Aspiring to be an Entrepreneur

I picked up a book written by a Malaysian entrepreneur (Sim Quan Seng) called Drinking Coffee, Telling Stories & Making Money a couple of days back. In one of the chapters the author — who appears heavily influenced by Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad — laments the fact that schools are not teaching children enough about becoming an entrepreneur.

Two passages from that book stand out. In the following quoted passage, the author talks about how students tend to, when asked about their career ambitions, write down employee-centric (inclusive of self-employed) careers. I have highlighted what I felt most interesting:

I remember the yearly task of writing down our top three ambitions. The words ‘teacher’ and ‘doctor’ would grace almost every list. The braver ones would scribble loftier dreams of becoming engineers or journalists.

Notice how the dreams of becoming an engineer or a journalist were considered loftier than being a doctor or a teacher. Has becoming a doctor become so commonplace that it is no longer considered a lofty ideal aspiring students can live up to? Is journalism really that hard a career to get into? I found this interesting because I had always felt that becoming a doctor was a pretty big undertaking. For example, in UWA, my student doctor peers have to go through a gruelling, stressful six years, while my journalistic friends go through theirs in a paltry three or four.

The author also then goes on to stress that becoming an entrepreneur is often neglected as a career choice by students:

Yet until, today, the word ‘entrepreneur’ remains unaccepted in classrooms. The select few who dare embrace this idea are often labeled unrealistic or worse, unambitious.

I have two points I would like to raise. Firstly, the word ‘entrepreneur’ is an annoyingly difficult word to spell. I must admit, it was only in University that I had finally gotten the hang of spelling this word correctly. Perhaps it is this difficulty in spelling the word, or even pronouncing the word (at four syllables it’s two more than ‘doctor’ and one more than ‘journalist’), that limits this career choice to the ‘select few’.

Secondly, in terms of academia, being an entrepreneur really isn’t much of a challenge. You simply don’t need academic qualifications for this job; what, then, should teachers then say to those aspiring entrepreneurs?

Perhaps it would be good for entrepreneurship if there were some substitute term for it. I remember back in my day before the entrepreneurship craze hit Singapore, I had always wanted to be a ‘businessman’. Though not technically an accurate substitute for entrepreneurship, it signified (to me at least) what entrepreneurship stands for today: it represented to me the act of creating something of value of which others would gladly pay for in exchange. Easier to spell, easier to pronounce, it is an ideal word to replace entrepreneurship.

In terms of academia, I think it prudent to counsel those children aspiring to be entrepreneurs on the merits of having a good education. They need to be taught how having a good education would benefit them even if they decided to take the entrepreneurship route, like how it would help them in running a successful business. And although one should be wary about inundating those young fellows with too much information, perhaps the benefits of academic-centric skills like knowing statistical analysis, market research, and even presentation skills should be something made known to them.

With these suggestions, I can already foresee ever increasing numbers of students picking up the business spirit, and all the while not neglecting the importance of a good education.

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