This week in my group, Small Business Owners of Southern Ontario, I asked the question "What is one thing that has made you a better entrepreneur?" This is pretty loaded question and I have gotten all kinds of answers, some deeply personal, some very basic, but all relevant to the business owner.
As I went to answer this question myself, I got a little stuck. I would have loved to just say, "my strong work ethic" or "my supportive family" but as I went to write those base answers, I realized there is a much bigger element behind them, a decent story too; and while it definitely does not apply to every small business owner, it does apply to me, my business, and why I work the way I do.
Here we go!
I was a "Teen Mom"
I won't give you the whole story, (because you'd be here forever) but the main story line goes something like this:
- Rebellious Teenager Starts Dating Her Long Time Friend (Hey Dave!)
- Rebellious Teenager Moves In With Him
- They Get Pregnant (Oh, Shit)
- Rebellious Teenager refuses to homeschool, or take online courses and spends the 2nd semester of her senior year pregnant, friendless, and taking public transit with horrible morning sickness.
Now, here is where I'm going to get into a little more detail. When I found out I was pregnant, I was at the point of my life where I was over the moon in love with sleeping on a pull-out couch with a guy with a navy blue mohawk. And let me tell you, when that awkward, mohawked 20 year old found out he was going to be a dad, he shaved the hawk (which I not so secretly wish he kept), went back to school, and "manned-up". Our parents (despite the fact we both willingly moved out) rallied around us, supported us and were a spectacular safety net. I changed my class schedule to accommodate my horrendous morning sickness, I argued with the school board to keep my in-class classes (since they weren't sure what the protocol was for a pregnant student), I kept 3 friends throughout the whole ordeal, and I was bullied and verbally assaulted to the point of police involvement, and you know what? I still went to prom.
I have always had a strong rebellious streak, and the overwhelming pressure of "You can't do it" only makes me push harder.
After graduating, I got a job at a grocery store and worked on my feet until they were worried I'd go into labour mid-shift. I spent a whopping 21 and half hours bringing our daughter into the world, literally surrounded with our support network, and the day after, her daddy went and wrote his exams. We spent a week in NICU, and once that little turkey was home, I went back to work (because a part-time cashier didn't make mat leave). I walked in to the YMCA with my 3 month old baby in her snuggly, and told the childcare director I was following up on my application. I told her I had the experience to work in the nursery, and that I wanted to bring my daughter to work with me. Surprised, I think by the unorthodox way I was demanding a job, she gave it to me, and I worked there for 2 years before going to college.
College when you have a toddler is a very interesting experience and in hindsight, it's all a blur. I worked my ass off through school, and came out with high honours, some scholarships, grants and awards. And had I not had a man willing to bust his ass and work REALLY shitty jobs while I was in school, I wouldn't have been able to do it. We also somehow got married.
This section of life was long, rough, and still full of happy. I have never worked so hard for someone else (and myself) at any other point. My daughter needed me educated, my husband needed me employed (and happy) and I needed that satisfaction of knowing I could do it and build a successful career in an industry I was passionate about. I never went to a pub night, because my family needed me home, I spent my summers working more than one job (always), and at the end, I had that amazing victory of saying I finally finished it. A few years later than everyone had planned, but finished none the less.
Since graduating, I've had some great "Normal" jobs, Dave had a career change, and we work hard to keep our little family unit going. I also constantly freelanced, while in college and ever since. The idea of being able to rely on someone else completely doesn't work for me (though I clearly have those people I can lean on). I have always found ways to push against what should be expected, and as my daughter grows up (God Help Me) she has that same stubbornness and strength.
I guess I should relate this directly back to being an entrepreneur. If in the most challenging sections of your life, you are unwilling to bust your ass to improve yourself, improve your situation, and improve your life as a whole, then you should NOT be an entrepreneur. Don't get me wrong, people can run companies and work all sorts of high positions without having to have that level of drive. But if at the end of a shitty day, you are content to just say "well, I guess it was fine" and not work to improve it, then you should maybe stick to working for someone else.
Being an entrepreneur is one of the riskiest, selfish things I have ever done. I am good at what I do (I'm also pretty confident) and I could easily work for someone else forever, but I found at the end of every day I wasn't content. At the end of the day, I'd plan one more step to make it better, and eventually, that one more step was "Quit your day job". So if you find yourself laying in bed wondering, planning, plotting and working to make your life better, than that hustle could take you into being your own boss.
The skills and drive I have found while going through my first pregnancy, and the awkwardness of being a teen mom, have proven invaluable time and time again. Never will a mother be so opinionated against, than if she is young. If you have children, you know the advice from other people is never ending, the judgement is never ending and you can always find someone to criticize how you raise your children. Now add in the way some adults speak to our youth, add in the snide remarks and social stereotypes, and you my friend have a young mother that may start doubting her capabilities; much like a new entrepreneur nursing their first start-up. Being labelled as that "Teen Mom" who "won't graduate", "can't work", "will sit on welfare", did not work for me. Those labels were unfair, unjustified, and uneducated; and I did everything in my power to push against them. That same push to do better has been essential in how I run my business, and I handle negative feedback with the same grace that I would award a snarky mom at the playground, take the genuine feedback, ignore the personal side of it, and work to improve.
If you treat your business like your baby, your entrepreneurship like parenthood and use that same level of personal growth and adjustment to improve yourself as a business owner, your business will grow and flourish. You will not do everything perfectly, the timing will not always be right and sometimes you will sit with your head in your hands and think "I don't think I can do this", and you know what? That's fucking OK. Take a second, evaluate your successes, plan for your failures and just do your best.
If you ever meet a teen mom and you're thinking anything less of her than "You Got This Babe!", or you are not thinking of standing behind her 100% while she struggles to make life altering changes for herself and another tiny human, than I urge you to reevaluate your opinions. They are working to break the molds of what people expect from them and they are working hard to be self sufficient, so give them a pat on the back, tell them their baby is adorable and just be nice. Before you know it, that hard working 18 year old with the baby on her hip will be a married mom of 2, running her empire and inspiring other business owners to do the same.
Before you know it, that hard working 18 year old with the baby on her hip will be a married mom of 2, running her empire and inspiring other business owners to do the same.
If you want to make a change for young mothers who don't have such wonderful support systems, I urge you to reach out to organizations like WINGS Maternity Home in Ajax, Ontario, and other similar charities. Ones that help young mothers get off the streets, out of abusive situations, finish their schooling and support their children while they do it.