For years I’ve reveled in knowing many brilliant entrepreneurs who have overcome some hole in their lives that made it difficult for them to succeed in structured environments like school, a corporation, or any large organization. These struggles include such challenges as an absent, abusive, or alcoholic parent; learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder (ADD); and even drug addiction. It seems that a disproportional number of successful entrepreneurs have faced these difficulties and succeeded in spite of them.
If such challenges have overshadowed your talents, you should know that you’re already tougher than most of your peers; moreover, having something to prove can be a powerful motivator for growing a successful business. My father-in-law used to call it becoming a “broken field runner,” the player who lets no obstacle get in his way. If one strategy fails, he quickly finds another path to the goal line.
“You know what the definition of an entrepreneur is? Thirty years old and just been fired,” Rick Gornto tells me.1 He ought to know. He spent his late twenties struggling, working in various jobs without ever feeling comfortable in a corporate structure, always too eager to go in his own direction. Applying for a position as a salesman, he was asked to take a test. “Two days later the guy sat me down and said, ‘Son, I can’t hire you. This test says you’ll never make it as a salesman.’”
Rick was never ...