A few weeks ago, a reader commented expressing how difficult it is for others to do what I am doing and how my message may not resonate with a broader audience. I struggled with the comment and didn’t stop to consider the perspective. I became defensive of my stance and couldn’t understand how she felt that way. The stubborn narcissist within me felt like she was standing atop a mountain with a hose spewing negativity, extinguishing my flame.
The comment sat with me and over time, I internalized it. I have talked to a few millennial friends over the last few months who sound a lot like me. It’s funny how you don’t hear a message until you open yourself up to receiving it. In listening to my long time friends gleefully share their ventures and aspirations, I’ve starting to think we have a bad case of millennial entrepreneurial syndrome. Yes, I just made this up, hear me out. With greater frequency, I read and hear millennials talk about how they are quitting their job to start a private business venture or follow a dream. We are a generation of young adults who are disinterested in the idea of spending our lives building the dreams and wealth of others. I see a pattern of young adults anxious to invest in ourselves.
With that, we are the children and grandchildren of wise people who more often than not chose a different path. We’ve watched generations of strong black men & women work tirelessly for the advancement of their families. The security of a paycheck and overtime is how so many of us made it as youth. Whether we knew it, our parents and grandparents made sacrifices to create stability within our home structures. They tolerated unjust hierarchical systems, unequal wages, stressful working conditions, last-minute requirements to work later shifts, unsafe working conditions and what we’d quickly label as “toxic environments” and made the best of them.
I have the privilege of hearing my grandmother talk about the lasting friendships and relationships she built while working at Master Lock. I recall my beloved pastor recounting his positive memories of working at AO Smith, just making it to work as the floor of his vehicle rusted out beneath him—as a child and teen going to church out of force, I never realized how much wisdom he poured into me every Sunday and Tuesday as I watched the clock anxious to leave.
I vividly remember my mother working third shift at Master Lock and my siblings and I resting easy on a pallet of blankets in my grandmother’s living room. I recollect being in the backseat of my mother’s grey Chevy Caprice as she dropped off a friend at a manufacturing company where he wore a uniform, constantly complained about his boss and job requirements, but went in everyday with a gold-toothed grin.
Do I think that these individuals loved their jobs? No. But now that I am old enough to understand the need to earn a stable income to provide for oneself, I see how they made it happen everyday regardless of how they felt.
When I told my grandmother that I quit what she sees as a “good paying job with benefits, pension and summers off,” she thought I was crazy. For years, as I have worked, and left well over 15 jobs I heard her sweet, jazzy voice remind to “get somewhere and sit down” (translation: find a job and stay there). By my age, my grandmother was a wife, owned a home and had children. Her priorities were not dream chasing and “finding herself”. She had an obligation to be a provider. When she moved to Milwaukee from Mississippi during the great migration, she came here to work and working was what she did.
Everytime I had to hear the mini-sermon I would drown her out with my own thoughts of doing great things. Once she stopped to take a breath, I would chime in with my little “I am great hear me roar” monologue. She would listen and nod. Later as I stood at her doorstep a-many-a-times asking for money, she would always smile and give it to me. Her speech of “get somewhere and sit down” ringing in my broke, job hoppin’ ears. If she hadn’t gone to work faithfully, my begging hand would’ve been left empty.
I listened to a friend tell me how he had gotten into a heated argument with his mother, whom he was asking to invest in his business venture. His mother was urging him to ensure he was making sound decisions and was trying to convince him to just go back to working a job until he was better able to start a business with more of his own capital. In his frustration with the conversation and his mother’s perspective he called his mother a slave. Arguing that for her whole life she had worked for other people and never had a clear vision of what she wanted to do because she was always working for someone else. He felt that she never wanted anything more than to dedicate her life to her employer and never sought for better.
I said nothing, but listened to him continue telling me his story. I chose to be a listening ear rather than interject because I could tell that he wasn’t looking for my advice.
This, was an example of millennial entrepreneurial syndrome, on steroids.
He wants so desperately to have his own. Be his own boss, making his own moves and accomplishing his own dreams that his mother, is viewed to him as a stumbling block. In his fury, he didn’t even realize that the money he was trying to pry from her was from years of investing her time and energy in building the dream of someone else. The diligent, committed worker that he refused to be for someone other than himself, is exactly what he needed to pursue his own ventures. This impatient, privileged millennial failed to appreciate that the wealth built by his “slave” mother was from years of doing what he and I are unwilling to do; commit to building the wealth of someone else. Is that what his mother saw for her life? I don’t know, but the sacrifices she made everyday made it possible for him to come asking.
I can only speak from my own perspective but I have watched my mother, grandmother, father and other family members work for decades out of a need to provide. What dreams they had were put on hold. I watched the daily sacrifice to ensure that I and the family as a whole had more than what we needed. I later watched my father, uncles and cousins start their own successful business ventures that continue to thrive today. I have been fortunate to watch first hand the sacrifice, so that the younger generations could dream. I am wise enough to know that it took the sacrifices of my great-grandfather who farmed on rented land in Mississippi until he was in a position to purchase the land my family now vacations on. I have watched my father work tirelessly to build a business and sacrifice his relationship with my siblings and I to become successful.
I am grateful to have watched both silent diligent workers and the enthusiastic young dreamers of my family and respect them both. I will never call those who made it possible for me to flourish slaves. It took slaves surviving and sacrificing for me to exist. By the sweat and labor of Harvey and Liza I have come and know what it means to have generational wealth, land and a respected family name.
I am careful to now acknowledge the concern of those who came before me and see life from a seasoned, experienced lens. It’s important that I listen and consider the opinion of those who have lived because I am still living and trying to figure this all out. I can be bold, daring and driven to accomplish my own goals because the foundation has been laid for me to do so. I do understand that for others, going to work dealing with the struggles of the workplace is a responsibility they carry. Does that make me better than them? Absolutely not. I have also had to wear that hat and have entered workplaces I dreaded, to survive.
I thank my reader for making that statement and after I got over my myself, I now understand the place from which it came.
For all of my millennial entrepreneurs living out a dream or working to do so, I ask that we all remember the sacrifices of others and understand why the road we journey is difficult. It takes more than a dream.
I am slow to judge and quick to listen on the subject of entrepreneurship when speaking to an elder and appreciative of the nuggets they toss and bread they feed me.
I say all the time I don’t have the answers, so I have to be open to listen to someone who has experienced far more than I.
I respect the hustle of those who work for an employer and acknowledge the weight carried for me to now have the opportunity to build my own. I understand the desire to want something different, what one may perceive as better. That comes at the price of others making what they had work.
To my humble, courageous lifeline, my grandmother Darean & great grandpa Harvey for your sacrifice, gentle spirits and constant example of grateness