Can You Be Great Without Having Grown Up In Chaos?

Can You Be Great Without Having Grown Up In Chaos?

There seems to be this stigma that you need to have grown up in chaos to be a great entrepreneur. You’ve heard the stories — the Ivy League dropout, kid with the single alcoholic mother, and foster home veteran.

Here’s how Steve Blank puts it:

“What happens to people who can survive chaos on a daily basis for their entire lives? The outcome is a type of personality that, when stuff is melting down, bullets are flying, things are changing on a daily basis […] the people who came from a dysfunctional family go ‘ok, it’s like a normal day for me.”

Chaos Breeds Nimbleness – So Does Order

I get it. Chaotic situations are steep learning curves that teach you to embrace the moments when shit hits the fan. Like when you’re racing to market with a half-assed product worried it will break all-the-time or when the venture funding ‘didn’t come through.’ When times are tough, there are no second chances — you need to be some amazing combination of stealthy, graceful, nimble, scrappy and strong.

It doesn’t take a traumatic childhood, however, to be all of those things and more. Learning to deal with chaos is an art form and acquired skill — not a birthright — that you can learn in your teens and well into your ‘20s, and ‘30s. This includes not having to throw a grenade into a situation when your company is out of a dip.

Chaos is Glamorized

We glamorize chaos, but there’s a definite downside. People who love chaos also have trouble appreciating when times are great.  If there is no dysfunction happening around them they need to create it in order to feel ok about it. Because, all they know is chaos.

I have so much respect for the entrepreneurs in my life who have a crazy story to tell:  bad childhood, no happy memories, sent to juvie, etc. Gosh, with all these dramatic lives I sometimes feel guilty that mine was so, well, perfect and that I should be punished for it.

Then I realize how completely silly I am for feeling that way. If anything, I should feel lucky. What empowers me is the fact that I grew up with it all — loving parents, a stable home environment, and an amazing education. I’ll be a great entrepreneur because of it, and I should feel proud. So here’s my story.

A Perfect Childhood = Ability To Be Great

I grew up as part of an awesome family with parents who gave me the world. I did the typical high school to university to grad school thing, and I was a straight A student. I traveled the world and even spent some time in Australia.

My parents epitomized stability. My dad was in real estate before he retired, and my mom had a teaching career that spanned three decades. When my parents got married, they vowed to raise their kids to be great and pursue their dreams.

As an entrepreneur, I live my dreams every day, and you should damn well believe that nothing will stand in my way of aspiring to greatness. Not stereotypes, not chaos, not anything. My determination is one of my strongest assets —  and I have my upbringing to thank for it.

So the answer is YES! You can be great – no chaos needed.

Mom and Dad – thank you for teaching my the ropes, explaining how to ‘read the play’ and letting me fall when I needed to.


4 Comments

  1. Excellent points, Renee. I just want to add that I think that that a lot of the ‘life’ chaos is very different than ‘business’ chaos – and experiencing one does not necessarily equip you for the other.

  2. In some ways, maybe, but the general argument is that having grown up in ‘life’ chaos helps you with ‘business’ chaos. I agree, but it does not determine whether or not it will make you great.

  3. Wow such a coincidence, I was just thinking about this topic the other day! I was a kid who grew up in chaos, but I wonder about it more from a standpoint of recruiting. Granted they are not dealing with the same things a founder is, but many still have a hard time with constant change. Curious to hear how you’ve managed to lead your team?

  4. Hey Poornima,

    Thank you for the comment and great question.

    I have a laisser-faire approach to leadership. I teach, delegate then let the team work on their own projects and own their own outcomes. I put a lot of trust in the people who I work with – instant trust really, but there is little room for error. I am quick to reprimand and dismiss people when needed.

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