Lessons from a Street Vendor Part II

On 03/13/2010, in Career, Entrepreneurship, by Jordan Wilson

In Lessons From a Street Vendor Part I, we looked at how one needs to dream big. That by being as specific as possible in your objectives, visualizing your future reality, and through detailed planning, you can improve the probability of realizing your goals.

If you have yet to read Part I, I suggest you do so before proceeding with this post. Part I may be a bit long, but I think it makes some good points (in my humble opinion).

While the ideas in Part I are crucial, you must also put in the effort in order to succeed.

Today we will look at Mr. Wang’s second piece of advice, that

… you truly have to work hard to get what you want. … To get ahead, you have to make sacrifices.

This is another point I fully agree with.

I would add that you need to understand what “work hard” and “sacrifices” really mean. With subjective or relative terms such as these, every person will have a different idea as to what hard work entails.

I have found that most people have no real idea as to what hard work encompasses. I know that when I started working, I had no clue. And perhaps compared to some individuals and cultures, my personal definition still falls short.

For North American students, the poor understanding of hard work is due to two factors.

Hard Work at School and Business Differs in Magnitude

First, school does not require the same effort as a high stress job. It may seem that way as you prepare for mid-terms and finals, but I guarantee that you will miss the school life once you are in the business world.

Travelling the world on business or working on mergers is definitely interesting.

But it may also mean you step off a plane at 6:30 a.m. after flying for 13 straight hours, suffering from the 7 hour time zone change. Grab a shower and a change of clothes, then head straight to the office for a 12 work day. Work a few 12 hour days, then head to the airport to catch a 1:00 a.m. flight home. 13 hours later, land at 7:30 a.m. local time, taxi home for a shower, and in the office by 9:00 a.m. for a full day.

And yes, that is a true story. Experienced on multiple occasions. By mid-afternoon, I was usually on my sixth double espresso and trying to pretend I was still sane.

Not quite the glamour one hopes for in business travel. Plus, it can wear a mind and body down very quickly. The mind especially.

And not quite the same as preparing for a Sociology final, is it?

Always remember that high paid careers are well compensated for a reason. You have to work to earn the money. If you are not prepared to put in the effort, there are many others who will.

A couple of years ago, I spent some time in Hamburg working on my German language skills. In class we were discussing the upcoming Christmas break when the school would be closed. All the North American students were flying home for Christmas. The two Korean students were staying in Hamburg. Not that they did not want to visit their families. But their respective parents had said they must stay in Germany until they become fluent in German. Then, they could return for a visit. A bit of incentive for two Korean teenagers.

I think they will be better prepared for the stresses of the work world than the American students who flew home for the break.

Upon graduation, many North American students tend to be lacking in a true work ethic. I am not taking a shot at students here, just stating a fact. Heck, I was in the same boat a long time ago. Further, I was probably the guy sitting in the boat with his feet up, drinking a beer, while the others rowed the boat.

Reality was quite the awakening for me.

If you want to succeed in the business world, be prepared to pick up the pace from day one.

Find a Business Role Model

Second, many students do not have business role models from whom to learn a proper work ethic. I would suggest that you attempt to find people currently employed in industries or functions that you are interested in pursuing. Then talk with them and find out what it really takes to excel.

This is why you see relatives of professional athletes do well in sports themselves. Yes, there is a genetic component. But by being around others that have succeeded, learning from their successes and mistakes, and following a similar path, the relatives have a better chance of success themselves.

It is very important to have a proper idea of what it takes to succeed in the business world.

As you read this blog, hopefully I can provide advice on ways to achieve success. But seek guidance from as many sources as you can find. While I may like to think so, I am not infallible.

If you do not know anyone who can help you, check out Amazon. Many self-help gurus espouse a philosophy of modelling one’s actions after those one wishes to emulate.

I believe Stephen Covey was one of the first with The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Today, Tony Robbins is quite popular. Mr. Robbins takes a much more detailed modelling approach than Mr. Covey. In between, there are many others that teach people to model their behaviour after successful people.

So if you have no one to talk to, Amazon may be helpful.

Hard Work Differs Among Individuals

Another thing to always remember is that all individuals operate on different levels.

Some are more intelligent. Some grasp concepts faster. Some work more efficiently.

What it takes to get the job done will differ from person to person. This is a problem I have with modelling. What is right for Bill Gates or Richard Branson or even the guy in the next office may not work for me.

In studying for my Chartered Accountancy finals, I put in about 6 hours a day over a 2 month period. One of my study partners had failed the exam the year before. Every day he started studying at least an hour before me and continued studying for at least 2 hours after I left. I felt that I studied hard for the exams. But for him, 6 hours a day was not enough. If he had modelled me for his behaviour he might have failed again. As it was we both passed.

So do not look absolutely to others in deciding when you have worked or studied enough. Assess how you operate and then adjust any modelling to your own situation.


Just a few words on sacrifices.

To be successful in a high power career you will have to make choices. Some call these sacrifices, but I prefer choices. No one forces you to make them. You do so of your own volition.

At UBS, I worked late most evenings. I also worked many weekends. When travelling on business, we were expected to travel on weekends so that we could maximize our time in the office. If something unexpectedly arose, such as the need to conduct due diligence on an acquisition, we had to drop everything and head to the airport.

During one 18 month period, I spent almost every other week in The Bahamas, returning home to the Cayman Islands only for the weekends. Not much of a life.

If you have a spouse and/or children, this lifestyle can be difficult for all involved.

In Switzerland, many of my colleagues would arrive at work between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. They would work until 6:00 p.m., go home for dinner and play time with the family, then be back on the UBS computer system from 9:00 p.m. until bedtime.

It is the same for most professionals regardless of the employer or location they work in.

As for entrepreneurs, when we started our oil & gas company, we sunk most of our savings into the venture. And, as I have written previously, we took minimal salaries from the company so that we could invest as much as possible into operating assets.

At the start, it was extremely difficult financially. In the end, we did okay. But there are many other entrepreneurs that work equally hard and do not succeed. Many through no fault of their own. They risk everything and end up with nothing.

These are sacrifices. These are the choices you have to make.

In my case, I have absolutely no regrets. Yes, I worked extremely hard and gave up much. But I was well compensated and learned a lot. If you want a similar life, I would not dissuade you.

But if you do want to get into the game, be prepared for this type of life. It is not for everyone.

Next up, our final instalment on the wisdom of Mr. Wang. The topic, respect for the customer.

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