My dream was always to become a lawyer. I used to believe that law was the most direct way to impact the world around me. I thought entrepreneurs were only concerned with small issues, while lawyers worked on solving the big problems in the world.
It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I had it backwards.
I’ve learned that the life of entrepreneur isn’t what I used to think it was about –ruthlessly exploiting opportunities and constantly seeking out new ventures. It’s about being bold, creative, and mindful in your everyday actions.
These are lessons I’ve learned from my father, Vivek Wadhwa, who founded two technology companies. As a kid, I used to watch him working long hours, dealing with constant uncertainty, worrying about his employees, and selling to customers. It just wasn’t something I thought I would ever want to put myself through. Even though I deeply admired and looked up to him, I never quite understood why he had chosen that path.
Now, as an adult with a startup in the privacy and cyber-security space, I am incredibly grateful that I was learning from him the entire time. The lessons themselves had little to do with business. It was the outlook on life that he instilled in me that has really taught me the skills I’ve needed to know. He showed me that entrepreneurship is not a profession; it is a mindset that shapes the way you interact with the world around you.
For example, one of the most unique traits of entrepreneurs is the way they approach a problem. My favorite thing about the many that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know is a shared disregard for authority. As a group, they are relentless. They rarely accept no for an answer, and are always looking for a way to work around obstacles. Where most people would give up and move on, they try to think outside the box and develop creative solutions.
Even if they ultimately are unsuccessful, it is often when they fail that they learn the most.
My father would always push me to ask for things – even, and especially, when I was completely embarrassed and afraid to. As a kid, I cringed whenever he did this – I hated it. But as an adult, I’m thankful he showed me value of getting out of my comfort zone. It is difficult to do this sometimes, because it should be; you grow much less from doing things that are easy or that come naturally. The fear of being rejected will stop many people from asking for what they want, but being told “no” rarely ever lives up to the anguish of the worst-case-scenarios we think up in our minds.
While convincing others to help you achieve your ends is great, it is far more important that you are treating people in an empathetic and respectful way. My father has always gone out of his way to mentor other entrepreneurs, even to a fault. He always cherished these experiences though. He’s told me many times that in life we’ll have people who lend a hand to us without expecting anything in return, it’s important that we do the same for others. I’ve benefitted enormously from others who’ve given me a break by taking a chance on me – and I hope to pass that generosity on later in life.
He taught me to step into the shoes of others, not to market to them, but to understand them. As a child, I have vivid memories of the times near the holiday season when my mom would take me to a local toy store and let me pick out all kinds of different gifts. But the toys weren’t for me — we were buying presents for all of the company employees’ children. Its simple act, but having me decide what other children would want forced me to step out of my own world, and into theirs – even if it was for just a few moments.
However, not every lesson he taught me was in a positive way. When I was in eighth grade my father suffered a massive heart attack, partially due to the fact that he was working constantly. Thankfully, he has recovered, but it was a process that took a large toll. I saw firsthand that one of the most important things you must do as an entrepreneur is to remember to invest in yourself. You can’t sacrifice your health for the sake of business. It’s not worth it.
The really important lesson here is that like running a business, living a life with an entrepreneurial outlook is all about balance and priorities.
This Sunday, I will spend some time reflecting on what my father has taught me through his words, actions and decisions – and I will give thanks that my role model in life has shown me some of the keys to living a more fulfilling, challenging, and empowered life.
Tarun Wadhwa is a writer, researcher, and entrepreneur working at the intersection between technology and public policy. He is currently a research fellow at Singularity University and his book Identified about the global rise of digital identification systems will be out Summer 2013.