Will the Happy Entrepreneur Please Stand Up?

Will the Happy Entrepreneur Please Stand Up?

I was recently teaching first-year students at the UCLA Anderson School of Management how to build relationships for career growth. As in my recent column on’s Sales & Networking Resource Center, I discussed “currencies,” or the unique knowledge, talents, interests, connections, etc., that each of us possess, things we can give to others to build relationships. To show the students that everyone has currencies, I facilitated a quick exercise. Here’s how it goes.

I ask, “If you’ve worked in investment banking, please stand up.” Some stand up and some stay sitting. Then I point out two things that are right before their eyes. 1) Anyone sitting down who wants to go into investment banking now knows who they should get to know — for job-hunting help, career war stories, etc. 2) Everyone standing now knows one of their currencies, something they can contribute to the success of others who don’t have the same thing — in this case, specialized work experience.

Finally, I ask, “Now, who wants to be in investment banking? Please stand up.” Usually, some of the former investment bankers stay standing, some sit down, and some newbies stand up for the first time. Now those standing can literally see who they can partner with to be more successful in their classes and their job searches. I do this very quick, no-brainer exercise for all kinds of special career interests — entertainment, consulting, venture capital, non-profits, etc. It was shocking that, with the exception of real estate, each iteration of the exercise produced consistent results. Across the board, at least 75% (several times 100%!) of the people who had previously been in an industry sat down during part 2 of the exercise, claiming that they didn’t want to be in that industry again.

For the rest of the day, I pondered: Was it just the result of young people disenchanted by their first jobs? Or was there something more fundamental there?

Then I thought about myself. There were a lot of times in my life when I would have sat down. Interestingly enough, the first time I would have sat down was when I was at Deloitte, when I chose to leave my CMO post there to be CMO of Starwood. But to be perfectly honest, in retrospect, Deloitte was one of the most wonderful partnership environments I’ve ever worked in. So my “taking a seat” then was clearly a situation where youth led to impatience and not appreciating what I didn’t realize I had. And in subsequent jobs, while I met with success, I didn’t necessarily find joy.

Today, on the other hand, since I have become an entrepreneur and started my own business, I’m finding both extraordinary success and surprising joy. I can’t imagine ever going back to a job or career or company where I wasn’t able to find this level of excitement and personal satisfaction and motivation. Now I wouldn’t sit down for the world.

If I asked of you what I asked of those UCLA b-school students, “If you want to do [what you did yesterday], please stand up,” what would you do?

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