“Entrepreneurship” and “become an entrepreneur” have become buzzwords in the media recently. An idealised job—no, it’s more than a job, it’s a lifestyle, a way of living—like Buddhism?—in fact, it’s the ideal way of living; it defies the traditional career path and the 9-5 job. Entrepreneurs in the media seem to portray a life of choices, meaning and flexibility, of being in charge of one’s destiny.
Podcasts, YouTube videos, Facebook videos, entrepreneurs’ stories, news articles: we keep talking about it and it is not stopping anytime soon. Heard of Gary Vee yet? Of course, you did. I myself got sucked into the trend, despite having never been even slightly interested in becoming an entrepreneur: from stumbling upon Valuetainment on Youtube to reading those catchy headlines in Inc. Magazine or Entrepreneur.
As Gary Vee himself says it so often: today, entrepreneurship is cool. Everyone wants to do it; everyone wants to start their own company. But it is nothing new. Entrepreneurs existed and thrived even before they were glorified as such.
In fact, even I realised soon enough that I was surrounded by entrepreneurs in my own little town.
Born in a Chinese family in a town-village on the south-east coast of Mauritius, I grew up like any traditional Sino-Mauritian: in a family business.
Like quite a number of Sino-Mauritian families, my grandparents owned a small shop, which sold practically everything—from chicken food to kitchen utensils—and which basically used to be the typical go-to supermarket before malls and big companies started taking over the island.
And of course, I lived in the storey right above the shop.
Soon, my grandparents passed on the business to my uncle and to this day, the family business is still standing. However, it took me a while before I finally made the connection between my uncle’s job and entrepreneurship.
When I was young, my family always encouraged me to work hard and find a stable job, just like my parents. Contrary to popular movies, I wasn’t forced into the family business and neither were my cousins. Owning a small business in a small town was not a glamorous lifestyle; yes, you worked for yourself, but it was risky. And my parents were risk-averse. (Does that story ring a bell? Yes, just like the story of today’s entrepreneurs!)
When I asked why my uncle ended up running the family business instead of getting a job, my dad would tell me that he didn’t like to be told what to do, so he decided he would rather work for himself. And since entrepreneurship wasn’t cool at that time, my uncle would often praise his classmates who are now wealthy pilots and managers.
But he was an entrepreneur! A business owner! His own boss! The dream of today’s generation.
Before my grandfather passed away, he used to love reading palms: he would take my hand and predict that I would one day become my own boss.
However, I had never been interested in becoming a ‘boss’, not even a leader at school. The only time I was a leader was when people voted for me to be one (cheers to the Monash Performing Arts Club!); as compared to other students, I was never inclined to lead.
But I cannot deny that we do have the entrepreneurship genes (if it ever exists) running in our family. Even our lifestyle as a family is somewhat influenced by the fact that we own a business—besides, even if it is my uncle who runs the shop, my dad and my grandmother always help around, and all of us (including the little ones) help out during the peak Christmas period.
Yes, we work on Christmas Eve and on New Year’s Eve—in fact, most of my Sino-Mauritian friends who own a family business (and sometimes, even those who don’t) do so as well. That’s what our teenage Christmases were made of. When I look back on it, it’s not such a big deal; in fact, it’s the only way to spend these special days with our family… and fulling experiencing the buzz of late night Christmas shopping!
After all, doesn’t running your own company come with sacrifices… for the greater benefits?
Entrepreneurship has been thriving in the world even before it was cool; this career choice has always been there, surrounding us, at every street corner’s shops.
In fact, all of my uncle’s close friends are entrepreneurs! They all own a small shop in town, they complain about low-profit periods and anticipate peak sales in December—just like colleagues in a workplace would talk about their office jobs.
Small business owners are everywhere; yes, you don’t need to start an IT company to be considered as an entrepreneur. You don’t need that billion-dollar idea to be a successful one. The concepts of entrepreneurship and innovation were already born long ago in the simplest of businesses, who are still going strong to this day because of a loyal customer base or the ability to adapt to trends fast.
Hence, the Sino-Mauritian shop owners and family businesses: they do have a lot to teach us about being entrepreneurs, don’t you think?
D. K. Waye.
Cover image from Post Magazine.
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