In honor of Fathers’ Day yesterday I’m sharing a personal story which I’m incredibly proud of, as well as continuously inspired by.
Often I hear people say that by your late 40’s to early 50’s a professional has hit their zenith, their peak, pinnacle, apex, summit - if you will, in their career. Late 40’s? How can that be? At that age you’re only half way to retirement. What’s to become of the next 20 years?
I like to think that statistics like ‘hitting your peak in your late 40s’ is nothing other than just a data point. We only make it relevant if we live up to it.
Imagine this - at the age of 51, could you completely reinventing yourself professionally? Not because you have to but because you want too.
I know someone who did just this and it happens to be my father, Steve Smith.
After a tenured and very successful career in consumer products, “condoms to caskets” our family used to say, my father hit a pivotal point in his career. He had just exited a senior leadership position with a large multi-billion dollar company in 2008 and found himself in a predicament. He was looking for his next career step at the age of 51 and at the same time the economy was starting to come crashing down.
Needless to say it was a tough time back then. The uncertainty in this country was thicker than pea soup. We didn’t know which way was up or if the recent paycheck we received would be our last. As companies were closing down left and right someone I know took a bold stand and decided to open up a company.
Looking back at this point in my life I didn’t appreciate or quite frankly understand that moment in my fathers’ life. How he felt, the challenge of reinventing oneself, the stress of having a family to care for, etc. I just knew he was tough as nails, he’s always been a superhero in my eyes, and would figure it out. Worried, I was not.
And figure it out he did.
In the middle of the largest economic downturn of our lives my father chose to become an entrepreneur starting a business in executive and small business coaching. He vowed never to return to corporate America to work for another man/woman as this time he was working towards his own dreams under his own rules.
At the ripe and spry age of 51 he became an entrepreneur. He hustled; he got out and met with people 3-4 times a day. He shook hands and kissed babies, maybe not so much on the baby side but I’m telling you he worked hard. He outworked even me, someone at the time half his age. His determination and mindset was flawless, at least it was from the outside. What’s just as impressive is that our family, mainly my sister and I, never saw him sweat. He was starting a business from scratch, something he had not done before and was doing it with the poise of a statesman.
It didn’t come easy but sure enough my fathers’ business eventually started to grow. He leveraged relationships, made new ones, offered a niche service and delivered impeccable results. He kept his word and delivered the goods. Nothing in life comes easy or quick for that matter and my fathers’ story is no different.
Fast forward, both my sister and I are entrepreneurs who have started our own businesses from scratch following in our fathers’ footsteps. I must give my father credit because he showed our family that you can be successful and start a business from scratch, it just takes time, effort and the mindset to see it through. As a result I was encouraged to follow my own dream, just like my father did.
I’ve learned a lot from my father and the experience he went through some 10 years ago. I’ve learned that age is just a number. Your mindset is what will carry you through. I’ve also learned the importance of having a support system to help you along the way. That credit goes entirely to my mother who stuck by him and continues to do so today. Lastly, I learned that taking risks in life is important. If we constantly live saying ‘what if’ we run the chance of missing out on a lot of rewarding experiences. If we are going to make a bold step in life the best way to go about that is by giving all of ourselves to it. That’s a choice, one we can exercise freely.
Today my father, Steve Smith, runs a successful executive and small business coaching company. I see firsthand what he does for his clients and am continually amazed at what he’s doing to inspire, impact and develop other people not just professionally but also personally. As if that wasn’t enough he’s having fun doing it as he lives the American dream.
Honored. Humbled. Appreciated. Dad.
I had always wanted to start a business!
For years I tried my hand at inventing stuff, products that I thought would get me rich, if I could only sell a few million of them. First it was a gaming chair, then workout towels and even a handheld flashlight projector. I laugh looking back on those days while in college and the years shortly thereafter at some of the absurd things I did to try and be entrepreneur.
What I would eventually find out are those ideas didn’t work out not because they were bad ideas necessarily but because I was following the wrong dream.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I would find my way, diving head first into entrepreneurship. Thankfully I had a lot of help from many close people around me (wife, parents, friends) who all were incredibly supportive, as without them I’m not sure I would be here today.
With the first year of entrepreneurship under the belt I’m continually amazed at how much I’ve learned and how much I continue to learn about being an entrepreneur and business in general. These are the eight experiences I’ve had which made the biggest impact being an entrepreneur:
1.Get A Mentor
This is the single second best decision you’ll ever make in business. The first best decision is to become an entrepreneur. Mentors have experience which you can learn from helping you avoid mistakes along the way.
2.Support Gets You Over The Hump
Make sure those close to you understand your vision and support it. They don’t have to buy in 100% but if it’s you against the world there are going to be some very long nights in store. If you are married it’s vital your spouse understands the opportunity and supports it, even in the down times.
3.Some Things CAN Wait
Some people will tell you it’s important to write a business plan, vision, mission, blah blah blah, right away. Unless you’re in a situation where you need to ask for capital to start the business the best thing to do is put those things aside and focus all your efforts on how to make money. Ultimately being an entrepreneur means you’re selling something to someone so the more time you spend on how you’re going to gett paid for the product or service you’re providing the better off you’ll be.
4.You Can’t Be Everything To Everyone
I failed miserably here. When I did start to get customers I tried to offer everything under the sun to get their business. Now, I never over promised and under delivered, however I spent an exorbitant amount of time in areas that weren’t lucrative or didn’t align ultimately with what the companies direction was.
5.Having A Plan-B Is Dangerous
I’ve read countless articles about “the power of having a ‘plan-B’ ” or an alternative course of direction. I hate that advice. As an entrepreneur if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and have a plan-B set up in case you fail you’re almost destined to set yourself up for disappointment. I’m not saying it’s not important plan ahead for bumps in the road but if you’re going to start a business that should be your one and only focus. Anything other than a mentality of success has no place in your new direction. Visualize to materialize.
The first several months I attempted to handle all the accounting and finance portions of the business only to realize two things: 1 – I’m not good at it nor do I like it; 2 – I created more problems than I remedied. Best advice I got was to pay the money to get a good CPA that understood our business and could help us scale it up by making good decisions. Best money I’ve ever spent was on our CPA.
7.The Power Of Saying ‘No’
Crucial to your success as an entrepreneur is the ability to politely and professionally say ‘no’. Similar to ‘you can’t be everything to everyone’ saying ‘no’ is harder than it sounds. Naturally you want to say yes to everyone, making everyone around you happy, especially if it’s a customer. Unfortunately when we do this we get pulled in a hundred directions which causes us to deviate from our destined course. If you are asked to do something and it doesn’t align with your top 2 or 3 priorities politely decline and thank the person for the opportunity to be considered.
8.Breathe, It’ll Be Okay
Very few things in life actually have the ability to stop you from moving forward in your new business. When bumps in the road momentarily derail you (you will experience plenty of bumps along the way) take a deep breath and be thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a professional. Stephen Covey put it best when he gave us the 90/10 principle:
“10% of life is made up of what happens to you, 90% of life is decided by how you react.” – Stephen Covey
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.