This week, our guest on StoriesOn is:
Natalia Martínez: Organizational psychologist with focus on strategy and change management. Chief Innovation & Technology Officer at Roots of Hope and Founder of Awesome Foundation Miami. Global Shaper, Miami Hub.
“I’m not an entrepreneur.”
I’ve lost track of how many times I have timidly caveated a thought or response with this or similar phrases, only to follow it with a question, comment, or insight that could easily have stood on its own without it. Rooted in a specific understanding of what entrepreneurship is, I had compared myself to that image and found that the contours and textures did not match. So I stayed silent in conversations about startups and funding rounds, didn’t sign up for conferences on investment in Latin America or smart solutions for tomorrow’s cities, and began phrases with self-excusing, diminishing caveats. Eventually – as practice does make perfect – this cycle turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy on autopilot.
The problem with that reality is that I’m not a timid person, I don’t usually keep quiet, and I am a capable and confident professional. I’m very curious and pretty resourceful, have a funny reputation for turning nothings into somethings, and enjoy connecting people. I’ve also started and brought to completion a myriad of projects in corporate and nonprofit environments. Some of these skills have evolved organically, but most have been the result of needing to learn to think creatively, bootstrap, and swim my way out of the deep end.
By contrast, the glorified entrepreneur of contemporary lore is an inaccessible figure. When my mental dictionary flips to its entry, I see someone who is hyper creative, may or may not have multiple patents pending, and is a futurist who divines our needs and wants before the rest of us. He has so many ideas he needs to keep markers in the shower to write them down. He is confident (even cocky) despite having only $100 in the bank and can build incredibly complex financial models in Excel without touching the mouse. He is also a white man.
Comparing myself with this definition didn’t seem entirely alien, but it still felt like an all-too-classic square peg, round hole scenario. Why? It’s true, I didn’t have three start ups (or even one, for that matter), I had not scraped by for weeks on conference room salted nuts while pitching an idea about “big data” or the Internet of Things, I had not – nor did I want to – master Silicon Valley’s buzzword-filled lexicon, and I liked to wear heels to the office – high, pointed stilettos which don’t go well with hoodies – among other things. The sacrifices and hustle of entrepreneurs were real, and I had not experienced them.
Eventually, a handful of people I respected started to correct my equation by pointing out ways in which I was being entrepreneurial and very much so. They explicitly told me my definition was too narrow and provided color to parts of my life I had traditionally painted gray. I will forever be thankful to these good friends and colleagues; they did me a favor I didn’t realize I needed.
Ultimately, the definition I was using for entrepreneurship was a common but deeply flawed one. Semantics matter and, unknowingly, I was the one hamstringing myself by not seeing my own passions and accomplishments through this lens.
My hometown of Miami leads the United States in the number of micro-businesses (those having 1-9 employees) per capita; most of these entrepreneurs are ordinary people taking a risk on a seemingly ordinary idea that they believe can provide a better future for them. Although some thrive, others maintain, and many fail, these endeavors are bound together by a theme: an adventurous spirit and a willingness to turn the corner before they know what’s around the bend. These days, that’s my new definition.
The respect and admiration of many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is hard earned and well deserved. However, apotheosizing a very specific stereotype to emulate is not only inaccurate, it does us a disservice in truly understanding what drives entrepreneurial activity and success in our communities, countries, and industries. The term and actions associated with it are not binary and should be more accessible, flexible, and representative of the global reality if we expect more people to think creatively, strive for disruption, and act like entrepreneurs.
I may not have my own business – yet – but I have a toolkit, I am excited to use it, and I’m choosing to believe that this makes me entrepreneurial, hoodie or not.