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My parents were a bit unconventional growing up. To start with, my mom worked. For perspective, in the 1970s, she was the only working mom I knew — none of my friends’ moms had jobs let alone a career. My parents were also small-business owners with a few different irons in the fire. My dad was an insurance agent who took over the business from his father-in-law and ran it until he died in 2018. My parents bought a travel agency and ran that for 25 years until travel agencies pretty much went extinct, a casualty of the internet. And my mom ran a business that rented villas in Jamaica for most of that time as well.
I used to get annoyed that I was a “latchkey kid.” I walked myself to school or rode my bike on my own (about 1.5 miles away). Of course, we didn’t have cell phones to keep track of where we were, so I would make my way home around dinner time after stopping at several friends’ houses on my way home from school. And chances were my brothers and I would be the ones getting dinner going. My brothers and I were very independent; we pretty much got our homework done on our own, learned to cook for ourselves and also started working when we were 16. My first job was working at Wendy’s.
But what I’ve come to realize is that growing up with entrepreneurial parents has instilled some very useful values in me — and I didn’t even fully realize it until I became an entrepreneur myself (I launched MASAMI, clean premium haircare, and Isle de Nature, bee-powered luxury home fragrance, in 2020).
“Having that sense of self-sufficiency is invaluable”
First of all, even though I am an introvert, I had to fend for myself at an early age. So I had to learn to be self-sufficient and get stuff done if I wanted it to happen. That ability to be productive has helped me tremendously as I’ve launched my businesses. Over the years, I’ve become a learned extrovert and have become more comfortable putting my myself out there, but having that sense of self-sufficiency is invaluable.
My parents had a tremendous amount of flexibility in their lives. So, even though they would often work late or on weekends, they made the time to be the little league coach, soccer coach, football coach. My mom was my softball coach. We would often take long weekends to head up to our house in Eagle River, Wisconsin (they would pull us out of school for a day or two). Our teachers used to get annoyed, but that ability to prioritize and create your own schedule and not let your work completely take over your life has stuck with me too.
I also now appreciate the blending of work and personal lives. For my parents, that often manifested in family trips to Jamaica (I’ve probably been there 20-plus times) where we would have a blast hanging out at the pool all day while my mom went to check out new villas to represent. They often pulled us in to help with the businesses as well. My brothers were the office cleaners. And I did the bookkeeping all through high school. I’ve tried to do the same with my kids with lackluster results — but I think that’s more of a reflection of Gen Z versus Gen X than anything else.
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“My parents were always pretty transparent about the business”
I’ve also learned not to be afraid of hard work. My parents both had a tremendous work ethic. They were detail-oriented, service-oriented and willing to put in the time and effort to build their businesses. As my husband likes to say, “Ferraris don’t grow on trees,” so having that built-in work ethic helps a lot to be productive and goal-oriented.
My parents were always pretty transparent about the business in terms of financials, customers, challenges and more. So I got a healthy does of reality during family dinners as they would strategize about a new hire, a big client or other business. I’ve also seen them go through a betrayal from someone close whom they trusted and also find support in places they weren’t expecting. As my brothers and I got older, we were able to offer advice on some of these issues (not that they would always take it), but seeing how they navigated different issues or situations has made it easier for me to figure things out in my own businesses.
Probably the biggest lesson I learned is that while there may be dark days (I remember some years where money was super tight as they were trying to grow their businesses), the benefits of entrepreneurship definitely outweigh the negatives. My parents were optimists who always saw brighter days ahead. They also made sure to enjoy life — to take advantage of their travel connections to go to places I would have never otherwise gone at that age (Istanbul, Greece, Italy, France). And to not be afraid to splurge on a great experience.
I hope that even though my kids (20 and 18) aren’t interested in doing what I’m doing, some of these values and lessons will stick with them too. They can’t help but absorb it the way I did growing up, even if they don’t realize it. I’d love to see them build on these lessons and make them their own. Maybe they won’t be able to avoid the entrepreneurial gene that’s been passed down. We’ll see …