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When people say, “Well, everyone has to start somewhere,” they usually don’t mean high school dropouts like me. I was a pretty rebellious kid, to be honest, and at 16, I managed to fail most of my classes, all but art and technology, so I dropped out. You could say I wasn’t exactly setting myself up for success, but what 16-year-old doesn’t like a good challenge?
One thing I knew was that I wanted to use my artistic skills, so I set out to become a designer and applied to graphic design school. But my low grades and lack of detectable academic skills did me no favors, and my application was rejected. Irritated, 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 badly enough, my colleagues wouldn’t ask for it as often. Then I would have more time to figure out how to make myself really useful in the company.
But the biggest challenge I faced at the agency wasn’t the kettle; it was my family. I was the son of one of the agency’s three owners, which meant I had to do double the work to gain acceptance from my coworkers. But it soon became clear that it was not working. Two weeks into my term, my older brother, who had been with the agency for a few years, pushed me aside. “Everyone hates you,” he said.
That hurt. She couldn’t believe it. She was hurt, angry, and more than a little embarrassed. But that harsh slap of reality motivated me to prove myself over the next 20 years by constantly looking for ways to make myself valuable to the organization. By the time I was made CEO some two decades later, I had worked in almost every position. Along the way, I learned lessons that would end up being incredibly useful to me as CEO. And he could only have learned them by slowly rising through the ranks and working in all corners of the business.
Here are three lessons I’d like to 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, scary unknowns, and intriguing (but distracting) opportunities will challenge you every day. And you’ll question yourself every step of the way while others trust you to make decisions. People will trust you to make the right decisions, and they expect you to do so with some degree of confidence, whether you have it or not.
Movies love to depict entrepreneurs with automatic access to fancy parties, fancy cars, and a golden ticket to Silicon Valley. In this case, life does not imitate art. Entrepreneurship includes many struggles. And if you’re lucky and your company starts to grow, your struggles grow too.
In fact, entrepreneurship can be compared to parenting. Some of the most difficult, challenging and stressful times in life involve raising a child. The bigger the kid, the bigger the mess, right? It often feels like an uphill battle trying to keep the house clean. But parenthood is also magical. It includes some of the most moving and memorable moments from his life. Parents and employers often find themselves in high pressure situations, managing unique personalities and getting zero credit. But these facts hold true for both:
Despite the difficulties, you can achieve success with persistence. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
2. Passion supports persistence
As an entrepreneur, you need passion to succeed. It inspires your business plans and sets you apart from the competition. Your passion attracts the right customers and employees and, perhaps most important, gives you the motivation to fulfill your mission.
If you want to give everything for something, you have to do what you love. Otherwise, you’ll burn out, get frustrated, and be tempted to throw in the towel. To identify your purpose, ask yourself:
What was I put on this earth for?
What motivates me to get out of bed every morning instead of languishing under the covers and reflecting on life?
What makes me work?
Once you identify your purpose, take a step back and examine your career. Ask yourself: Does my career feed my purpose? Entering the business world means choosing a company you believe in and are passionate about. Find a way to tap into that purpose and move forward to achieve the best possible outcome.
That starting point somewhere requires a vision and goals to achieve success. Where do you want to see your business in one, five and 10 years? Every day, check the alignment of your goals and your passions with your plan for the future.
My purpose is creativity. It makes me tick and propels me forward in my career. In my world, it is essential for me to understand the creative process, how people think and work. By thinking creatively, I find more solutions to problems and even question my own assumptions.
3. Defend, care for and promote creativity
Creativity is born out of adversity and limitation. Growing up, he was very familiar with both. My parents played cheating tennis for much of my childhood, fighting and tormenting each other while my brother and I could only watch. My limitation was the academic system, which crushed my spirit. It wasn’t right for me, and it didn’t give me what I needed at the time.
Adversity pushed me towards creativity to ease my anxiety and escape my parents’ torturous relationship. I channeled my passion for the creative process into drawing, building and creating, which also served as a rebellion against the limitations of the academic system. My creative spirit protected me and helped me thrive, despite the upheavals at home.
To some extent, the creative spirit represents a higher power in human beings. And while creativity doesn’t come naturally to everyone, it lives in all of us. Entrepreneurs need to use the creative process to solve problems, escape tough times, and harness that creativity in good times to develop products and innovate. I launched my company in 2011 with a mission to unlock creativity through liberating technology. That purpose hasn’t changed, and it still gets me out of bed in the morning.
The struggles I faced in my career and personal life, along with my passion and creativity, made me the leader and entrepreneur I am today. If you have the next big idea, give yourself permission to explore it and see where it goes. Use your experiences, your purpose and your creativity, of course, to unlock your potential.