Updated on 02.15.12

Jobs and the Entrepreneur Mindset

Trent Hamm

I was digging through some old bookmarks recently when I came across this post from Afford Anything on the entrepreneur mindset. I’m going to quote a bit from the middle of the post where she’s discussing a guy who wants a job laid out for him on a silver platter, but the whole thing is worth a read.

There’s nothing wrong with having a job. The problem is conceptualizing yourself as “stuck delivering pizzas” when no one else creates a job for you.

Having an “employee mindset” is different than being an employee. Loads of employees have entrepreneurial mentalities — and that’s precisely what makes them such great workers. They understand their bosses’ perspective.

They’re also happier at work. Their job satisfaction comes from their confidence that if they got laid off tomorrow, they could fend for themselves.

But this guy isn’t confident. He’s insecure — that’s why he wants job security so badly. He doesn’t believe in himself. He wants other people — smarter, richer, and probably better-looking people — to create a job and bestow it upon him.

You disempower yourself when you believe that someone else must create your job.

The author of this post makes the solution to career problems seem obvious. Just make your own career and you’ll be fine.

I’ll be honest. I do understand where she’s coming from. What she’s describing is almost exactly what I did in creating The Simple Dollar. I more or less created a job for myself.

I could write a lot about the skills I utilized building The Simple Dollar – the ability to manage time, the ability to draft posts quickly, and so on – but there was one simple factor that trumped all the rest of them. I wanted to do this for myself. I had an innate desire to want to build things. I also had help from a lot of people to make it happen, particularly my wife.

It’s something that almost every entrepreneurial person I’ve ever met has as a basic trait. They want to build things for themselves.

The problem is that this is not an innate human trait, and it’s not a bad thing not to have the trait.

I can use my parents as a perfect example of this.

My father has that inherent “builder” trait. He can’t sit still. He’s constantly wanting to build things. His idea of retirement is to run a bunch of small side businesses and build up his incredibly broad social network. He does these things on his own because he’s driven to build things. When he was employed by others, he took such control of the task at hand (and other related tasks) that his managers just left him alone to do his thing in his own way.

My mother doesn’t have this trait. She’s happiest when someone wants her to help them do something. Whenever I call her up and ask her for help with something, she’s ecstatic. She’s constantly offering assistance to the people in her life with whatever they need. It was through her efforts that pretty much all of my grandparents were able to live independently for as long as they did, and she’s pretty much the “go-to” person for help on almost anything you might need. She doesn’t have the inherent desire to build like my father does, but she’s incredibly valuable because of her willingness and passion for finding ways to help others.

They make a wonderful match for each other. My mother often makes my father’s wild tangents work because she’s there to help, and they both feel fulfilled and happy.

The thing is, without my mother, many of my father’s plans would fall apart (I’ve seen this at times). Without my father’s plans and energy, my mother would be rather directionless (I’ve seen this at times, too).

The author above who wrote about “the entrepreneur mindset” makes the assumption that everyone is like my father. Clearly, she is, and in many ways I am, but there are a lot of people out there whose skills revolve around being detail-oriented and handling specific tasks with competence and skill.

As I was writing this post, I showed the section above about my parents to several people and asked them who they identified with. I got back a mix of responses, which is exactly what I expected. Some people are wired to build and lead, and others are wired to help and execute.

Still, the author of the post about the entrepreneur mindset makes a great point. If you’re wired to build, you’re going to find it easier to find employment because you can make a job for yourself.

So, what do you do if you don’t have that mindset? What career advice would I give to my mother, in other words, if she were ready to start a new career?

I’d simply tell her to build a skill set that people will pay money for, preferably one that seems enjoyable to you. I immediately thought of a friend of mine who has a burgeoning career as a lab technician. This friend might not have the attributes necessary to lead a laboratory, but give him a task – particularly a technically demanding one – and he will shine. He has the skills and the focus necessary to succeed. Contrary to the quoted section above, his pleasure in his job does not come from a sense that he could just make his own job tomorrrow. It comes from knowing how to do something that others can’t (or won’t) do and knowing how to do it well.

I’d argue that the key to success for those without the entrepreneur traits is education. Why? People with the entrepreneurial mindset will always pair well with the people who have the specific skills and focus to make those plans succeed.

In the end, I keep coming back to my parents. For every crazy idea or plan that my father had, my mother was so often the perfect complement. He would never succeed without her, nor she without him.

Builders can only go so far. Eventually they need the detail-oriented person to take care of things. There’s money to be made on both sides of the equation. The first step is to know which side of the coin you’re on and making sure you’re preparing for that path.

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  1. MikeTheRed says:

    Regardless of how you’re wired (btw, I do agree that some people are builders, others are helpers, and there’s nothing wrong with that), I still think the main point of the post you quoted stands. In fact it can be translated a bit to a broader, more general statement:

    Do not depend on someone else to make you happy.

    That, and the original version about creating a job for you, is about not waiting around and hoping someone hands something to you. If you’re always dependent on external forces to provide you the job you love, the life you love etc, you’re setting yourself up for unhappiness. The World can not, and generally will not, give you something.

    You don’t have to be a builder to think this way either. I know a lot of helpers who have sought out fulfillment in life, in work etc. I think the “entrepreneur mindset” is more about taking charge of your situation, whatever it is. An Entrepreneur will *own* their work, their life. They won’t wait for someone else to make things happen for them.

  2. Izabelle says:

    This reminds me of the last mailbag, where someone’s wife was spending a good chunk of her time praying for better finances.

