For 35 years, I’ve been my own boss. Recently, I reflected on how I got started. My dad taught me the foundations of entrepreneurship: hard work, character, and resourcefulness. As a union construction worker, he woke at 4 a.m. every day and headed for New York City to brave the elements outside. Whether it was a bitterly cold winter morning or a stiflingly hot summer afternoon, he showed up no matter what. No excuses.
He often got laid off when the New York economy was bad. But responsible for feeding a family of five, he always found a way through, taking any available jobs to provide for his family. Observing this emotional toil crystallized something for me: I couldn't leave my fate in someone else's hands and live someone else's dream.
So, for the last 35 years, I've called the shots at my own landscape company. It hasn’t all been rosy: lots of ups and downs with many small, annoying problems. But I wouldn't trade being an entrepreneur for anything else. Here's why:
One: It builds character. You decide your destiny. If you fail, it's your fault. So, you toughen up quickly. You're the leader of your family. You learn to act like the general and never show panic, no matter how bad the finances get. Your family and employees need a calm captain to guide the ship.
Two: You'll do whatever it takes to provide for your family, even in lean times. When 2008 hit, I couldn’t even sell a flower to a client. People weren’t paying for landscaping, my house was in foreclosure, and my car got repossessed in the middle of the night. I owed Amex $80,000. Even my electricity got cut. But I never gave up. I refused to lose my house where my family was living. So, I cashed bags of coins at the grocery store to buy food. I even went to work for someone else for a year to keep the lights on. It took seven years, but I paid off all of my debt and brought the company back to affluence.
Three: You have freedom. I have two sons and attend all of their sports games. I don't need to ask permission to clock out early. My time doesn't get hijacked by pointless meetings. I have the freedom to attend any event I want, even if I have to work seven days a week to catch up.
Four: Obviously, you’re the boss. Luckily, this responsibility is congruent with my personality. This life isn't for everyone. Maybe you need the certainty of a steady paycheck—there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But I have the personality of a wild stallion. I can't be caged within the parameters of a job description. I can't clock in at 9 and pretend to be someone else until 5. It's not even about the money. It's about the hunt, the hustle, and the love of the sport—resolving big problems and closing monster deals. For me, nothing else tests my potential as much.
In summary, it seems like everyone loves to use the phrase, "I'm an entrepreneur." I suggest getting a "real job"—manual labor, not deskwork—for at least one year to prepare you for the battles ahead. On my first job as a laborer, I would say, "This sucks" every day while carrying lumber and concrete in the freezing cold, desert heat, gale force winds, or hard rain. But these experiences chiseled in me a foundation of resilience to withstand the pressure cooker of business.