I think a lot about how I became an entrepreneur. I didn’t create a small business in high school. I don’t believe I ever ran a lemonade stand. And I’m sure I didn’t consciously decide to become an entrepreneur. Nonetheless an entrepreneur I am. And the toughest part of my job is the risk factor. It touches every conceivable area of an organization and I have gotten insanely good at tolerating and managing risk.
My knack for risk started a long time ago. It began around the time I became conscious of “other”. I recently learned that this happens around age 5 or 6. That is when I knew something was different. I understood that my brother was not like other brothers. I later labeled this “developmentally disabled”. I came up with my own label because no doctor back in the 70’s could explain what was up with my brother.
Stacy is stuck. Developmentally he moves between the ages of 8 and 14. He can read, but he doesn’t comprehend much. He can drive anything with 4 wheels, but he can’t navigate a map. He can fill out a credit card application, but he can’t understand that he has to pay for what he charges. He is the most egocentric being I have ever known. Living with Stacy has always been risky.
When we were kids I had piggy bank. He broke into it and stole the money on a regular basis. He loved to take things apart and he rarely put things back together correctly. This led to many near death situations for us. Bike wheels flew off mid trek. Tire swings gave out just as a little girl caught air at the very top of a swing. Etc. Life with Stacy taught me about risk.
Some stuff I learned:
1. Stacy is wired differently. The most micro slip of the genetic wand makes a whole hell of a difference. Genetics are risky.
2. Stacy (and I) survived childhood. Bad stuff happened. Be ready, be calm, just don’t be too disappointed.
3. It is really very very difficult to start a fire against a suburban evergreen tree. Stacy tried many times. It helps me to know that although bad stuff happens, it’s actually rather difficult to make seriously bad stuff happen.
4. Will, single minded focus, bordering on obsession will take you far. My brother can’t really kick a ball (poor motor skill coordination), his reading comprehension is minimal (he takes tests orally), and he believes that a gas tank measuring half full means it is empty. And yet he has a commercial drivers license. He can literally drive anything. It’s risky, he doesn’t necessarily drive in a straight line or follow a speed limit and he can’t pay his own car insurance. But to him the risk was zero. He wanted to drive. He drove.
5. Stacy can talk about himself in literally endless circles of what amounts to absolute nonsense to me. It’s quite easy to love someone you don’t like very much. It isn’t risky to love. It is risky to live with someone day to day. The mundane is riddled with peril and opportunity.
I need all of these lessons to be an entrepreneur. Collectively the smallest decisions can ruin a business, bad stuff happens regularly, seriously bad stuff doesn’t happen regularly, conscious design is the most powerful and risky leadership tool I’ll ever have, and it is okay to dislike some aspects of one’s organization but you can’t skip the easy part – you have to love it. And when you stop loving it, the risk goes up exponentially.
Stacy is currently on what I call a bad run. He co-signed a significant loan for his girlfriend, he opened up at least 6 new credit card accounts and he has allowed a total stranger to move into his home. He has managed to put himself at risk in just about every area of his life in less time than it takes to write a business plan. And the lesson today? Risk is relative, personal and managed well can produce great reward (love, cool new gadgets, new friends who take care of your animals while your away). Being an entrepreneur is low risk. Being a sister, well that is one of life’s ultimate risks.