When I was younger and trying to decide on a career path, I briefly thought of going into business for myself. It was an admirable, if short-lived, dream, but in retrospect I’m a little dismayed that I even considered it. Time has taught me that I just don’t have the entrepreneurial itch—or the guts, frankly—to strike out on my own.
Oilman J. Paul Getty once said, “Going to work for a large company is like getting on a train. Are you going 60 miles an hour, or is the train going 60 miles an hour and you’re just sitting still?” Me, I’m the type of person who’s perfectly content riding the train.
Yet what’s more puzzling about my thought process back then isn’t that I considered starting my own business but rather the field it was to be in. The seed for the idea started with my grandfather, who ran his own civil engineering firm in Huntsville, Ala. I’d grown up admiring his accomplishments, and it seemed only natural to do something similar with my life. I think he would have liked nothing more than for me to follow in his footsteps, whether by taking over his business or opening an engineering firm of my own.
Of course that was assuming I had the technical skills to embark on such a career—which I didn’t. As much as I enjoyed looking over my grandfather’s shoulder at blueprints he was working on, I can’t fathom doing the math his job required.
Life, though, has a funny way of coming full circle. All these years later I’m getting to live out my childhood dream, albeit vicariously, through my wife, Victoria, a professional mechanical engineer. This past fall she started her own company, which specializes in sustainable building design. Having watched her get the business off the ground, I’ve come to believe that being a spouse of an entrepreneur is probably the closest thing to actually being an entrepreneur oneself. I’ve shared in the good times when work is plentiful and sweated the moments when funds are stretched pretty thin.
Nevertheless I wouldn’t change a thing about these past few months. I’m immensely proud of my wife for daring to do something that I’d only dreamed about, and if anything, her enterprising spirit has rubbed off on me. I’m now more mindful of how entrepreneurs think, and in some small part this has carried over to my own job.
As Dean Jim Bradford points out, large organizations can benefit from this kind of thinking just as much as smaller ones, and therein lies a valuable lesson for everyone, regardless of whether you choose to ride the train, so to speak, or not. The truth is we all have a say in where we’re headed and how we get there. We passengers just have to make sure we don’t get too comfortable in our seats.