When is enough, enough?
This is a story about a friend of mine whom I will refer to as Bob (to maintain privacy); a very dear, talented, and smart person, and one of those people that many of you would say is not bound to this ruthless and unforgiving world but dwells in his own, better world. No, it’s not a story about me, to set the record straight. The fact that I have chosen to write about him is not mere coincidence, for I ran into him recently; we had one of those long evenings with wine & cheese, where he finally closed the final chapter of a story that I had been listening to for years. I am sure that many readers will recognize themselves or someone that they know in this story, since this is a story about exceptional people with amazing capabilities, a system and environment that doesn’t nurture them, and the courage and determination that they need to make changes and overcome mediocrity. I dedicate my first blog of 2010 to those ‘revolutionary’ people and to my friend Bob.
Bob was born to hard working parents, both of them highly educated with successful careers, social status that such careers bring, and money (of course!). I know that many people will say that he was born privileged. Maybe. In my observation of society, I concluded that if one has everything growing up and learns to respect hard work and dedication, then they would not usually display characteristics such as envy, malice, and spite, as they would not have lived on the edge of survival. That is what my friend Bob is like; he grew up studying hard, working hard, ensuring that he believed in his choices (e.g., career, friends), which he knew were right, not because money dictated them.
But now the story has a twist. As he became a young man, Bob started to carry the burden of having well-known parents (at least locally). Different people asked for ‘favors’, and to ‘motivate’ Bob’s parents to show interest, Bob’s grades, reviews, and detentions were used as the primary ammunition. But Bob was not distracted by these actions, nor as much as I know did his parents ever intervene. Bob continued to do his best in school, after-school clubs, and sports (especially basketball). While he did change schools a few times, the brand that he carried would quickly become known. I have to admit that he was able to persevere; the person that I used to know as a child didn’t change a lot – he was still that same humble, hard-working person that was only becoming more admirable each year.
After college, Bob started looking for a job. On a few occasions, his potential future managers would ask him about his influential father, immediately after discussing his education, capabilities, and the quintessential “where do you see yourself in 10 years” question. As expected, he received a few offers. I remember how excited he was when he told me about his first job – he was describing his responsibilities, coworkers, and path to management. But that initial luck quickly changed. As soon as his coworkers heard about his pedigree, they stopped collaborating with him. Soon, all the ‘bitch work’ finished up on his desk. He continued to give his best and complete everything professionally and effectively. He even went so far as to show initiative and develop a model for the improvement of a particular project.
“Why are you the only one who thinks that there is something wrong with the current model?” his boss asked him.
Following that conversation, his boss even recommended that Bob visit the corporate psychiatrist, citing him as having communication difficulties, lack of respect for regulations, and lack of respect for coworkers(sounds familiar?). Bob even agreed to take on this burden. During one particular session, the psychiatrist started to discuss Bob’s parents and somehow ended up suggesting collaboration between Bob’s employer and his father’s company. Soon thereafter, Bob decided to quit.
I remember a couple of other jobs that Bob also held, however none of them was like the first one in that well known company. In my own words, I would say that people used him – some for connections and networking, others for the high caliber of work that he delivered. I would even venture to say that he never asked to be fairly compensated for his knowledge and qualifications.
Somewhere down the line, we started talking about starting a business. I remember once him telling me that his father offered to help him start a business, but he declined. I also remember asking him why he hadn’t been working in his father’s company – but he almost killed me for even bringing it up, so I realized that it was not an option. Bob was full of business ideas, but he delayed starting one. Maybe it was fear of failure, fear that he wasn’t good enough, fear of the changing market, fear that he was going to be judged again because of his pedigree. I saw plenty of fear and questions in him, but also lots of entrepreneurial potential, vision, planning, and courage. There was a point in time when I really felt angry at his waiting. You know that feeling when you see an amazing person that is meant to be an entrepreneur, but is not doing anything. One day after talking with Bob for two hours, I said “you are just another lazy bastard” and hung up. We didn’t talk for a few months after that episode and I kept thinking about how I overreacted.
A few months ago, he finally sent me an email. He said that he quit yet another job because he was accused of being ‘too creative’ and again (as with a prior job) not ‘following regulations’. At the end of his email, he said that he was “working on something” and that we should get together during my next visit.
When we finally met, this most recent time…the wine and cheese night from the start of this article…he told me what I had expected, that he finally started his own business. It was an idea that we spoke about years ago. He finally felt the strength, courage, and right timing to see it through. He talked openly about how he started the business with little capital and a conservative approach, about all the challenges that he faced every day, about the decisions that he has to bring, and about his responsibilities to his two employees. He was my Bob, my childhood friend, who had finally become something that I had known long before he did, and become that something without losing himself.
I couldn’t resist asking him “how did you finally overcome all those problems from your past and find the strength to make the move?”
“Everything that happened to me gave me the strength to start this business.”
It sounded like a cliché, but Bob definitely didn’t fall into a cliché that had pulled on him since his birth. Not this time and certainly not anytime before! He had long felt that there was no place for people like him in big corporations. It appears that such rare gifted people, whose qualities are never truly valued as much as they should, in fact always end up finding their luck and themselves while being an entrepreneur and small business owner.
That is why this story about Bob should inspire all of you out there who have at some point thought about starting your own business. He did it, and that is what I also wish for you. Let 2010 be the year for brave, relentless, and enduring entrepreneurs! Geronimo!