  3. Chad says:

    My wife is the type of person who, if she isn’t driving, doesn’t remember how to get home. It always amazes me.. we’ll drive out some place new and she’ll be completely lost. She has an amazing memory, the type that can answer most of the questions during jeopardy.. but puts herself into an autopilot mode when she isn’t driving.

    This is the problem with not taking charge of your career.. if you let others drive, you get complacent and don’t learn the things you should. Eventually when the driver (your boss) hands you the keys (fires you), you don’t know which direction to go.

    I quit my comfy, full time, management job last year to start my own company.. because I want to be the one driving. I’m very happy with my decision.

  4. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    My wife is incredibly smart and capable. She’s currently VP of marketing for a health network and she’s also very supportive of my blogging and eCommerce projects. She’s capable of coming up and executing a variety of plans, templates, projects and I frequently find myself asking her for help. However, she has no desire to run a business of her own.

    By the way, she’s very career oriented, she just doesn’t want to be CEO.

  5. Susan says:

    When I was in high school I was an excellent student; I was in the top ten of my class. To be in the National Honor Society you had to write an essay about why you should be there. I knew I wasn’t a “leader” (I’m definitely just like Trent’s mother) so I wrote an essay talking about he value of people to carry out leader’s ideas. I didn’t get in. Society does not value “followers” enough.
    Trent, thanks for trying to make the point that your mother should be valued.

  6. AnnJo says:

    Susan @5, your comment really struck a chord; yesterday I happened to be looking at the webpage of a project of the Girl Scouts of America, decrying that a study showed 61% of girls either did not see themselves as having “leader” potential or had no interest in being “leaders.” The entire project was geared toward lowering that number and as far as I could tell, taking it all the way to zero would have been great.

    One has to wonder, even at 39%, who will follow all these aspiring “leaders” and why anybody at all would aim to be a “leader” when she doesn’t have any goals yet in mind to which she wants to lead others anyway.

    My local school district has the same goal of “creating leaders.” It seems that every couple of decades new fads sweep the social engineering community and this is one of the current ones.

    I’ve always thought of “leaders” as people who successfully persuade, manipulate, or otherwise get people to drop their own interests in life and work toward accomplishing their leader’s goals. No matter how necessary or desirable that may be at times, there are plenty of times it’s a downright awful thing, and even more times when the led would be better off lving their own lives without their leaders’ meddling.

    I see nothing wrong with 61% of girls not being interested in becoming leaders (unless that proportion is much higher than with boys, which the study carefully neglected to mention).

  7. Raya says:

    Capitalism is all about enterpreneurship and leadership. That’s why those you are experts (have skills) but lack the leader traits are usually exploited (that is, profit is not distributed equally, but the main chunk goes to the owner).

    It’s just that THIS system has THESE rules. If it were another system, maybe there’d be different rules and maybe then other types of people would prosper. (Imagine a system or society that valued creativity above all else. Then writers would be the richest people while those with business skills would probably be poor.)

    But anyway, TO THE POINT: executers and people with specific skills could freelance or consult. That’s a way to take charge of their career if they don’t want to build a business. (Or can’t – if you are a lab technician, it would be hard I think to invest in a lab and equipment so that you can do what you love. Being an employee has its strong sides.)

  8. Slccom says:

    But the lab technician can also build a side business to consult with other labs, particularly small ones that don’t have the ability to do their own troubleshooting. Or they could buy, service and sell used equipment.

  9. Kai says:

    “#6 AnnJo @ 11:40 am February 18th, 2012
    I’ve always thought of “leaders” as people who successfully persuade, manipulate, or otherwise get people to drop their own interests in life and work toward accomplishing their leader’s goals. No matter how necessary or desirable that may be at times, there are plenty of times it’s a downright awful thing, and even more times when the led would be better off lving their own lives without their leaders’ meddling.”

    With that definition of ‘leader’, no wonder you think it’s better not to be one.

    I see a ‘leader’ as someone who is able to encourage a team towards some end. A good leader is able to assess the group’s resources, both physical and abilities, and get everyone involved in contributing their best skills towards the end in question. A good leader can make a team more than the sum of its individuals, as each is able to do what they do well, and complement each other’s work.
    I think a large portion of leadership is innate, but everyone can develop the skills. I think it is beneficial for everyone to be *able* to lead if needed to complete a task, but it is better for society if most people are also able to follow, and don’t *need* to be the leader all the time.

    I think there is another relevant factor here, and that is creativity. I can be a leader. I have the skills to break up a task given, and get a group to carry it out well. But I have to have something to do first. I am not an idea person. I am an implementer, rather than an idea-generator. Some people have great ideas, but no idea how to turn them into reality. I don’t tend to have a lot of great new ideas, but when someone mentions a possibility, I can often figure out how to turn it from the dream into a functioning reality, and get people on board to contribute to it.
    I think a good entrepreneur needs to be both the creative idea-generator, and the implementer, or they won’t get very far. Partnerships can fix that, of course.

    I think the main problem with the entrepreneur fixation going on right now is that it leads a lot of people who would be happy to work in a company to believe they aren’t good enough if they don’t run their own. I have seen a few friends who did really well as an employee with a set job fail at startups because they just don’t have the skillset to do it all themselves.
    Personally, I love working at a company big enough that the labour can be divided, so I can concentrate on running my area, and leave other areas that don’t interest me, or at which I would not be skilled to others who do well there.

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