by Jessi Burg
“Get good grades or it will be very hard to get a good job.” “You won’t be successful if you don’t do well in school.” “Your GPA matters to future employers.”
These are phrases we’ve all heard countless times, and many of us have probably uttered. So let’s take a few minutes to talk about how being a successful entrepreneur has no correlation to your success in school. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, we’re not trying to get a good job – we’re trying to build one. We’re not trying to succeed in your world – we’re creating our own. And that requires an entirely different mindset than the one we learned in school.
As a solid B student, I was often told that I “wasn’t living up to my potential” or that I “could turn my Bs into As if I just worked a little harder.” Sure, maybe that was true. But I’m kind of a lousy student: my ADHD won’t let me sit still or focus for longer than half an hour. I learn best by verbal processing and talking things out, and I like to know why I have to do something before I’m willing to do it. My teachers did not appreciate those traits, and I got kicked out of class on more than one occasion for refusing to do busy work.
The same issues came up when I started job hunting. Why would I want an office job if that includes everything I hated about school? I had been working at camps and doing odd jobs since I was 12, which turned into years as an outdoor guide and backcountry educator. Eventually, l got laid off when the camp I was working at closed down the program I was running. I was 31, with 18 years of work history, but somehow wasn’t qualified for a single job that offered a living wage and benefits. An entry-level office job offered income while I figured out what came next. It turned out that the answer to my problems was to start my own business.
With help from the Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute, whose support saved me at least a year of working a desk job while I figured out how to start, I launched my own landscaping company in May of 2017. I promptly realized that everything my former teachers and employers considered weaknesses were actually strengths in disguise. For example:
-It’s nearly impossible for me to sit still and focus on one thing at a time. This often works in my favor because as a business owner, I have to be able to hold a lot of moving pieces in my head all at once.
-I want to know how individual actions fit within the larger business picture. Now I’m writing the bigger picture, and have an open door policy for any and all questions.
-Attention to detail has never been my strong suit, but my grasp on logistics is excellent. I can handle the overall company direction, solve big problems, and hire someone to help me keep track of the details.
In short, I learned the hidden truth of business ownership – it was my company, and I could run it how I wanted to. Of course, the flip side was that since it was my company, I had to do a lot of work to learn how to run it. Luckily though, learning to run a business was nothing like learning in school.
Just like in school, there are a lot of group projects – except now I get to pick my own group. My staff is amazing, and I specifically hire people who have skills that I don’t. As a landscaper, I could also choose my own clients. If someone’s vision didn’t align with what my company could perform, I could refer them to another company. If a potential employee wanted a job that didn’t work with my overall company vision, I didn’t hire them. I set very clear expectations about what my company does and how we do it – but then I can always refer back to that for my goals and values.
There are also skills that I now use every day that they just don’t teach you in school. Things like delegation, communication methods, and thoughtful discussion aren’t requirements in most school’s curriculums. Delegation is actively frowned upon in most schools – they usually call it cheating. But in business, I simply can’t do everything myself. There’s a limit to how much work I can do in a day, and delegating tasks out means we can collectively get more done. Not only that, but it often means something gets done with a higher quality than what I can do on my own.
Most importantly, I get to decide how and when I learn. Unlike school, I can find information about how to run a business in any format at any time – and there are no tests. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a book I can read after dinner; other times I want a video that demonstrates how to use a program. Regardless of how and when I’m working on my business, everything I do supports the overall growth of the company. There is no busy work, and I can implement new ideas at my own pace once I feel confident that I understand them.
We grow up in a school system where even if teachers acknowledge that there are different learning styles, it’s hard to actually implement them. So if you can’t force yourself to learn a certain way, then you’re told that you will never succeed. School was hit or miss for me most of the time – but running my own business? That is something that allows me to really hone in on my skills, and also lets me create an environment where I can grow and learn. My B-average grades weren’t a predictor of my success or my happiness, and that’s something I wish I had known from the start.