Most of us who start a business read books by entrepreneurs or attend conferences and workshops that inspire us to dream big. But I’ve found that sometimes, simply looking to the faces around us can bring just the inspiration we need.
Here are a few of the unexpected sources in my life that I’ve learned some important lessons from.
I know plenty of entrepreneurs who run big, global operations, but sometimes, it’s the local mom and pop business owners who are a great source for humbling advice.
When John and I started our food truck, we met with a 20-year veteran of the restaurant industry and his wife. Over dinner, he told us about how he started a restaurant after graduating with a degree in computer science, hiring his wife to be one of the waitresses. The pair joked about who liked who first and made kissy faces at each other (which, surprisingly wasn’t that awkward). John and I saw a bit of ourselves in them and want to have that same passion for each other in 2032.
I asked them how they stay joyful in their relationship while balancing a family and business. The wife told me, “All we have is each other, and while the business is important to us, family means more.” They also advised us about city politics and contract opportunities—both of which were extremely useful in developing our business.
Recently, we’ve partnered with another restaurant owner who served seven years in prison. Because of limited options for ex-convicts, he went into the restaurant industry and worked as a prep cook while living in a halfway house. Within three years, he moved up to assistant manager and began thinking about opening a business of his own. Today, he has a wildly popular restaurant and attributes it all to his strong faith. He showed me that when life knocks you down, you can always stand back up and fight another day.
There were plenty of days I kicked Lazarus (my food truck) for breaking down for the hundredth time, but as a business owner I had to learn to take it one day at a time without calling it quits.
My little sister was born with Erb’s palsy (paralysis of the arm caused by nerve injury at birth) in her right arm and two dimples in her cheeks. Over time, it got a bit better, but she’s still barely able to lift her right arm above her head and was often teased by kids who didn’t understand. She turned to basketball as an outlet and she was infamous for her one-handed shots, which eventually led her to the varsity basketball and volleyball teams in high school. And last Saturday, my little sister earned her PhD in physical therapy.
Starting a business has been my hardest venture (outside of bikram yoga), and as an entrepreneur, I try to replicate my little sister’s perseverance. Despite her physical limitations, she saw something greater within herself and decided to go to school to help kids like her. And that’s where I started two years ago when I realized that there was something bigger that I was supposed to do. There were a few factors that limited our business initially—you know, like capital, experience, and resources—but despite these things, my sister taught me to press forward no matter what.
And she’s not the only one in my family I draw inspiration from. My grandmother, who would take delicious batter from baked goods and make them into flavorful pancakes for us in the morning, is actually one of the reasons I started my business. My mother, a single mom, taught me what it means to sacrifice and bootstrap even when we didn’t have shoelaces.
And, of course, there were a few not-to-be-named family members who suggested our idea wasn’t worth the time or money. Initially, their words were hurtful, but I had to bite my tongue and show them what I was capable of. And turns out, sometimes that I’ll-show-you attitude is a powerful motivator. Whether your family is the driving force behind your business or the gnat in your ear, it can be an inspiring group of people.
When John and I interview potential employees, we always ask what they wanted to do when they grew up. Hey, we want to know they have life goals outside of frying chicken and making waffles! Within a year’s time, two of our employees have gone on to culinary school and another started a small and delicious catering business in New York City. One current employee—especially adept at customer service—is balancing red velvet waffles with quantum physics, working on a degree in mechanical engineering.
Often, we’re sad to see our employees move on, but it’s a reminder for us to keep moving to the next level ourselves. Working alongside our employees and seeing them commit to our vision inspires us to embody a true team spirit outside of the truck. For me, that’s going along with someone’s idea at work without giving feedback before implementation.
There are plenty of good business books out there and no shortage of inspirational speakers or podcasts. But sometimes all you’ve got to do is look around. Drawing inspiration from those around me has influenced the way I run my business—and my life.