At some point, lots of kids in the United States realize that China is on the opposite side of the globe from us. They imagine digging a tunnel to China. I actually started digging. The hole was so big, my parents had to call a landscaper to come fix it.
In ninth grade, we were asked to write an essay on a world leader we admired. My classmates wrote about John F. Kennedy, Churchill and Ghandi. I wrote about Attila the Hun. By the time I was 20, I had created lemonade stands, a nuclear freeze club, a squash team, a secret society and dozens of other weird creations.
Back then, nobody could spell the word “entrepreneur” let alone recognize that I was one. Instead, my parents worried that I’d never be able to hold a “normal” job or land a husband. I had friends, but never quite fit in with any one clique. And, a lot of teachers and coaches were left a bit frustrated with the kid who seemed smart, but wasn’t so good at following rules or focusing on just one thing.
Today, being an entrepreneur seems super groovy. Everyone wants to “work for themselves”, right? And, I’m a subset of entrepreneur frequently referred to as a “serial” entrepreneur, which feels like some sort of VIP status but really just means I have a short attention span. I started Dress for Success, then dosomething.org and now Crisis Text Line, but also dozens of for-profit start-ups, conferences and not-for-profit projects that nobody has heard of. Some of them are successful; some were passion projects for a few days or weeks. It is a constant stream of fireworks in my head, each one loud and exciting and better than the last.
It almost sounds like bragging, right? To be honest, it is actually quite painful. I envy the girls who wrote those predictable essays in school, are content with the options in front of them, and say exactly the right thing (or have the ability to remain silent). My twenties were spent getting comfortable in my own skin. This is who I am. I didn’t plan to be this way; I was born this way. And, it isn’t likely that I will ever change – so you might as well love who you are, because you are going to spend a lifetime together.
Today, entrepreneurship is hot. Oddly, this thing that I am – and couldn’t shake – is now something people want to be. People are now choosing this life – though I’m still not sure I would be an entrepreneur if I had the choice. There are courses (even entire degree programmes) about creating your own thing. Everyone has a screenplay or a business plan – and Starbucks is filled with ambitious kids hunched over laptops. Even my dad has stopped asking me when I’m going to take the bar exam and get a “real” job.
Entrepreneurs have always been here, quietly trying to find each other, struggling to figure out how and why we’re different, and trying to please spouses and parents who don’t understand us.
What is the most important thing for us to be happy, to nurture our instincts, to succeed? Finding other people just like us. I’m lucky to have married an entrepreneur. So, we’re a bit weird together. And, my closest friends are other entrepreneurs. I’m so excited and blessed to now join the Schwab Fellows. I’m looking forward to meeting other weird people, just like me.
Author: Nancy Lublin, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Old Person, DoSomething.org, USA
This is part of a series for the launch of the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 Awardees.
Image: Commuters disembark from crowded suburban trains during rush hour in Mumbai. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash