percent accountable for my own work and wellness—an awareness I came by years ahead of most of my peers.
My early exposure to independence stuck with me, and over the next two decades, as I made my way through college and up the corporate ladder, it continued to do a slow burn in my psyche. I was a solid (dare I say sometimes even stellar?) employee. But no matter how high I climbed or what company printed my W-2, I always craved greater self-determination. Entrepreneurship became my recurring, persisting dream. It was the professional happily ever after in every story I spun about my life.
It took me years to make the leap, but once I was out on my own, the forces within that had taken issue with nearly every professional decision I’d made since I was that sink-or-swim16-year-old kid realigned. For the first time, I was not conflicted and totally focused. I’d set my inner entrepreneur free, and that single change put my life into balance in a way I hadn’t even known was possible.
Flash forward to 2016, and in my work as a franchise consultant, author, and speaker, not a day goes by that I don’t meet someone who is stifling an inner entrepreneur, too bogged down by fear, anxiety, obligations, or a perceived lack of resources to pursue professional independence. Some of them are painfully aware of the conflict that’s holding them back. Others shy away from acknowledging this feeling-that-must-not-be-named, tamping it down and hanging on to the perceived security of corporate service.
Not sure if you’re the stifled entrepreneur I’m talking about? In my experience, there’s a quick way to self-assess. There are four tell-tale traits almost every aspiring entrepreneur I meet shares. Any of these sound familiar to you?
- Longing: Like most business administration grads of my generation, I took a job with a big corporation right out of school. A great job, where I was treated fairly and paid well and recognized for my hard work. And that made it all the more unfortunate that I was constantly aware of some missing piece, something that wasn’t right about my employment, day after day and year after year. At times, I found it almost painful to put my full effort on the line and know this was another day that I was not building something worthwhile and meaningful of my own. You’d be amazed how many people I talk to—many of whom have found great success in the corporate world—who harbor that feeling of longing, but feel powerless to do anything about it.
- Drive: Most of the frustrated, stifled entrepreneurs I meet in the corporate world share a work ethic that goes beyond diligence and into deeper territory: They care the most—in their offices, on their teams, about their clients. They share a passion and drive that can’t be trained into an employee; a person either has it or does not. These are men and women who put in 12-hour days, eat lunch at their desks, and wake up in the night with solutions to problems that plague them at work. They are uber competitive and committed, and that trait isn’t something they can turn on or off. It’s part of who they are—and it’s an essential ingredient in being a great entrepreneur.
- Vision: In my years in the corporate world, I earned a reputation for rejecting the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality for more efficient or effective systems. The ability to make impactful changes was one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. The inner entrepreneur rarely accepts a cumbersome organization or inefficient protocol just because it exists. He or she has a knack for keeping the end goals of every process in mind. Whether we’re taking an aerial view of the way a system works or the long view to where it ends, the entrepreneurial mind strives to find solutions, even if no one else is looking at the problem yet. Seeing the big picture and wanting to improve on it is in our nature, and it seeps out no matter how we make our living.
- Inspiration: I have a favorite quote from SUCCESS publisher and entrepreneurial guru Darren Hardy: The size of your life is determined by the size of the problems you solve. Almost every aspiring entrepreneur I meet shares a deep-seated desire not just to become professionally independent, but to use that independence to make a positive mark in the world. Whether they’re impacting their families, their customers, their employees, their communities, or an even larger circle of influence, they share a desire to make a difference.
If you see yourself in these traits, or if you know for a fact that you’re stifling your inner entrepreneur, you owe it to yourself to explore all options. If you give that slow-burning desire for independence a little oxygen, it just might bring new focus and light to your life.
By Pete Gilfillan