At the beginning of the semester, I asked the students in my leadership course at Humber College the following question, "how many of you want to run your own business?" In both classes, about 80 per cent raised their hands. When I asked them why, the answers ranged from wanting to work on their own ideas to not having to answer to anyone. Probing further, I learned that my students not only wanted to create opportunities for themselves, but also wanted to create them on their own terms. For them, entrepreneurship was the road to get there.
I became an entrepreneur myself around the same age and now having operated a business for 10 years, have learned that it has come with its challenges and opportunities. The first couple of years were the most difficult. I wasn't always sure if we'd make it to the next and that scared me at the time. I was afraid of failure, and although some may not admit it, I think that's common among entrepreneurs. I'd venture to say that I think it's common among all of us – whether you're an entrepreneur or not. With this in mind, I wanted to figure out what was important to me early on so that I could make decisions about my career that were aligned with my values.
Like many, I knew that I wanted to make an impact and not just a profit, but I also had bills to pay (from tuition to car payments). There was a desire to go back to school, and to add to the mix, I knew that I wanted to work for myself, but I also wanted to be a part of a larger organization. My choices seemed to contradict one another, because often times we are contemplating between two options. Whether it's deciding between the for-profit sector or not-for-profit sector, working for yourself or for someone else, or debating between going back to school or finding a job, we have to choose. Some of my peers went back to school, and others decided to work for an institution or try their hand at running a business.
One of the benefits of being an entrepreneur is that it has allowed me to manage my time in a way that I do not need to completely give up on some options. I can run a socially-conscious for-profit business, work for an institution, and simultaneously complete my PhD. There are many times where I switch between the role of a CEO to an employee and from a teacher to a student all within 24 hours. Depending on the schedule, I may also do the laundry and go grocery shopping in between, but that's a different article. Having flexibility over my time is helpful, but managing it effectively has been critical.
There is a difference between multitasking and focusing on specific tasks that vary throughout the day. Multitasking compromises the quality of my product, however, blocking out uninterrupted time to focus on specific tasks and then move on to the next item has enabled me to get things done.
A common misconception is that entrepreneurs don't have to "answer to anyone." As an entrepreneur you are answering to your clients, employees, supporters, competitors – sometimes even your mother. Moreover, you're answering to yourself. What I would say to my students and to those exploring the realm of entrepreneurship is that it requires self-awareness, discipline, and an unwavering belief in yourself that you can rely on your skills and abilities in any given situation. When I question this, because there are times that I do, I turn to those who I admire and am reminded that anything is possible. My peers are making an impact on our world, and for me, there is nothing more inspiring than that. We were told that we could.
Despite the initial challenges, I don't regret not pursuing a full-time corporate job, and I also haven't ruled it out just yet. It may be something I want to experience in the future, because there are benefits and a lot for me to learn in that space. It's not an easy road, but it is one that can be worthwhile to take – you don't have to compromise, you just have to find a way.
Rumeet Billan is a social entrepreneur, educator and doctoral student at the University of Toronto. On April 1st, The Globe and Mail and Gen Y Inc. will co-host a webinar on Gen Y in the workplace, featuring a panel of Gen Y entrepreneurs: #GlobeGenY on Twitter for more details.