Originally published October 30, 2017 with Restoration & Remediation (R&R) Magazine as a guest feature for November National Entreprenuer Month.
I enjoy finding inspiration from obscure places. I believe this coincides with the aspects of the entrepreneurial spirit that I identify with - going against conventions, disrupting the status quo and carving out a segment of the market that appreciates the value you bring to the table. When I think about what it means to be an entrepreneur, I think of the movie Pee Wee's Big Adventure, where the grey suited, red bow tied and awkwardly cackling main character asks a gritty question that all persons engaged in life as well as business should be asking themselves every day.
Before we reveal the question, some of you may already know, but I'd wage good money to bet it wouldn't be many, let's do the storyteller's work and set the stage. In the Big Adventure movie, Pee Wee Herman has lost his most prized possession, his unique bike. This great loss causes him to launch a journey in search of his treasure, of which he suspects his nemesis Francis stole from him out of jealously (can we draw some allegories in this to market competition?).
Some people help Pee Wee on his journey, many of whom are unexpected allies while many of his friends fail to empathize with his loss or provide any constructive input. Many of those close to him don't see it while those whom he meets along the way offer insight and encouragements (again, do any entrepreneurs see any correlations here?). Mid way through the film, Pee Wee is particularly down in spirit as he has learned the Alamo does not have a basement. Why did he think it had a basement? He consulted an industry professional who was not a practitioner in his field (a bit of a dig there, did you catch it?). Mr. Herman hires a consultant, a fortune teller, who sounded wise but gave straw advice for an exorbitant fee (dig after dig).
Pee Wee thinks he is doing the right thing, he consults his friends, he seeks professional advice and sets out heedlessly on a journey to acquire the one thing he values more than anything. He craves success in his pursuit. Since you mentioned success, we will interject a not-so-shameless plug for an article previously published with R&R on the subject of success.
We are at the point in the story where our main character is distraught. Pee Wee is sad and feeling hopeless. He has taken a job washing dishes in a dive restaurant to finance his debts (how many of you have had to hold second jobs to pay for your dreams and/or failures?). To cheer him up, his new friend Simone takes him to up to a movie viewing area in the head of a dinosaur statue. Simone shares her dreams of traveling the world and Pee Wee drops his insightful line [this is the big reveal], "Everyone I know has a big but. Come on Simone, let's talk about your big but."
Pee Wee & Simone - Video clip: https://youtu.be/0yfJQUoxN3U
What's Your Big But?
Isn't this what separates the doers from the dreamers? Everyone has a dream and they have a "big but" that keeps them from venturing out to pursue that vision. For Simone, it's a lumberjack of a man named Andy, her boyfriend, who is holding her back and soon enters the scene to threaten Pee Wee's life. There is no super gene, no special training or magic pill that makes an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is one who has identified a dream, a vision and/or a journey that they wish to pursue. An entrepreneur has faced the opposition from within; the concerns of those who care for them as well as the assault from those who oppose them, and continues to move forward (even if it's an inch at a time).
The question is not whether there is risk of failure but whether you will be nimble enough to navigate the multiple failures that arise as you chase your dreams.
The question is not whether you are the best able, most qualified, or expert enough to launch out upon your path, but whether you are willing to work you ass off, always be learning and remain true to your values as you meet the obstacles between you and the end of your road.
Entrepreneurs are everywhere. While this term has become synonymous with those who start their own business, the true definition is one who organizes and/or operates with an aversion to risk that hinders most (paraphrase). I have found in my experience it isn't as much the risk of failure itself, but the fear of the risk of failure, or atychiphobia, that holds most back from having the faith in themselves to grab life by the horns and enjoy the tumultuous ride.
Embrace the Opportunity
In that head of the dinosaur, Pee Wee is encouraged by his new friend and their discussion also inspires Simone to buy a bus ticket the next day, taking the first step to pursue her dreams. Pee Wee, on the other hand, is chased down by her former boyfriend Andy. In the moment of the chase, he is scrambling from certain death, but that run leads him to his next opportunity, effectively jolting him from his depression and back onto his own journey (can any entrepreneurs shout out an amen here?).
I shared some thoughts previously in another publication on the entrepreneurial lessons we can learn from the journey of Noah, being fueled by vision to endure opposition as well as obstacles. I bring this up because Noah faced opposition, Pee Wee faced set backs, and you understand that life isn’t about getting over one hurdle and then it’s over but rather continuing to rise over hurdle after hurdle. We work hard. We are always learning. When we can work hard and learn hard we should be able to glean from others some means that help us to adapt our approach.
There are many who say, “I would do this-or-that, but…” and fail to launch. Even those who have set out on their journey hit points where they hesitate to take the next step, “I would move forward with this-or-that, but…” and stall momentum through analysis paralysis. There are also those in a position of leadership who are faced with daily decisions based upon their core values, “I would do this-or-that, but…” and they allow fear to prevent them from action.
Entrepreneurs often see opportunities that others don't and take risks others are not willing to take but that doesn't mean they don't need quality input in their lives. Whether it's a stalwart of faith in action like Noah, a goofball like Pee Wee Herman or simply having coffee with a respected peer, you need people in your life who ask you from time to time, “What about your big but?”
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Pursuing your dreams starts with setting yourself up for success - video on preparation
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Jon Isaacson has a monthly feature column with Restoration & Remediation (R&R) Magazine titled The Intentional Restorer