The Entrepreneur’s Path Is Rarely Straightforward

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RoadI had never heard the word “entrepreneur ” until I went to college in California in the ’80s. As a kid, I wanted a career in international business because I spoke French and thought jobs in finance sounded cool (my father and both grandfathers were commercial bankers). The only other career I seriously considered was being an ambassador or diplomat, which also seemed like a natural way to leverage my interests in foreign language, culture, and international travel. It’s funny how life turns out, as John Lennon said, “while you’re busy making other plans.”

I recently decided to create more white space on my calendar for creativity, innovation, and fun, so I’ve had more time to think and connect the dots in interesting ways than I did before. I realized that I’ve actually achieved the very things I set out to accomplish professionally in my youth – just not on the path I’d envisioned. For me, a career in international business originally meant running a global Fortune 500 company; my diplomat dreams meant joining the State Department.

Well, it turns out the firm I started is a bit like a mini United Nations, staffed by experts from Europe, East Asia, South America, the Middle East, Africa, and North America. The role I play in my day job, as well as in other professional situations, is very ambassadorial. I often need to use my diplomacy skills to get things done. I even get to use my French and Italian language skills sometimes. So, my early instincts weren’t that far off the mark after all. I took a circuitous path to get here, but I believe I eventually landed in the right spot.

When you look at a situation or opportunity at the macro level, you can sometimes see patterns that aren’t obvious when you’re in the thick of your day-to-day life. I find I’m most effective in managing my business when I’m able to break out of my regular routines and patterns. When you start understanding that time really is a precious commodity and resource, it helps you focus and prioritize so you can manage your days to their fullest potential.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” So give the gift of your time throughout the year to people who recognize and appreciate what you have to offer. It can be your friendship, companionship, a special talent, or a skill. And make sure to treat yourself to some time to reflect, too.

ShoesI guess I still don’t know exactly what I want to be or do when I grow up, but I do know who I like spending time with, learning from, and talking to, and I’ve come to realize the “who” is a lot more important than the “what.” When you get the people right, the things that follow will always be interesting.

So whether you think of yourself as an entrepreneur, business owner, chef, coach, salesperson, consultant, or inventor, make sure how you spend your time plays to your strengths and preferences. Surround yourself with people who complement your skills and are fun to be with on a regular basis. The hidden researcher or inner celebrity in you may find ways to come out after all.

I may not be responsible for creating world peace at the macro level, but it sure is fun and interesting to pull together global teams of experts to solve complex problems at the micro level. Just remember the old saying: If you think you’re too small to have any impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.

By Paige Arnof-Fenn