Entrepreneur is one of those sexy buzzwords. Mark Cuban embraces it, Richard Branson lives it, and individuals all over the globe struggle every day put their own unique stamp on the world.
Being an entrepreneur is both exhilarating and sometimes, depressing. It can often lead a lonely, isolating state of mind where you have to discipline yourself to plow through the lean years while seeing little or no return. Now that I am an adult, I find it easy to self-discipline because it’s what I learned to do at a young age.
The circumstances you once find as a setback ultimately become delayed blessings.
Before the age of Shark Tank, incubators and accelerators, most of us learned about life at the kitchen table – that is, if we were lucky enough to have a supportive family who ate dinner together and communicated frequently. As divorce rates increase, the nuclear family becomes less familiar. Coming from a single-parent household (my brother and I still saw our Dad every other weekend, which will come into the story later), I now see my upbringing as a latchkey as a real blessing.
My parents were actually divorced four years before they had me. Their on and off again shenanigans led them to having me, born eight years after my brother – so growing up I only knew the split-family system. My brother and I stayed with my mom during the week, and every other weekend our dad would have us. We did fun stuff with our Dad like attending sporting events, climbing trees and going to the movies, but the real observations and takeaways came from an unlikely place, AA meetings.
My Dad entered the program in April of 1985 and to this day remains sober by the grace of God. I remember whenever he walked into an AA meeting, people lit up as they approached him. Even if he had a rough day at work, as Ironworker, he always felt at home at these meetings. Though I was only a child, I remember each meeting. One particularly strong memory was alway hearing ‘The Lead’, which was the featured speaker of the evening who shared his or her story about alcoholism, hitting rock bottom and how AA had come into their lives. Years later, I would stumble into stand-up comedy (literally stumble, the first year of stand-up is excruciating for just about any comedian). As I look back now, it’s apparent that my first introduction to public speaking was going to these AA meetings. AA meetings in the late 1980’s were funny because in my mind every guy in the room looked like Bob Seger (bushy bears, gravely voices and some flannel pattern) and what did men and women do when they stopped drinking? They started smoking! Addictive personalities I guess.
On the weekdays with my mom I would go to school, ride bikes with friends or spend hours playing with my action figures or reading (dabbled in video games a little, but my action figures and books became my closest friends). My mom was beat when she came home and I couldn’t blame her, she was working full-time and providing for two boys; I need a nap right now just thinking about it. She did the best she could providing for us and keeping us in a good school system. After work she would make dinner and then shortly retire to the couch. With my brother being eight years older, I was often challenged to entertain myself. And that’s what I did.
I would fly through books (mostly sports and music biographies) or play with my action figures and create stories with antagonists and protagonists and get lost in them for hours. I entertained myself, and my own company was just fine.
In 2007, I started doing stand-up at the request of a supervisor who told me I was an inadequate intern, but possessed some comedic talent (a back-handed compliment that changed my life forever). Stand-up led me to Laugh Staff (located in Cleveland, Ohio, home to yours truly, premier website designers, Go Media), where I and a partner manage 13 comedians from around the country to help best men and maids of honor write heartfelt and hilarious wedding toasts. No, really we do!
Comedy in itself has been extremely rewarding and challenging, but now being 32 years old I see the seed was planted when I was young. Creating the stories with my action figures would later translate to creating a stand-up set with storytelling and tension. Going to those AA meetings, and seeing my Dad talk to people with enthusiasm and respect was tremendous training for my professional career. Most people seek out MBA’s to further their career, but I like to think I got my MBA from Mom and Dad and the experiences I was lucky enough to be exposed to.
In the startup world there will always be challenges to overcome, but if you can take a few seconds and realize your weaknesses as strengths, you’ll better for it.
Writing and performing stand-up is a great thrill and writing speeches for others is just as fulfilling. My company Laugh Staff has had a slow but steady rise and I really don’t think I could have stuck with it unless I had the past experience to draw from.
I’m glad my parents got divorced. They gave me the best of both worlds (cue Van Halen).