What do you want to be when you grow up?
We have asked and been asked this question since we were old enough to play dress up, so it’s telling how many of adults still don’t know the answer. Being happy, being of service, and being successful are somewhat abstract benchmarks for most, but how to get from here to there can be just as illusive.
My entire life, I’ve had the same three criteria for success:
- Make a lot of money
- Be my own boss
The way that I wanted to accomplish this has changed- from wanting to be a pediatrician as a child, to a psychologist as a teen, to a lawyer during college, to a foreign correspondent after college. But one part of the plan remained constant- after putting in the requisite number of years working for others and building my professional reputation, I wanted to own my own practice, as it were, or business. Why? Because success to me was the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. Or, more simply put, because no one is the boss of me.
Entrepreneurship, though, isn’t just a thing that you do in one specific way. I knew what it would take to become a doctor (school, school and more school), or a lawyer. You had to graduate from college, attend a specialized school to learn the craft, practice to perfect it, and take an exam that grants you permission to do it. Each step of the way, there was someone signing off on you, saying that you were ready to advance to the next step. If you didn’t succeed at one part, you didn’t make it to the next. Even after you became a professional, you could measure how well you were doing by how quickly you advanced from intern to chief. I think this process helps instill a certain degree of confidence in those going through the process, as well as in those on the receiving end of the expertise.
There is no blueprint for entrepreneurship. No amount of education or degree required, no governing body to say that you are doing it correctly- or well- and no directed path along the way to success. You create your own business and set your own metrics for success. That is equal parts frightening and exciting. Along the way, you realize that working for yourself is harder than working for someone else. And maybe having a boss of you is less difficult than being the boss of someone else. Maybe.
I still want to own my own business. Growing up has included figuring out how to do that.
So, what do I want to be when I grow up? That’s easy – a successful entrepreneur. Perhaps a better question would be, how do you know when you’ve grown up? Luckily for entrepreneurs, you don’t need to have either figured out in order to be successful.