I've been asked if I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur. "Always" is a long time, and I believe my first answer to the question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was probably "nurse." Or "teacher." Or whatever girls responded in kindergarten in the 1970's. (Asked the same question, one boy wanted to be an engineer just like his dad. I didn't know what that meant-- and I don't believe the boy did either -- but I felt slight envy for his more sophisticated response.)
In elementary school, I was determined to be a psychologist. Or a psychiatrist. I think I might have interchanged them without any reference of knowing which was what. "Why would you want to work with crazy people," a well-meaning great uncle asked. "They're not crazy," my 10-year old self responded somewhat defiantly. "They just have problems. I want to solve their problems."
But once I became a teenager, adults stopped asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Perhaps the question no longer resulted in "cute" responses from naive children. Or, perhaps they just had confidence that I would find my way. I like to believe the latter. Anyway, I knew I enjoyed drama and performed in plays and musicals at school and elsewhere, swooning over some of the leading men along the way. I knew I was a better writer than the majority of my classmates. And I knew I found design and typography interesting.
When I got to university, still no one bothered to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I studied Japanese because it felt that if Sony were going to take over the world, I might as well speak the language. And I knew I wanted to go into marketing at some point, translating my fondness for the fonts I admired in ads into something "legitimate."
And yet despite the fact that my career life was quickly approaching, no one was asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, I became a marketer. (My math scores would not ascend me to the sciences to become either a psychologist or a psychologist and my acting skills were probably not up to "becoming an actress" snuff.) My first major position, after I moved to New York from Montreal, was in non-profit marketing. I moved on to various for-profit marketing positions at New York Times Digital, American Express and L'Oreal. I had success-- reaching goals, winning awards and earning promotions. But I was never satisfied. There had to be "more." And along the way, my colleagues told me: "For you, there has to be more." And finally I started asking myself: "What do you want to be now that you're a grown up?"
In the meantime, from the mid-1990's, I had lofty fantasies of starting my own business. I wanted to open a "think tank" cafe, where I envisioned thick-black-rimmed-glasses-wearing-people sipping lattes over the latest Mac and discussing incubating ideas. Then, I wanted to manufacture chic tablecloths because I love to entertain and could never find something young, hip and sophisticated with which to dress my table.
I also read every issue of FastCompany and, for a while, kept the old issues until my small New York City apartment refused to cooperate with storage. I was bedazzled by modern job titles like: "Chairman of Fun" and "Chief Innovation Officer." I was intrigued by new media gurus like Seth Godin and was determined to give "Permission" to my consumers. I ate revolutionary marketing books for Sunday brunch and studied the people who were part of creating this new century of marketing, technology and new media.
I read books about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. At work, I was passionate about creating spectacular things from nothing at all. I wanted to be Built to Last.
Now that I am not quite 40, I have a new career: I solve people's problems. I seek out the spotlight. I'm a writer. I'm a marketer. I study best-practices. I connect with my gurus. And I have a plan. Seems I "always" had it. I am an Entrepreneur. Since you asked.
Sunday, April 13, 2008