Are you born with an entrepreneurial mindset, or can you cultivate one?

Are you born with an entrepreneurial mindset, or can you cultivate one?

November 13, 2018 12 By Mindy

Despite being surrounded by entrepreneurs, I feel like none of their entrepreneurial spirit or talent has rubbed off on me.

Take the example of my family: after my immigrant parents met in London in the late 60s, they set their sights on building a good life in the UK. For them, that meant pursuing a well-paid and stable profession, so they both worked hard to become chartered accountants.

But rather than work for somebody else, they themselves became the boss by establishing their own small practice in Central London. My dad experimented with and ran other businesses on the side, including importing wine, and running a restaurant linen service.

Both of my siblings run their own businesses. My sister quit her full-time marketing job a few years ago to freelance and pioneer a new start-up. My brother started his own successful IT firm after a brief stint in banking.

Even my non-blood related family are entrepreneurs. My sister-in-law is now a successful productivity expert helping small businesses. My oldest childhood friend has launched a start-up in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, my partner left corporate architecture years ago, and is working on his own architecture business while we’re travelling.


Did the entrepreneur gene skip a child?

I, on the other hand, have always worked for someone else.

As a kid, I was good at finding jobs and earning good pocket money to spend on my passions back then: gigs and CDs. I tried out a number of after-school jobs, including working in a supermarket, a bakery, and being an Avon lady (remember those?). I even managed to find an easy way to earn money during school. As a lunchtime monitor, I got paid to sit with my friends in the school canteen and occasionally shout at younger students.

At university, I made extra money here and there by helping out with odd jobs for my parents, working as a catering waitress, doing online surveys, and taking part in well-paid focus group discussions. Sidenote: If all of this extra money had gone into investments instead of clothes and drinking, I would be in a much better position today.

Despite my strong streak of independence, and ability to take on easy side hustles, I never really showed any entrepreneurial spirit. I didn’t bother joining the Young Entrepreneurs Club (I think that’s what it’s called??) at school, or come up with any creative ideas to make some extra cash.

My brother on the other hand showed entrepreneurial talent from a young age. He would get my mum to buy multipacks of Coke from the supermarket, which he’d then sell to his classmates. The Coke was cheaper than from the school tuckshop, saving his classmates money, while my brother would make a decent amount off of his original investment (the school eventually caught on and shut down this profitable business).


So are you born with the entrepreneurial mindset?

As a schoolkid, my brother was able to identify a need, and come up with a profitable solution, which is one of the basics of entrepreneurship.

In a few episodes of the Choose FI podcast, several guests have recounted similar tales of entrepreneurship from their schooldays. These stories suggest that they already had an entrepreneurial mindset, helping them to develop future wealth based on creativity and entrepreneurship.

I, however, struggle to identify opportunities, even though I’m surrounded by them. If an entrepreneurial-minded person had lived in Thailand for as long as I did, I’m sure they would have come up with a dozen business ideas, like setting up an export business, or finding and fulfilling a need in Bangkok.

Despite reading (and re-reading) a handful of books on entrepreneurship over the years, like the 4-Hour Work Week, or the $100 Start-Up (affiliate links) – I can’t seem to implement the advice. I have some sort of creative block where I can vaguely think of an idea, but be completely stumped as to how to deliver.

Meanwhile, I’ve been so conditioned to earning a monthly salary, that if any entrepreneurial spirit exists in me at all, it has been dormant for a long time.


Why do I struggle with entrepreneurship?

I realise that my financial blueprint might have something to do with my struggles with entrepreneurship.

Even though I enjoyed earning money from a young age so that I could buy what I wanted, I also had this idea that profit was inherently evil. I developed strong social and environmental justice values as a child, and believed corporations were responsible for exploitation and destruction. The only virtuous career in my mind was a job in international development: dedicating your work to helping those in need in other countries. This meant I completely glossed over the world and possibility of small businesses.

I also had strong feelings of guilt around money. The idea of selling something for a profit made me – and still makes me – uncomfortable.

Here are a couple of example scenarios that typically run through my head:

Example 1:

Me: Oooh! Let’s write a Kindle book on how to develop a career in non-profits abroad and sell it for like £10 a copy.

Also me: Oh I feel really funny about this. Who am I to write a book on this? Why should someone waste £10 on information that they could probably find elsewhere by talking to others in the field or researching online?

Example 2:

Me, browsing through a Thai market: Oh my gosh, this second-hand dress is gorgeous and only £2! I bet I could flip it on eBay for at least £20.

Also me: You’re ripping somebody off!! Stop being so greedy!!

I know in the back of my mind that this feeling of guilt is preposterous. In both cases it’s clear that I would be fulfilling a need and providing value to the customer. I even feel a weird guilt about including those Amazon affiliate links in this post, even though I know people will get a lot out of the two books I mentioned above.

Slowly, slowly, I’m trying to change my mindset to accept that profit is ok (as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of people or planet).


Why am I thinking about entrepreneurship now?

These questions are on my mind now because I’m trying to broaden my horizons and my income earning possibilities. I’ve been happily earning a stable monthly income in a field that I’m passionate about, but realise that I don’t appreciate the trade-off of giving up my time and freedom.

My mini-retirement is a chance to think, experiment, and grow. So much of my focus in recent years has been on frugality and saving, which is only one part of the equation for financial independence. I now need to flip this around and start thinking about the earning side, even though this is moving outside of my comfort zone.

Even if I end up going back to a regular non-profit job a year from now, I still want to explore entrepreneurship now; to understand what it takes, and what kind of opportunities I can pursue.


How can I cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset?

I feel like my personal development reading over the years has helped me develop some characteristics of a successful entrepreneur. For example, I am goal-oriented, enthusiastic about productivity and optimisation, and am open to risk and experimentation.

But I still need to work on developing a sense of creativity and innovation, understanding what makes a business profitable, and feeling comfortable with making a profit (which is quite fundamental!).

So these are the steps I’m going to take:

  • Read more books and blogs, and listen to more podcasts on entrepreneurship and side hustling. My usual go-to content revolves around frugality, so I need to re-configure a little. If you can suggest any content, please comment below!!
  • Read autobiographies of successful businesswomen and businessmen.
  • Make it a habit of writing down any ideas I have, even if I have no means/intent on pursuing them. For example, I’m in the Philippines at the moment, and note that affordable solar panels are a big unfulfilled need here.
  • Speak more with my friends and family about entrepreneurship and bounce ideas off them. I have so many of them in my direct circle so I should be able to learn something from them.
  • Start! All the reading and note taking in the world won’t help me start a business. So from 2019 I hope to pursue some of my ideas. Any experiments in making money will likely be small-scale, and still in line with my values. (I won’t be flogging cheap plastic goods from China through Amazon FBA for example.)

Wish me luck!!

Have you experimented with entrepreneurship? Are you a natural-born entrepreneur, or did you learn how to become one? Comment below!

Cultivate entrepreneurial mindset