I’ve heard the term entrepreneur thrown around so much lately. But what does it mean? Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages and assumes the risk of a business.” Wait, I thought all these kids selling MaryKay, Cutco and Herbalife were entrepreneurs? Isn’t that what they say on their Facebook profiles? Are they all liars or do they simply not speak proper English?
The answer lies somewhere in between the two. In my opinion, somewhere around 2010–2012 the scales tipped and America became seduced by what I call ‘entrepreneur chic;’ equal parts fascination and lack of understanding of the entrepreneurial lifestyle. While the lifestyle itself was no new phenomenon, certain changes like the internet reduced the barriers to entry and transformed what was formerly an alternative lifestyle into something more mainstream. If we trace this fascination back to its roots I think it’s a natural progression of the US education system and its origins.
The robber barons designed the curriculum to farm middle management and drone labor. The boomers fell into the trap and welcomed the stability of the 9–5 after the trauma their parents experienced in WWII. The children of the hippy movement gave up their drugs for steady paychecks and a picket fence. I guess even revolutions cost money. However, the emptiness of a life lived serving others didn’t pan out in terms of quality of life and the Gen-Xers saw their retired parents for what they had become.
Their parents’ identity came from the establishment, from their jobs and their gender roles. It was an identity with an obvious expiration date. This led to the grunge movement, Kurt Cobain’s famous photo shoot in a dress was the opening salvo in a generational war. Now, some of these anti-establishment youth began to start their own companies in Silicon Valley with video games in break rooms, open floor plans and lax dress codes. They were forging their own path and making it look attractive.
Then came the millenials entering the work force, the short attention spans and authority issues of kids raised with the internet made job acquisition and retention an issue. This in turn fueled the growth of the MLM industry and other remote work companies. And now we’ve come full circle. These kids are making money but revenue generation does not make you an entrepreneur!
Risk does. There is no real risk in being the exact kind of drone the baby boomers were. These kids are just slaving for corporations outside of the office. They think that since they don’t punch a clock that they’re ‘self-employed.’ News flash: if you don’t write your own paycheck and you’re being paid by a corporation you are unequivocally NOT self employed. There is no risk in being the lowest rung on the corporate ladder. There is no risk in selling products that have been conceptualized, manufactured and promoted on a national or international scale by someone else. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything less risky.
That’s okay. Risk is not for everyone, in fact it isn’t for most people. That’s why there are so few employers and so many employees. Life is scary as shit without wondering if you’re going to have enough money in the bank every two weeks to pay everyone working for you. Why has it become so unfashionable to have a steady job? As someone who has never had one I legitimately fantasize about what a steady paycheck with minimal responsibility feels like. But as one of my mentors told me when I was entertaining job offers after selling a company, “sweetheart, if you were going to work for someone else you would have done it by now.”
Entrepreneurship is in your DNA or it isn’t, I believe it’s hard wired. A friend of mine, Alex Charfen, proposes that there is an Entrepreneurial Personality Type. He’s right. And I think this is at the root of this ‘entrepreneur-chic.’ In an age where we’re all comparing someone else’s highlight reel to our day-to-day on social media people have the ability to reinvent themselves. To create a persona online and to believe their own lies when they see that picture they took next to Gary V or some other man/woman who made some coin.
That’s cool. If your identity comes from a picture with someone who won’t remember you exist. That’s cool. If you enjoy wasting your twenties fucking off and being unemployed while building your ‘brand.’ But it isn’t a brand. It’s an LLC or an Instagram. It isn’t a business. It cost nothing, it doesn’t generate revenue and it employs no one. It isn’t responsible for the circulation of currency. It does not partake in even the most basic of economics: supply and demand. For it has no supply and there is no, I repeat NO, fucking demand for more lazy, wayward kids fucking off on the internet. There isn’t even a demand for you at the bottom of the MLM totem pole. You are a completely interchangeable cog in a machine. You can and will be replaced after your network’s value has been drained into someone else’s bank account.
Entrepreneur isn’t the first word to be perverted by culture and popular misunderstanding. And it won’t be the last. But for those of us who are real entrepreneurs, who find deep satisfaction in writing payroll checks. Who are proud that our taxes keep the roads paved. Who love solving our customers’ problems. For us, this perversion of this particular definition is a perversion of society’s understanding of us. And I’m tired of trying to explain who I am to people.
I’m glad that all these young people entering the workforce in the gig economy are making money. I’m even glad that these MLM companies are stepping up to aid in job creation in this burgeoning gig economy. But, I’m not excited in the least that if I tell someone that I’m a serial entrepreneur that they assume I’m smoking weed and eating cereal in my boxers while I post on Instagram. One generation can carve its identity without dismantling the credibility of the one before it.
Myself and my peers worked very hard to pave the way for those who come after us. We learned from mentors and first hand knowledge before there were online communities to share knowledge. We drove in foreign cities with no app to direct us. We got lost. We found ourselves. And most importantly, we fucking crushed it. That’s why you want to call yourself an entrepreneur, I get it. But now you’ve taken away the very meaning which you seek to bestow upon yourself. That’s the problem, you’re all being exploited by people higher up in the food chain and rewarding yourself with a sexy new ‘title.’ Entrepreneur isn’t a job title. It’s a description earned from rent paid, problems solved, paychecks written and contributions to your community. Trust me, it’s far more satisfying to earn your title than to give it to yourself. Try it sometime.