The Entrepreneurial Spirit

The times, my friend, they are a changin’.

It’s painfully obvious that our parents’ idea of what constitutes a secure and prosperous life is a relic of bygone circumstance. Study hard, excel, get the degree (even better, an advanced degree!), land a job with a great company, fight the good-and-honest fight for 40-odd years, save, save, save, invest in a house and solid stocks. Get to 65, retire to bliss and happiness for the rest of your life.

We know that in today’s climate, that story is laughable at best. A quaint reminder of a kinder, gentler time.

My Entrepreneurial Story; the Cliffs Notes Version

I come from a family of hard workers. “Tool and hour” is the southern term for such endeavor, and it’s worn with pride. When I was in high school, an aunt and uncle opened a restaurant in town. It struggled for a year or two, then collapsed. Its demise was met with a knowing shrug usually reserved for someone dabbling in black tar heroin; “well, what the hell exactly *did* they expect?”

I went off to college after my senior year, (a) to play football, and (b) to earn a degree in “business” such that I might better manage the money made from playing professional football and land a secure (office!!) job with a bad-ass company. I was deadly realistic, focused, beyond driven, and this was my plan. And like most cocky, 18 year-old scholarship jocks, I knew everything.

I distinctly remember when, at my freshman School of Business orientation, a girl stood, introduced who she was, where she was from, and noted that after securing an MBA, she intended to be the most successful female entrepreneur in the country.  I remember thinking two things: 1, She was incredibly hot and 2…what the f&%* was an “entrepreneur”?

Flash forward three years: I’ve amazed orthopedic surgeons by the extent that I’ve rehabilitated an “absolutely destroyed” left knee. Unfortunately, speed and quickness is highly, highly dependent upon that Byzantine network of lower extremity connective tissue that, once traumatized and surgically altered, may (or, as was my case) may not fully rebound.

End of dream #1.

I’ve also endured exactly one business management class. And I do mean one class, having dropped my intro accounting course after the first session. Turns out liberal arts is my thing; I’m a mushy, right-brained being who’s allergic to numbers. Adios, dream #2. Who knew?

Well, apparently, not the military, who trained me as a nuclear reactor operator. See ya, Faulkner! Make way for physics and thermodynamics! It should be noted here that one can learn anything, regardless of talent, through sheer willpower alone.

All was well though, because after 8 years in Uncle Sam’s employment, I had garnered some serious left-brain job skills, backed with an ethereal, right-brain degree. I was a potent, dual-headed threat and it took little time at all to land a primo job in the prestigious pharmaceutical industry.

This was 1992, the economy was EXPLODING, and leading that combustive charge was Big Pharma. And Big Pharma’s emerging mover-and-shaker?  My new employer, Burroughs Wellcome.  “Power black”, porches and big bucks, here I come.

Wait…you’ve never heard of the Burroughs Wellcome company? I don’t doubt it. By 1995 the ol’ pharma gravy train was a shell of its former self. In the next 15 years I would survive more buy-outs, layoffs, acquisitions and mergers than one could imagine. I saw generous pensions evaporate overnight.  And I saw suicides because of it all.

What is a pension you ask? Exactly. The last of those (in the private sector, at least) were, like the former Soviet Union and the once mighty Big Pharma, dead and buried in the early 90s.

And while I and (most) of my cohorts had compassion for the old guard, they had fallen completely asleep at the wheel. In retrospect, anyone could have  seen this gravy train coming to an end. The new guard (that’s me!!) was smart, nimble, and self-reliant. We didn’t need a company’s pension. Hell, we considered that a hindrance to prosperity. We had the stock market and real estate, so get the hell out of the way. And because of this new internet thing, we had ready access to any and all information. Wait until 65 to retire on a paltry pension? Ha! I’ll be on the coconut farm by 40…in fact, I’ll own the place.

I was all in. Guns friggin’ blazing…until the dot com crash and recession of 2000.

Ouch!  A standing 8 count.  Bloodied but hardly out, because we were the smart ones. We’d diversified, because smart money knew that the stock market was a gamble, but that real estate was forever.

That and construction. And Starbucks. And who was best positioned in both of those worlds? We were. Or more specifically, Michelle, who did project management for a company, the bulk of whose business came via new construction Starbucks projects. Pharma’s better days may have passed, but God bless new construction and skyrocketing Starbucks. And it was, in fact, a rocketship ride. Michelle’s bonuses (frequent and ample) came in the form of work crews and construction material.  Our safe-bet mini mansion exploded in size and worth, because again, real estate was the safest of all bets.

That is, until it wasn’t.

I still remember the day a coworker came into my office and asked what Michelle knew about what was going on with Starbucks. He then answered my dumbfounded look with, “you might wanna check the MSNBC feed.  Howard Schultz is raising all kinds of hell out there.”

