The entrepreneurial option ...


Although, for various reasons, I am hell-bent on getting "a job" at this point in my life, I have spent the vast majority of my career in entrepreneurial situations, first in a "family business", then in my own business, then in my wife's (former) business, and most recently in a tech start-up of which I eventually held a 20% ownership stake (unfortunately, 20% of nothing is still nothing, as things turned out there).  Because of this, I found this week's book The Mom & Pop Store: True Stories from the Heart of America of particular interest.

Although The Job Stalker is (not surprisingly) about looking for a job, the "entrepreneurial option" is always out there.  I've had probably dozens of people ask me over the past year and a half "why don't you just start your own business?" ... and, aside from the "been there, done that, got the t-shirt" response, I have to point out to them that it takes a certain mix of attributes to launch into something on this level.  First of all, you need to have something that you believe in that you anticipate being able to make a living doing, and it really helps to have that something being the sort of thing for which you have a certain degree of passion.  Sure, there are folks out there who will buy a franchise because they have spreadsheets that indicate that X business in Y location will likely produce Z profit, but unless you're a cold-blooded MBA, this is not likely to get you out of bed in the morning, (aside from a sense of dread and panic that if you're not there, it's all going to fall apart).  Small businesses that are rewarding are the ones where you're doing something you love and would rather be there than doing pretty much anything else.

Of course, the small family business has traditionally been the backbone of the American economy.  It is not too many generations back that almost all goods produced here originated with family farms, family-owned manufacturing, and family-run retailers.  Even in this day of mega-corporations, the small independent business is a major factor in employment.  Robert Spector's book is a long reminiscence about this part of the economy, from a man who walked away from his family's business (a butcher shop in New Jersey) to pursue a career in writing.

The book is in three sections, one which is primarily autobiographical about the author's own family and their shop going back three generations, with looks at other businesses in the same immigrant environment.  Next it looks at the evolution of the small business, from ancient antecedents to various instances which are specifically profiled.  These range across a reasonably wide spectrum, but generally gravitate to the retail/restaurant core.  Finally, the book examines how the "mom and pop" operation integrates into its community, and how these element intertwine to help define what the community, and social environment is in various contexts.

Frankly, reading this made me really wish I had something "at hand" that I'd both feel passionate about and had a reasonable expectation of being able to make money doing (I even came up with a couple of really cool ideas, for which I unfortunately don't have the financing to even consider attempting). Spector comes to this book, not so much as the prodigal son (he is writing this a half a century after opting to not be a butcher), but as a touching tribute, a love-letter even, to the people who do create those jobs, define those communities, and (in some cases) successfully pass a business down through multiple generations.  Please take a look at my review for more details.

Of course, this is not a "job search" book, but I would recommend it as a "context framing" look at parts of the economy that are not about wages and bonuses and benefits.  Who knows, it might spark some idea that has been quietly percolating in the recesses of your mind that could become your "life's work"!

Oh, and for those following along on my story ... I still have not heard word (despite my reaching out with voice and e-mails) on that Marketing Communications job for which I'd interviewed repeatedly over the past month.  I don't know what to think, but it seems to me that if I wasn't still "in the running" for it, they would have had no problem telling me "sorry, we went another direction" (heck, I just got an e-mail to that effect from a place I'd had a phone interview with this past Friday), so I'm hoping that it's just "wheels moving slowly" within the organization ... needless to say, my The Job Stalker readers will be among the first to know if I do finally get a job!

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