I’ll be 40 years old in December, and as you do when this milestone approaches, I’ve been reviewing my journey and looking for themes. Maybe I’m searching for my purpose.
At this point in my life, I think most people who know me professionally would associate me with entrepreneurship. I serve as President of Jumpstart Foundry, a company that works with innovative entrepreneurs to make healthcare better. We launch 10–20 companies a year. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.
I’ve also been on the board of the Nashville EC (short for Entrepreneur Center) for about two years and I’ve been a founder in about 7 businesses over the last 15 years. Several running concurrently. Agencies, online publications, marketing platforms, branded events and investment platforms. I absolutely love starting businesses and working with entrepreneurs.
I’ve been trying to pick apart why I arrived at this reality. I was not raised to be an entrepreneur. In fact, I was expected to graduate college and get a great job.
Neither of those things ever happened.
I did not want to be a drop out. Especially not from a place as prestigious as the University of Virginia. But that’s exactly what happened. And I did it, no one did it to me. I happened to me.
Statistically as an African-American male, this “failure” should have resulted in a significantly depressed adulthood, financially. But to the contrary, I’ve managed to maintain an income in the upper-middle class range for the last ten years of my life.
What’s more important to me is that when I was doing entrepreneurship well (which was not always), I have had solid control over spending my time with my family, volunteering for causes that are important to me, or supporting others.
So I escaped financial ruin. Nice, but it doesn’t explain WHY I have latched on to entrepreneurship with everything in me.
I’ve come to believe that the WHY, is that I have a set of three personality traitsthat if not channeled correctly, can be disastrous. In fact, I have a very unscientific theory that many people with serious societal challenges will have these three traits.
I am my only datapoint in this unscientific theory, but I was close to becoming an outcast, and I believe entrepreneurship was the positive channel that saved me from being lost.
I call myself, and others with this combination of traits, ACeRs.
We, the ACeRs, are Ambitious, Creative Rebels.
And we might just be the ones to solve the worlds most challenging problems. Let’s unpack this a bit:
I don’t know what it’s like to not desire. I feel like everyday of my life, my soul is burning to become something it hasn’t yet become. Sound familiar?
If I actually try to figure out WHY I am so driven, I can’t come up with much beyond “I grew up in New York City and that’s how we are.” Maybe there’s something genetically that I can’t reasonably explain, but mostly I think I was just born this way.
While others seek relaxation, I seek to get ahead of them. While others respect the position of power others have attained, I naturally either seek to learn how to become their equal (or better) or question the validity of what they have achieved. This is not a ‘good’ way to be, it’s just how I am, honestly.
I’m not a musician (anymore) or a visual artist, but I create business models just about everyday. I am always looking at the status quo and thinking that there is another view, angle or approach that can be taken. I am wired to generate names, ideas and values. I am also pretty good at taking what was there before and refining it or remixing it.
I can’t imagine doing the same thing everyday. This has a lot of drawbacks as I am rarely content with consistency. I am drawn to the new like a moth to a flame. I am here to create.
With or without a cause, at the root, I bristle at the establishment. This does not mean that I can’t (or don’t) work with the establishment. It means that I cannot easily conform in how I work with the establishment. Thank God I found the word ‘Innovation’.
Innovation is a nice way to say that there is always a better way to do things than the way they are currently being done. Innovators are just societally accepted rebels. Elon Musk, rebel. Madonna, rebel. Mark Zuckerberg, rebel. Steve Jobs, rebel. Oprah, rebel. Jay Z, rebel. Let’s embrace who we are.
Rebel is the most pivotal attribute of the ACeR. Rebels are dangerous if not well channeled. Both to others and themselves. Many rebels become musicians, actors, artists and activists. But in the 21st century, with the middle class being eradicated, those modes are difficult to sustain. Eventually if they don’t find their way, rebels either give up (a loss for us all), or they crack.
I believe if I had not found entrepreneurship, I would have given up or cracked. I believe entrepreneurship saved my life, or at least my spirit. And I believe we need to empower more rebels to find their way to sustain themselves. They are important, they are vital.
And so, I’ve found my purpose, at least for now. I am setting out to empower the ACeRs to view their unique and brilliant gifts through an entrepreneurial lens. To see that with a solid business model, they can be their authentic selves, create the change they want to see in the world, and put food on the table at the same time.
That to me feels like a worthy purpose. If you agree, if you are an ambitious creative, then join the rebellion.