And the “all kinds of hell” that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was raising was the mass closing of “underperforming” existing stores.  One of which was a brand-new construction project that Michelle had just opened. We knew the inevitable was near. A couple of weeks later, that cushy, exciting and profitable “gig” ended for her. And unceremoniously so, at that.

No problem we thought.  Michelle now had the time to devote to putting our house on the market.  We were in “downsize” mode at this time; ready to spread our entrepreneurial wings and fly.  Time to cash in the golden egg, chill for a bit, and “find ourselves”.Well, the day we put our house on the market, the paper market crashed.  The mortgage system as we knew it ceased to exist.  I kid you not; I could not even begin to dream up a circumstance this bizarre.

I think one reason why Michelle and I enjoyed (“enjoyed” being an odd use of the term, here) the film The Big Short is because, well, we lived it. After 17 years in the private sector, 17 years of making all the “right” moves, financially and career-wise, we were little better off than when we’d entered the fray in 1992.

We did have a few assets remaining though. One of which is what we now know as an undeniable, “entrepreneurial spirit”.  And with that, we had a burning desire to change the world, using the health and wellness sphere as a vehicle for that change.  What money we did have remaining we’d decided was a sufficient amount of — pardon the French — “fuck you” money.

As in “fuck you” to a system to which we are made pawns (of which we are potential collateral damage) and an economy that we have absolutely no ability whatsoever to influence. We were highly regarded experts in our respective fields.  We made all the right financial moves. And yet, as a result of seismic shifts we had nothing to do with, we were left financially crippled.

Let’s get one thing clear: this is not a “woe is me” story. But it is a cautionary tale. Michelle and I survived, rebounded, and have actually flourished in our entrepreneurial pursuits. It wasn’t easy. We saw many of our Gen X peers lose the battle, mostly because they would not, or could not, adjust to the new economic reality.

Everyone is an Entrepreneur

The new reality (or simply the reality, if you’re a 20-something), is that, like it or not, everyone is an entrepreneur.

Got the grad degree and the bad-ass gig with a solid company? You know what? I feel ya!  But think about the tale above.  Delude yourself if you want, but it’s not gonna last. Nothing does.

What the hell do I know, maybe it will.  But you should at least create the mindset and habits of the successful entrepreneur. Learning how to identify needs and trends, finding your strengths, and learning how to pivot and rebound when things don’t work out like you “knew” they would. Doing so will make you a much more valued employee.

In retrospect, it was precisely my entrepreneurial habits and mindset that kept me from being an early-on casualty of the Big Pharma consolidation of the 90s. It was the entrepreneurial spirit, our ability to pivot and rebound, that kept Michelle and I solvent during the stock market and housing crashes.

And it’s precisely that rabid entrepreneurial spirit that birthed Paleo f(x)™.

Michelle and I are both rabid entrepreneurs, and we make no bones about it. Maybe because we know what “the other side” is like. Maybe because we had to fight like hell just to stay in the fight at all.

That said, we know that gaining and maintaining entrepreneurial qualities takes skill. CEU requirements? No one is counting (and no one cares), but the requirements are innumerable. The old mantra of “the day you stop learning is the day you die” applies in spades.

That’s why Michelle and I just attended Mike Bledsoe’s “Barbell Shrugged Business Mastermind”. Because to be the best, you have to play (and immerse, and learn) with the best.  If sport is a microcosm of life (and I believe that it is), then it’s never more true than in this realm.

What we learned at Mike’s event is priceless. Want to talk dividends? I have no clue what the stock market is going to do over the next 50 years (nor do give a damn), but I sure as hell know that Keith, Inc now has much more value-add than ever before: value that I can leverage no matter what the economy is doing. And I can leverage it anywhere in the world; Keith Inc. is an entity that knows no border.

All of this is precisely why we’ve added the Health Entrepreneurs f(x)™ event to the Paleo f(x)™ mix of offerings, and why we’ve specifically added Mike Bledsoe to the facilitator line-up. We believe that the sustainability of YOU is just as important a piece of the fabric as the sustainability of our food supply. If you want to be the best, you need the opportunity to rub shoulders with the best.

We certainly hope you can attend Paleo f(x)™’s inaugural Health Entrepreneurs f(x)™ event,  Because we believe that the entrepreneurshial mindset is a further extension of a healthy YOU.

And to the extent you’ve endeavored to make yourself resilient in mind, body and spirit, Paleo f(x)™ is reflective of that effort. We now see the need to make our tribe as resilient to the uncontrollable forces of economy as they are now to an anemic health landscape.

Come join us in that effort. Invest in YOU, Inc. Armor yourself against economic forces that care nothing about you.

We can’t wait to see you there!

Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world.

Keith

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Keith Norris

Keith Norris

Keith is one of those few lucky souls who has been able to completely transition out of corporate America and dive headlong into his passion for bettering lives by teaching the art and science of physical culture.  He not only “walks the walk” on a day-to-day basis, but his economic well-being hinges on his precepts […]

Paleo f(x)™

Heal thyself. Change the world.