When I was growing up, society didn’t glorify rock-star business leaders as we do now. We didn’t have Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos to look up to. Sergey Brin and Larry Page hadn’t built Google yet.
But I had my father.
To be completely fair, we’re not billionaires. We haven’t even come close to that level of success. We lived a relatively normal middle-class life.
But for as long as I can remember, I’ve watched my dad ride the entrepreneurial rollercoaster. I’ve seen him start businesses, hustle, succeed, and fail, and the most important lesson he ever taught me is the biggest reason I’m still an entrepreneur.
Let me start at the beginning.
My dad is an immigrant.
Like others who emigrated to the US, my dad left his home country, England, to chase opportunities and a dream. His is the classic immigrant story and he believed in the American dream. He still does.
Every day I watched my dad get up and work hard, no matter the circumstances. I saw him push through struggles and hustle, day in and day out.
While I watched, he started and built a commercial real estate company, where he achieved success, for several years reaching $1M gross revenue. Ultimately, the partners decided to go their own way but it showed me building your own business was a possibility.
Later, as a teenager I watched as he changed his career to investment banking, moving from one exciting but occasionally failed business to another. He regaled me with stories of bad blood or greed between founders. On occasion, I was able to help, in my small way.
From the sidelines, I learned that the idea is only the spark, and the wrong people (investors, partners, employees) can spell death for even the greatest idea or business model.
At one point he was at the forefront of “voice over internet protocol” before Skype was off the ground–before broadband was good enough to completely support it. From that experience, I learned it’s entirely possible to be right, but too early. Even with a modest exit, the business was a fraction of what Skype proved it could be years later.
For about 2 years he drove 400 miles each way, week after week, to work with a promising company only to have a founder disagreement drive the company into the ground and ultimately to failure.
Twice he watched companies founded around extremely innovative, industry-changing inventions end by either closing up shop because of either internal politics or lack of sales, or be acquired too early for a truly life-changing exit.
A sane person can only withstand that rollercoaster for so long, and in my 20’s my Dad wanted off that crazy ride. I watched as my Dad left investment banking to go back to what he knew and was good at: commercial real estate, this time with a national brokerage company. For several years properties were selling and life was great.
Then the great recession of ’08 hit.
For two painful years, he couldn’t close a single commercial property transaction (impossible to do when your customers’ source of funding dries up, as it did when Lehman Brothers failed).
Every single, difficult day I watched my dad get up, work hard, and hustle.
Success comes from hustle, at least in part. It’s a factor in the equation for any entrepreneur. Hustle is a given. There’s no path to success without hard work, without hustle.
But there is something even more important to success than hustle.
In any business, there will difficult days, tough breaks, sacrifices, and frustrating people. Those days the hustle is hard. Some of those days just make you want to pack it all in.
Anyone can hustle for short sprints, especially on the easy days. But reaching success means hard work on the easy days and the difficult days, sometimes slogging through the mud knowing the prize that awaits at the finish line isn’t a guarantee.
Success is a marathon, not a sprint, which means you need to have resilience.
Resilience means pushing through the adversity. It means slogging through the mud, pushing every day to the finish line. It means always being able to find the strength to move forward, no matter what the journey throws at you.
It’s the resilient who reach success. If you read any successful founder’s journey, you’ll find a common thread of adversity, difficulty, tough lessons, and frustrations.
Watching my dad push through hard times, failed businesses, brutal commutes, and a crippling recession taught me an important lesson about resilience: always keep moving. Always. There will be struggle, and it won’t be easy. Get up every day and hustle, no matter the circumstances. Be resilient. Never ever give up. And if something’s not working, change it.
As the saying broadly attributed to Winston Churchill goes, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
I’m a better man, entrepreneur, and husband because of my father. He role modeled resilience to an impressionable kid who grew up to be a resilient entrepreneur who now refuses to give up. He raised a man who is determined to work through the hard days and learn what it takes to succeed.
He didn’t know he was training me for my future, but he does now. If I’m lucky enough to have kids, I hope I can be even a fraction of the example my Dad was for me.
Hi Dad, and thanks for all the lessons.
Happy Father’s Day.
Originally published on my blog at http://charlesforster.com/the-key-entrepreneurial-trait-my-dad-unknowingly-taught-me/