When the Entrepreneur is Ready, Yoda Will Appear


My entrepreneur mentor, big brother from another mother and Yoda John treated me to breakfast this week, in celebration of a strong 2012 for both of our businesses.  John has been in business over 20 years, and I’ve been in business just over 3 years.  I am the entrepreneur little sister and apprentice, indeed.

Our meeting this week was much more jolly than the first time John took me out to breakfast 3 years ago.  John and I are members of the same congregation, and I expected that he wanted to talk about congregational matters when he called to invite me out a few days before that winter morning in 2009.  As we sat down in a booth in the nearly empty Wolf Road Diner early that weekday morning, I was weary from my then-job of working 60-plus hours a week running another entrepreneur’s family business. It was a great learning experience, however it was an exhausting treadmill without end, and there did not seem to be a long-term career path for me there.  I did not know John well back then, so there was no way for him to know that I was feeling a bit stuck, career-wise.  I had actually just earlier that week updated the business plan for what is now my business, Deb Best Practices, but had not shared that fact with anyone, including my husband, Joel.  After the waitress took our orders and walked away, John, in perfect prescient Yoda style, said:  “I asked you to breakfast because I want to know why you’re not in business for yourself.”  Taken aback, I started giggling and shaking my head.  “What’s so funny?” John asked, a bit confused.  I smiled.  “How did you know?” I asked, a bit taken aback myself.  “How did you know that I just updated the business plan for my consulting practice this week?”  It was John’s turn to smile, and broadly.  “I’m glad to hear it,” he continued.  “Because I see you working in your own business.”  That’s how John became my Yoda.

Not only was it a wonderful and soul-boosting gift to have John, a successful business owner and entrepreneur who is about 15 years my senior, see and lift up my gifts so clearly, John was also committed to seeing me achieve the goal of running my own business.  He asked to read my business plan, and he read it thoroughly, marking it up with a master’s eye.

We scheduled lunch about 2 months later to review the business plan, at the height of the Great Recession.  As fate would have it. the small family business needed my payroll to hire a family member hit by the economy, and I was serendipitously free.  John was thrilled for me, as those were the same circumstances which supported the launch of his successful business.  I was less thrilled and more afraid.  “How long can you live on your savings?”  John asked at another lunch meeting to finalize my business plan.  “About two years, John,”  I replied, a bit discouraged.  “It depresses me to even think about spending down any part of our savings – we’ve worked so hard to build it.  It’s just feels too risky.  Perhaps I’ve been an employee too long.”  John replied with one of the many gifts an entrepreneur apprentice like me is most fortunate to receive.  “Deb,” he said, completely serious and with the conviction of a master who has walked the path before me, “Consider it instead as a surefire investment in an enterprise you know and believe in:  you and your great talents.”  Like any great apprentice master, John never asked me to take any risks that he hadn’t already taken himself, often on a daily basis.  He did not dismiss my fears, instead acting as a beacon in unchartered territory, encouraging me to walk through my fears and fulfill my enterpreneur potential.

I was, however, a tougher sell than John was on the entrepreneur path.  I needed a longer detox process from the employee Kool-Aid, and my runway / training wheels took a few more years before I was ready to jump into my business full-time, first working a temporary full-time project manager position as I grew (and grew up) in my business part-time, evenings and weekends.  John stuck it out with me.  A watershed apprentice moment for me was the 3-hour lunch with John and his wife Sandra, as they both told me the story of John’s business start-up, and how they managed it as a family.  Thankfully, Joel was my biggest cheerleader to venture into my own business.  The stars seemed aligned.

The first week I went full-time in my business, I faced a tough and unfamiliar client issue.  John, as busy as he always is, took my phone call for 5 minutes and coached me through it.  The client issue was resolved successfully, a win-win.  My confidence grew, and so did my business.   It was going to be okay.  And, in retrospect, it has been much more than okay.  It’s been fulfilling, broadening and just great.  And in the process, it has developed my own Yoda skills with my respective apprentices.

A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to you, yours and your respective Yodas and apprentices.

 

“Do, or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

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