I’m obsessed with Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia, and his anti-business, business philosophies. Not only is he incredibly successful, but he did it without compromising his values. Just check out their Company Info page; you won’t find a jargon-filled mission statement, you get Patagonia’s “Reason for Being.”
Naturally, I try to absorb all Patagonia-related literature, articles, and videos in my quest for entrepreneurial inspiration. This evening I stumbled on a short clip with Yvon at UCLA and after just a few minutes, I found my inspiration for this post (watch up to minute 2:35):
Juvenile delinquents make the best entrepreneurs.
This appears to be backed up by data: Kids Who Get in Trouble Grow Up to Be Entrepreneurs
“More than factors like intelligence, creativity, and the parents’ socio-economic status, delinquent behavior predicted adult entrepreneurship. The authors argue that the findings support something called the ‘unruliness hypothesis,’ the idea that the same restlessness, impatience, and allergy to authority that leads a kid to cut school and get high also leads him to start a photo-sharing network.
Breaking rules correlated with entrepreneurship while having a criminal record (as an adolescent or as an adult) did not. The key, the authors wrote, may be ‘modest misconduct,’ not full-blown criminal tendencies. Or it could be that part of entrepreneurship is knowing what you can get away with, both as a young troublemaker and a startup founder.”
Like Yvon, I also ran away as a child.
My stepfather got stationed in La Maddalena, Italy in 1987 and we moved there when I was 5-years-old. It’s an experience that I can’t begin to explain and when I do, it reads more like a fantasy than a typical adolescent life, because I lived here:
The English-speaking school could only take me for a half-day, so I went to an Italian Catholic school the second half of the day. I eventually picked up a decent vocabulary and some songs, but it was difficult. I also learned that nuns were scary and as one of four American students in the entire school, I was quickly singled out as different.
Not only was I different, I’m fairly certain I was the only redhead anyone on the island had ever seen. It wasn’t unusual to be stopped on the street and kissed by strangers proclaiming, “ciao bambino!”
While adorable in the eyes of my parents, this unwanted attention made me a target with my Italian peers. Kids will be kids and recess was brutal.
Things eventually escalated to a point that my mother had to strip me down in the hall in front of a nun while trying to communicate that I was getting bruised daily and it had to stop.
One day, during the worst of the fighting, my American friends weren’t going to be at school–the brother and sister were on vacation and I think the third kid was sick. My ride always dropped me off in front of the school and on this day, I realized that I was defenseless. Facing certain death I pretended to walk towards the door until I saw my ride disappear down the street. Then I turned and started walking. Then I ran.
Keep in mind, I was probably 6-years-old, in a foreign country, and alone.
This has always been a humorous story in my home, but I never understood the connection to my entrepreneurial side until tonight.
In the face of an unjust situation, I gathered my courage and ran in the opposite direction.
The interesting part is that I never felt fear. Sure I afraid of what was behind me, but I wasn’t scared of where I was going. I knew that my stepfather’s naval base was close by and I’ve always been good with directions, so I walked there. I don’t remember how far the distance was, but it took many turns and I remember having to walk through the island’s busy city square, past the biggest intersection, and eventually past the security guard on base!
Here’s the gate to the base:
There used to be a guarded entrance, but I was so short that I simply slipped under the arm of the gate. Then I kept walking towards my step father’s office building even though I wasn’t sure which building. I knew my stepdad’s name was Jeff and he was wearing a white uniform.
Yep, I was on Navy base looking for a sailor named Jeff.
Thankfully a sailer (not named Jeff) found me and managed to put in the hands of someone who knew a Jeff who worked in an office nearby. Turns it was the correct Jeff and all was well. I faced a lot of anger and worry from my parents that evening.
It was worth it.
Like Yvon, I’m a reluctant entrepreneur. I didn’t want to start an SEO agency when I was 26-years-old, but I was fed up with everything else I’d encountered in my professional life. While I would often find incredible coworkers and teams, there was always a level of dysfunction or bureaucracy that I just couldn’t waste another minute of my life on. I knew I could build something better, something happier, and something more successful. So, I forged a new path.
I didn’t do it because I’m brave, I did it because I felt like I had no other choice. I had fear, but it was the kind of fear you feel when you’re about to do something incredible, something you will be proud of for the rest of your life. I’m glad I ran towards my purpose.
Now, as a new parent and a business owner, I hope I can raise my child to be, and surround myself with, people willing to stand up for what they believe in. People who aren’t afraid to break the rules, question authority, and find an honest, socially responsible place in the world and for our children.
Did you break the rules as a kid? What are you doing now? Perhaps you’re not an entrepreneur, but you fight in other ways. I’d love to hear your stories.