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To say that entrepreneurship was unpopular where I grew up is an understatement. In today's world where business owners are in the spotlight with Hollywood celebrities and pop artists, this may be inconceivable, but it is true. Entrepreneurship was illegal in the country I was born in. It was classified as a criminal offense and was a criminal offense for almost a century (up to 11 months before I was born). If you haven't guessed it by now, I was born in the USSR – a country that no longer exists, but still influences the opinion of many of its former citizens.
Policy changes that affect cultural norms – like those against entrepreneurship – are happening incredibly slowly and take even longer to be reflected in the public mindset. While children in the West were growing up and being praised for making their first pocket money at lemonade stands, I was raised by adults who believed entrepreneurship was dirty, dishonest, and even shameful.
I remember a pop culture from my childhood. He was called the "New Russian" and he was the only version of an entrepreneur we knew. He was usually depicted in a purple jacket over a white shirt, solid gold chain, and a weapon. He was definitely an antihero, and his fingers were covered in gold rings he had earned through shady business deals.
Now that you can see entrepreneurship through the eyes of the 10-year-old, you can understand why – when my mother opened her private practice as a psychologist – I couldn't see that she was actually an entrepreneur. When she did that, in my youth I was preoccupied with my own hopes and dreams, and all I can remember is mom doing something really hard, but really important. I still didn't know it was called entrepreneurship, but the first lesson went deep into my subconscious.
1. Start a business when you can't go ahead without starting it
Pretty much every conceivable circumstance worked against my mother, who started her own business. Entrepreneurship education was unknown, let alone a support network of other entrepreneurs or any kind of knowledge sharing. In public, entrepreneurship was still a kind of disease, so no one in the family associated my mother with this “dirty word”. Most saw her just as a psychologist who liked to make things difficult instead of working for someone else.
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My family's finances did not allow my mother to start capital. In fact, I can remember the tension that the money issue created between my parents. Not only could they not afford to invest in mom's new business, but their choice of that passion over a small but stable paycheck elsewhere put significant strain on the family.
I remember trying to solve the ultimate chicken and egg business challenge: she couldn't pay rent for a small office until she had regular customers, but she couldn't start seeing customers until she had an office !
However, my mother felt that this route was the only choice to accomplish its purpose. And for that I am forever grateful. This attitude to life that I got from her is what drives me forward and always follows my passion. Her story gives a whole different level of meaning to any cheesy motivational quote never to give up.
2. Business is cyclical
What my mom went through in her 30s was what I went through in my late twenties.
I have been fortunate to be part of some communities where entrepreneurship skills and an entrepreneurial outlook on life were valued. I led nearly 700 volunteers on NGO projects and led a high performing marketing team that raised half a million dollars a month. Both were very focused on the development of their employees and appreciated the entrepreneurial spirit.
There was a moment after a lot of career experimentation when I suddenly felt sure what to do with my life: I wanted to offer PR services. Just like my mom before me, I knew what to do here, and just like her, I discovered that starting a business was the right format to do exactly what I wanted.
And so I founded an agency. Word of mouth gave me my first clients and results. The demand grew and I was ready to hire the first account manager. The second team member came soon after and I was on a roll. This lasted until the following summer when I experienced my first business slump.
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I had a chat with my mom and shared how scary it was not to be sure I would have clients next month. By that point, I'd signed up for every webinar and got a nervous tick as I pursued one marketing strategy after another. Every new guru finally seemed to have the solution to my worries. And once again mom was just the right guru I needed. "Business is cyclical," she said, "you will go through ups and downs."
It was comforting to hear. It was the very first time I realized that after learning from marketing gurus and being inspired by my high profile international conferences, everything I go through is the same as what she went through 15 years ago. Only that she had no network or an evil entrepreneur to ask for advice.
3. You are not your business
I started to proudly share that my mom is an entrepreneur! I finally processed this information and was very proud. Now that we were both entrepreneurs, it added a whole new dimension to our relationship.
I even thought about taking her to one of my high vibe networking events – but mom had her own plans. Just like 15 years ago, she fell into a new passion that took her life by storm. She has signed up for two online academic psychoanalysis courses: one from New York and one from Tel Aviv. She stayed up all night watching lectures. She still couldn't speak English freely, but found a way to translate the new research articles in her field from English to Russian using a few online tools. When the pandemic started, she closed her small psychology center and went online to devote herself entirely to her new passion.
Once again she showed me that business is a tool. For a while it can be your means to an end. It can help you serve others. It can also help you become who you are supposed to be. But don't confuse a middle goal with an end goal. I had the opportunity to see my mother's titanic efforts to overcome uncertainty and passion. She took the risk, opened her center, helped thousands of clients, and taught hundreds of other specialists. She helped others in her community stand on their feet. Then I had to watch her grow and face a new challenge. When I work on my passion seven days a week, things are put into perspective. Yes, my company receives most of my energy right now, but it's not the ultimate goal, it's just a stepping stone to continually develop and serve others. And as my mother's example shows, the opportunities to grow and serve do not seem to end with years. You just have to stay open to them when true passion calls.
And while she still doesn't read English freely, I know she will pull out her ninja translation tools to read this article. I love you mom.
Related: Why I Helped My Mom Start a Startup