Studies show that the way we are brought up and the environment we live in can have an impact on how we live our lives as adults and how we function as entrepreneurs This can manifest in many ways, from how we bring up our own children, to how well we do in education, and to how outgoing we are.
What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?
The life of an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain type of person to succeed in the world of business. Typically, entrepreneurs are distinguished by traits including self-discipline, problem-solving, clear direction, and persistence.
There are also common shortcomings that come with being an entrepreneur, including fear of failure and/or fear of success, limiting beliefs, overwhelm, and a tendency to strive for perfection. How we develop and learn these traits through our experiences affect the type of entrepreneur we become.
What we learn from our parents and early experiences may contribute to our success
There are many studies that indicate a correlation between success and what we were exposed to as children. For example, research conducted by Harvard University, which surveyed 50,000 adults in 24 developing countries, found that girls with mother’s who worked earned 23% more than women who were raised by stay at home mothers and were more likely to be in leadership roles.
The value of role models in our success
This could be largely attributed to role modelling. It’s well known in the field of psychology that we are extremely influenced by our role models. Children learn by imitation, and our main role models as children are generally our parents. The most famous example to demonstrate this is the work of Bandura and his bobo dolls.
Child participants in his studies were either exposed to an adult behaving aggressively towards a bobo doll, or an adult playing quietly alone. Those that watched the adult act aggressively were more likely to imitate that behaviour when left alone in a room with a selection of aggressive and non-aggressive toys, than those who did not witness any violence. This famous study has led the groundwork for many other studies since, that show the relationship between our behaviour and that of our role models.
So, if we know that children learn through imitation, what effect can our parents have on us when it comes to our practices as an entrepreneur?
Parents with high expectations and perfectionism
Using data from a national survey of 6,600 children born in 2001, Professor Neal Halfon of the University of California, Los Angeles, discovered that the expectations parents hold for their children can have a profound effect on their achievement. Those with goals for their children to attend college steered them in that direction. Results showed that of the children who did poorly, only 57% were expected to attend college by their parents, and of the children who did well, 97% were expected to go to college. This falls in line with another psychological finding- The Pygmalion effect, which states that what people expect of us can become our self-fulfilling prophecy.
Can having high expectations also have a negative effect on our entrepreneurial abilities?
Those of us with pushy parents can become perfectionists who are afraid to do anything wrong. This can have an effect on our risk-taking ability. Typically, entrepreneurs are risk-takers and learn through experience and challenges. Whilst parents who tirelessly push their children to achieve a goal can be motivating and encouraging, it could also have a detrimental effect in allowing children to make decisions and learn from mistakes. This can serve to instil a fear of failure, and as a result, produce adults who are risk-averse and attach a huge amount of negative emotion to failure.
Lack of support to explore and problem-solving
There is recent recognition that rather than directing children, we should be encouraging them to problem-solve. A child that is able to solve problems on their own becomes a more confident adult who is less likely to feel frustrated and disheartened when things don’t go right. Problems allow opportunities for us to look at things in a different light and evoke lateral thinking. Someone with excellent problem-solving skills is less likely to shy away from situations that prove difficult.
Entrepreneurship is all about problem-solving and those people with parents who took a step back and allowed them to learn from their own experiences first will have developed problem-solving skills beyond those who had their problems solved for them. A successful entrepreneur is so because he/she has identified a problem and found a solution. Therefore, these experiences as a child helped shape these skills as adults. Goldstein, owner of By Kids For Kids (a business aiding children to start businesses) states: “The win is getting a kid to become a problem-solver, so they can always survive and thrive in the world.”
It’s not just about success
Entrepreneurship isn’t all about being ‘successful’ in the traditional sense. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs dropped out of school and came from less than privileged backgrounds, so while it may be true that we model behaviour, and having parents who work hard and have high expectations can be an advantage, it is not the only way that our childhood can rear an entrepreneur.
Take, for example, some great billionaire entrepreneurs of our time: Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Alan Sugar. None of these had the kind of upbringing where they had successful parents to model. Coming from disadvantaged, poor, even abusive backgrounds, these people have somehow thrived and become some of the most well-known names in the world of business.
How did they achieve this with so little to guide them and so much to dispel them?
Childhood hardship and durability and resilience
A less than desirable upbringing also serves to build durability and resilience, which are all traits of great entrepreneurs. An important part of entrepreneurship is learning about failure and not fearing it. Someone who has been through a difficult childhood may seem less phased by what others may find scary. When you’ve seen the absolute worst, taking chances and facing fears can seem less daunting given the alternative.
Entrepreneurs who fit into this category tend to be hugely resourceful, because all through their lives, they have had to be. They are proof that success in business is often more about an ability to be resourceful, rather than having lots of resources.
How can we be better entrepreneurs
Given what we know about what we learn from our parents, we are in a great position to work on our own entrepreneurial mindset by focusing on these qualities going forward. An entrepreneurial mindset is about seeing challenges as opportunities and approaching them with confidence and innovation. In order to do this, we can focus on the following:
Self-confidence – We know that excellent role models give encouragement and empathy. Being an entrepreneur is all about finding our own way to develop and grow, through trial and error and problem-solving. As adults, we can make sure we put ourselves around people that inspire and encourage us. We become the sum of the five people we spend the most time with, so it’s very important to make sure these people help us develop and support us and also provide us with qualities to aspire to.
Resilience – We shouldn’t set ourselves up to fail but we shouldn’t be afraid of it either, and we certainly shouldn’t feel bad if things don’t go as planned. As adults, we are often quick to put ourselves down when things go wrong and self-punish rather than seeing a perceived failure as a chance to grow. If we got everything right the first time, we would never have the opportunity to improve.
Critical thinking – This is a necessary skill for all entrepreneurs. We can learn a lot from ensuring we are asking ourselves helpful questions that allow for creative thought and innovation. Think of the times that things haven’t gone as planned, was it because you were asking yourself the wrong questions?
Goal setting – An entrepreneur knows that what gets measured gets done. Whilst critical thinking and evaluation are good, there comes a time when we need to take action and ensuring we have set proper goals, which will motivate us, not deter us are the start of our success.
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