When I was a kid, my parents never really told me and my brother that we could pursue whatever career we wanted. At least not explicitly. There was always this underlying tone that between the two of us, one of us should be a doctor and one of us should be an accountant. You know, respectable jobs that pay really well.
That said, they never admonished us for the choices we made in school. They didn’t scoff when my brother took philosophy or when I decided to major in psychology. Maybe because they never really understood either. And while they thought my freelance writing was “just a hobby” or “something to do” until I got a “real job,” my parents may have indirectly led me down this path in the first place.
You see, my parents were serial restaurateurs from the time I was about 8 or 9 years old until my dad retired. I have some vague, indirect memories of my parents working more traditional jobs for more traditional employers, but I knew them as entrepreneurs. And maybe that’s why I’m an entrepreneur now too. I’m just not in the restaurant business.
Do What You Know
Before going into business for themselves, my parents already had a bit of a background working in restaurants. Well, at least my dad did, like so many other Chinese immigrants who came to Canada during that time. He learned on the job, preparing greasy diner staples like omelettes, hamburgers, and chicken chow mein.
When it came time to open up his own business, he wanted to do what he already knew, cooking the same food he had for years, except now for his own customers. My mom would come to handle front of house and much more of the “business” side of things.
In a tangentially similar kind of way, I started writing on the Internet back in 1999 as a hobby. It was something that I did for fun and it was a skill I further developed volunteering for other publications and through academic study at university. It wasn’t until 2006 that I started doing this professionally, but the fit was a natural one. I took what I knew and parlayed it into a career. And my own business.
Freakin’ Long Hours (and Taking Work Home)
I’d oftentimes see my mom huddled over the books after dinner, going over the numbers and doing whatever else my tween self wasn’t really privy to knowing. After all these years, I really don’t have much of a clue how profitable the restaurants were, but I suppose they did well enough. It just took some very, very long hours for many years.
Being surrounded by this kind of environment really instilled a sense of work ethic in me. I never really knew my parents as 9-to-5, Monday to Friday kind of people. In my eyes, or at least based on what I saw, life was work and work was life. Maybe they were workaholics. Maybe I am too.
Feast, Famine and Regularity
One of the big reasons why self-employment might not be for everyone is that you cannot expect to receive a regular paycheck. While there are strategies to mitigate this, you will experience both good months and not-so-good months.
I know the situation was similar for my parents too. The restaurants had their regulars and there was a certain level of expected consistency, but how much profit they took home each day would necessarily vary. And some of these swings were also understandably bigger or smaller than others. This was just something they had to expect and accept, just as it’s something I’ve come to understand in my own business.
Flexibility for Family Time
Because my parents weren’t your typical 9-to-5 kind of people and because they were able to work as a team, this afforded a somewhat paradoxical flexibility to their schedules. It meant that if I had a dentist appointment in the middle of the day, one of them could take me while the other held down the fort at the restaurant.
At the same time, both my brother and I spent a lot of time at the restaurant too. I’d just bring my homework or a book to read. Or my Game Boy. Yes, my parents were working, but they were around and we got to be involved in the family business too. It’s a different kind of “family time” than story time at the library, but it’s still family time.
Perhaps on a subconscious level, I came to desire or even expect to have the same kind of flexibility in my own work schedule as an adult. And while it’s not always easy, it’s always worth it. And I have my parents to thank for that.