May 17, 2015
On Friday, May 8th at 1:55am, in a quaint East Texas hospice that was tucked away by a row of pine trees, my father peacefully took his last breath. After years of battling cancer, heart failure and other illnesses, we knew this day was imminent.
Even at almost 79 years old, Carlos Gean was a character. A heavy-set man with a round figure, his personality toggled between charming and hotheaded, but always persistent and resilient. He emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1960s from El Salvador with little more than a 6th grade education and a hunger for the “American Dream”. Through the years, Carlos immersed himself in arts and culture and acquired some business acumen. In his late 50s, when most are counting down to retirement, he decided to become an entrepreneur. His sausage-making business was well received by local grocers, but with no one to help guide him, the business success plateaued after a few years. Eventually, he sold his secret recipe to a large sausage manufacturer. The remainder of his life he spent indulging in his favorite hobby – flipping antique cars.
Throughout the years, my father offered up several unsolicited nuggets of wisdom. These are 5 of the most memorable entrepreneurial lessons I learned from my old man:
- You can’t teach experience
Growing up, my dad loved to tell me, “I’m already circling the block when you haven’t even started the race yet”. As irritating as this was to hear, I knew his experience trumped mine every time, so I should listen. I’d almost forgotten this saying until Trey Bowles, CEO, The Dallas Entrepreneur Center, one day said, “the one thing you can’t teach an entrepreneur is experience…which is why we have a mentorship program”. I’m embarrassed to admit, but I had a lightbulb moment when I heard this. I always knew with age came wisdom and experience, but I never valued how much age, or mentorship, enriched and enhanced maturation. Whether for professional or personal reasons, having a mentor or a board of advisors in life is critical. At best, they can coach you through some tough decisions. At worst, they can help you avoid making their same mistakes.
- Bend Reality
If you ever read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, you will learn that Jobs consistently “bent reality” in order to get people to follow him, especially during the early days of Apple. In actuality, Jobs just had an insane, and infectious, level of confidence (and passion). My father shared in this character trait. He wasn’t afraid to move to America without knowing English or only having a 6th grade education. He wasn’t afraid to start a new business close to retirement age. I don’t believe it ever dawned on him that “it can’t be done”. With his broken English, thick accent, and no idea what he was doing, he just went out and pitched his product to grocers. Fake it till you make it? NOPE! In the words of Nike, just do it.
- Don’t stop believing
Journey said it best; “Don’t stop believing (just hold on to that feeling)”. If don’t know it by now, being an entrepreneur is a lonely job. Long hours. No pay. Plenty of sacrifice. Through the ups and downs, you can’t stop believing in what you’re doing . For my father, when he decided he wanted to start his own company, he poured all of his money into it. He and my mother worked very long hours. We sacrificed a few holidays and made the best out of what we had. Had my father quit early on, he would’ve lost all of his investment and never had the opportunity to sell his recipe. In life, you will eventually cross a very hard time when you will question yourself. DON’T GIVE IN TO THIS. Don’t stop believing in yourself, in your dreams, in your life.
I should actually credit this lesson more to my mother than my father…
Respect: some people kill for it. Others are willing to die for it. It’s not only a catchy song by Aretha Franklin; it’s the best way to do business. I learned this lesson firsthand by observing my parents’ marriage. Even when it wasn’t easy, my mom and dad respected each other tremendously. Especially, in the last year of my dad’s life when he found himself going from patriarch to being completely dependent. Through all of this, my mother respected my father a tremendous amount. We all “know” that respect is important, but respect is necessary for any relationship to function. Especially, long-term relationship – like the one you will have with your consumer, partners, investors, and colleagues.
- Your mind is the most powerful tool you possess
The most remarkable thing I learned from the hospice nurses was that the last sense you lose in the stages of death is your sense of hearing and comprehension. Which means, even after my father couldn’t eat, use the restroom, walk, talk or even open his eyes, he could still hear and understand us. THIS IS INCREDIBLE. As his body was shutting down, his mind would not quit. If we are able to maintain our mental faculties as we’re dying, imagine what we’re capable of doing when we’re healthy! We are truly unstoppable. The only thing that can get in our way is fear… As sad as it was to see my father pass away, I was also inspired to live.
“Hand of Dad” – Image Credit: Flickr/Steve Koukoulas
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