Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, May 29, 2023
by Neil Senturia
My father was a radiologist. As I was growing up, I thought seriously about becoming a physician as well. Before I went off to college to study pre-med, my father took me aside and told me that he had no intention of working with me as a doctor, that Senturia and Son was not a shingle that he was going to support and to top it off, in his humble opinion, he thought my bedside manner would kill the patient.
I set out to be an English major. Ended up an entrepreneur.
Robert Toth, an editor at the Wall Street Journal, recently wrote a piece called, “I Never Became an Entrepreneur, Now I Wonder Why.” Toth and some of his pals started a small paper, they published one edition, then “we all took vacation that summer, and by the time we got back the momentum was gone.” And then he entered third grade.
When he graduated college, he went to work at the Journal and has been there for three decades. The question he asks is why, why didn’t he start his own business, why did he instead opt for a steady paycheck? The hard question he asks himself is — “Should I have?”
This entrepreneurial soup is a heady stew indeed. It is not clear if and when it is ever on the menu, and if it is, should you even order it? Toth says that “no close relatives were entrepreneurs.” It is a key component that you need a role model, a someone who looks like what you might want to become. His parents were solidly middle-class, there was money. And he says that “working for yourself was never a real choice.”
His parents were part of the generation that stayed a long time at their jobs, they demonstrated loyalty and, in return, they received a steady schedule and reasonable certainty that every two weeks, there would be a paycheck.
Toth goes on to say that he had “a very low-risk tolerance. He needed to know where the rent and the meals were coming from.” I love this self-awareness. Risk is a serious noun.
And then Toth goes into full admission — “I never had the fire it takes.” He didn’t want to venture out on his own after completing his “second-grade class project.”
He is introspective about entrepreneurship. He says, “I don’t know if I didn’t want to do the hard work, or thought I couldn’t, or if I was clinging to fear and calling it caution.”
Wow. Those words roll around and resonate in every person as they contemplate the idea of going out on their own. Time and timing are inexorable.
Recently, I gave a short talk to a group of high school computer science engineers. As I am leaving, a young man chases me down the walkway and grabs my coat. He is determined to be heard. He wants to learn the “business.” He tells me that he is a sophomore in high school, his parents were immigrants, he is planning to leave high school, transfer to a community college, study computer science and economics, save money, and then finish his last two years at UCSD.
And then he has some real plans.
He exhibits a certainty that I admire on the one hand and am terrified by on the other. He is fearless because he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know — and maybe that is just fine for now.
I can’t resist the pull. I tell him to get two other students who are worth the effort, and my bride and I will mentor the group, a sort of private incubator, complete with reading material, case studies and written requirements. You tell me you want it — we will see.
For those of you who watch “Ted Lasso,” I am his Roy Kent, and he is my Jamie Tartt. I will “run him until he drops.” Unlike Robert Toth, there is no what if, there is no hesitation, there is no Hamlet, no doubt, this guy is all in.
Where he got the fire, I don’t know yet. Somewhere he found an image of an entrepreneur and he put it on his wall, and he wants to be one. Me, I had the Farrah Fawcett poster on my wall.
Rule No. 762: “Take two aspirin, call me in the morning.”