Education – a curse or a cushion?

People often ask me what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Probably the best book that I can refer you to is the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber … it has changed many business owners’ lives (including my own).

 In it, he shakes the myth of the entrepreneur being some sort of ‘knight on a white charger’ – you know the type, like Jack Taylor, the founder of Enterprise Rent-a-Car who was a navy pilot in WWII then went on to launch Enterprise in 1957, taking it to $78 million revenue before handing the reins to his son, Andy in 1980 (it’s now a $7 billion company!)

 Here’s how Andy described his father:

My father was the true entrepreneurial risk taker. He was the guy flying airplanes off carriers. He did not see taking a $25,000 second mortgage to invest in a business as a huge risk, because he saw real risks being taken during World War II.

There’s no doubt that adversity makes for better entrepreneurs … adversity gives you a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude.

Contrast that with the educated middle-to-upper-middle class …

… once you finish college and put in a few years learning the corporate ‘ropes’ it’s very hard to let go of the comfortable $50k – $150k that you are earning (and that your lifestyle has magically jumped up to meet … you know: cars, toys, vacations, etc.) to jump into a business that all the odds point to going broke.

 You see, that education that we strive for, to lift us out of the middle-class, actually serves to keep us there.

Now, I happen to have a college degree, and it has served me well …

… but, after 6 years in the post-college corporate world, I was bitten with the ‘entrepreneurial bug’ so badly that I was miserable every day that I was still at work after that little epiphany (I used to LOVE my job until then).

Yet, it still took me 4 years to leave …

If I was still working, no doubt I would be well on my way to saving $1 million or maybe even more by the time I retired at 65.

 But, from where I now sit that is WAY too little WAY too late …

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13 thoughts on “Education – a curse or a cushion?

  1. For me, who has been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, it is somewhat of a curse. I am working on various business ventures, but cannot bring myself to quit my professional full-time job. With all that education and time invested in the career, it seems like a waste. A millionaire friend told me that I should quit because I put a lot of time and effort into the job for “relatively little money.” It’s a comfortable salary, but no way will I get rich off of simply working for a living. I’ve made my peace with the job for now. By living below my means, I treat the paycheck as capital for my business/investments.

  2. @ financial gal – even though I usually recommend that people do what you are doing (i.e. keep your ‘day job’ + start some businesses on the side), your entrepreneur friend may be right … it’s often only when the ‘safety net’ of a steady income is taken away that you REALLY strive to reach the next level … because you HAVE TO!

  3. First, I enjoy reading your site so keep up the good work. I’m being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug as well. I’m still working full-time now but constantly look for opportunities to be “free” from the 9-to-5. The hard problem is keeping up with the working pressure from the main job which pays the comfortable check and work my butt off on my own ideas. Having another partner is another awesome but I don’t want to partner with the wrong person.

    Nonetheless, keep trucking, that’s my motto.

  4. @financialgal: If you are by yourself and still young(i.e. no family, no kids) – I think you should do it! Succeed or fail, you will learn a lot. Hey – you only live once!

  5. @ Alex – same advice to you as Blogrdoc’s advice to financial gal.

    BTW: Here’s the way I looked at it:

    1. Job Income: [Then] current job $50,000 / year

    2. Business income: $0 (worst case + whatever inconvenience/embarrassment I would get from declaring bankruptcy) – $250,000 (best case + whatever capital gain I could get from selling business)

    Hmmm…. getting better than 5:1 odds … good enough for me!! 🙂

  6. You are completely right. I have this argument all the time with people – the more educated you become, the less likely you are to take risks in almost any aspect of your life. I think the education system does a “great” job of systematically teaching risk avoidance.

    Once you graduate from college, or grad school, etc. you are basically surrounded by other college grads who – basically – long for a return to the mothering embrace of their college days. Security, laziness, and no real financial responsibilities.

    I suffered from this for years – I “needed” that steady paycheck, I craved “security” because that’s what someone with a BA and and MBA is supposed to do, right? Right? But I finally saw the light. I’m not 100% on my own but pretty close doing contract consulting – the safety net of the automatic-guaranteed once every two weeks paycheck is gone – but so far I make more, work less and have more time for my side projects. What’s not to love?

    Great article!

  7. @ BrBl – thanks for your comment. A paycheck limits your downside – equally, it limits your upside … now, THAT is a curse!

  8. Entrepreneurs are people willing to live a few years like others won’t so they can live the rest of their lives the way others can’t.

  9. Hi AJC,

    I just found your blog today, very cool! I can’t begin to tell you how deeply this article resonates with me as a gen-x’r.

    Let me add to this conversation and say that I too have been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug for quite some time now, but have not been willing to step out of my comfort zone. I started with a Fortune 500 about eight years ago and have climbed the corporate later nicely (and without a degree). My performance has established some credibility that is attractive inside and outside my company, even without the educational credentials.

    However an opportunity has presented itself with my job. My employer is offering buy-out packages which would give me about 4 months of salary. This would be nice to have while I work on getting my business launched.On the flip side I have an interview with another company who will pay me more money (which I’d like to have to re-invest in the business).

    Either way, I feel like everyday that I work a corporate job is a day of my time wasted.

  10. @ Jacob – Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting how ‘happy’ you can be in a corporate job until your brain just ‘clicks’ into entrepreneurial mode … it’s not right for everyone, but keep in mind that this idea of working for The Man is relatively new, historically-speaking.

  11. it takes a lot of courage to go out of your current job especially when you’re already in a ‘comfort zone’, however, i found that just going out (even without plans) would actually force you to think and try to survive! I’m not recommending not to have a plan but the idea of just getting out and know for yourself if you’re going to survive or not really squeezes!

    i’m a biologist by diploma, when into a job as an I.T. and now exploring business and the field of arts… i guess i was just built t on an adapt (or die) principle…

    education gives you an edge, but if you’re not that lucky, it’s not a good reason not to be successful either…

    but to be honest, it was hell when i got out of my job (i meant trying to adapt and survive), but i never thought of coming back to employment mode since i still feel more benefits in being an entrepreneur…

  12. @ Path2$1000000 – You are right … nothing succeeds like the guy who has cut his own ‘safety line’ 🙂 Good Luck!!

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