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One of the most entrepreneurial things you can do

Articles

Daniel LeMoine is a social entrepreneur, change-maker, and writer. Here he writes at the intersection of faith, work, & building a matterful career.

One of the most entrepreneurial things you can do

Dan LeMoine

I think the most entrepreneurial thing someone can do is move to countries where they don’t speak the local language...
— Entrepreneur Robert Reffkin, co-founder and CEO, COMPASS

As someone who has moved to a country where I did not speak the language I have some inside perspective on this quote. Below are several entrepreneurial traits and qualities which are magnified and grown by living in a culture outside your own. Living in a culture which does not speak your native language forces you to:

Be resourceful.

You will find effective solutions for your everyday habits and routines which will inevitably be shaken up. You will find the best way to learn the culture and language quickly for you. You’ll identify your strengths and weaknesses and find tools and resources and routines to help you navigate based on those strengths. When you have no easy way to communicate, you will be forced to be more scrappy and gritty in order to communicate your message and intentions to survive. 

Think on your feet.

When you have to find the bathroom or you get thrown in front of local television cameras with no notice (#truestory) you will need to react quickly. To navigate another language and culture being adaptable is paramount. This think-on-your-feet adaptability is also a quality highly prized in the entrepreneurial ventures and positions.

Gain perspective (which results in empathy).

In the same way a fish likely doesn't even know what water is (video link), we often don’t know the wonderful, horrible, beautiful, ugly, amazing, broken, admirable and disgraceful aspects of our own culture. Not until we spend some significant time outside of it, can we have a more rightly oriented perspective of the best and worse parts of our own culture (and the culture we’re in). This more-realistic perspective results in empathy and critical thought as to how to bring the best of both cultures into your work and life.

Take risks (which grow your comfort zone). 

A friend told me about a conference where the keynote asked the audience to give a four-letter word which described how to be happy. Answers of love, cash, golf, abounded. The word the keynote speaker then offered was “risk.” Lives of fulfilment and happiness often have a healthy level of risk. Beyond fulfilment entrepreneurs are often very savvy at weighing and navigating risk within and for their organizations.

There’s risk in living in and navigating another culture. There’s risk in trying to speak a new languageYou’re forced to take risks everyday. Not to sound overly cliché, but the saying holds true in this regard: "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."[1]

Determination in doing hard things.

There is massive value in doing hard things, in life and career. Not only does it expand your comfort zone, but it teaches us dependence, which is a virtue we don’t put much weight in in the Western world. Opening yourself to uncomfortableness, trials, situations where failure (if only social) is imminentcircumstances outside our control, and even suffering is something we tend to avoid at all costs.

This is unfortunate because these thing actually produce perseverance, endurance, emotional aptitude, self-awareness, and understanding. Moving to a culture where they do not speak your language exposes you to all of these things. I can’t help but think of Hebrews 12: 

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

To Develop and learn. 

Entrepreneurs crave learning and developing. Just like in the entrepreneurial landscape, in new culture, if you don’t develop you atrophy and die (not literally, I hope). I’ve found that the higher up and deeper into the Caribbean-Latino culture of the Dominican Republic I go, the more I crave (and need) to develop my linguistic and cultural knowledge. Where I am with my Spanish today is what I would have considered fluent four years ago, but not that I’m here, my definition of fluency has changed. I want more. I desire to continue growing out of a love for this language and the power it holds in allowing me to connect with others in this culture. Continual development is key to avoiding plateau and mediocrity.

To grow your confidence.

Your confidence grows, not only because you’re pushing the limits within yourself, but also because the constant failure of bludgeoning through a different language forces you to decouple your value, worth, and identity from how you look or perform. You’re forced to put your identity, if even just incrementally more, into something solid — in my case, my identity in Christ — which results in a more quite, peaceful strength and confidence. In our work, what we do is important. The problems we solve, the people we connect with, the growth we facilitateBut our confidence is not rooted in something (or Someone) deeper.

Comfortable with failure.

Every entrepreneur I know understands failure is part of the game. And I can’t think of any situation more than language learning where failure is so inherent. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and to deploy that learning to grow. Like the time my friend Curtis went into the local market looking for a pineapple (piña), but ended up asking for a penis (pene). HAAA. 

In another culture we have no other option than to laugh and move on past these failures, and hopefully this translates to our comfort with failure in our professional journey as well.

--//--

My path — as a believer, a husband, and as someone looking to build a matterful career — was forever altered (for the better) when we moved to the Dominican Republic in 2012. The extent to which my spiritualrelational, emotional, and vocational trajectories have been enhanced is beyond measure, and the value of my experiences living and serving in another culture will be something I’ll be uncovering and leaning on for the rest of my life.

It is inevitable that you’ll develop the values of learning to do hard things, grow your comfort zone, learn to be resourceful and scrappy, (re)orient and expand your perspective, learn to think quick on your feet, and have ample opportunities to develop, when you ever decide to take the leap and live outside your home culture. Whether it’s a few months, a few years, or a few decades, if you have the chance to live abroad in some capacity in a culture foreign to your own, I promise you will not regret it. The growth from living in a different culture and learning a different language is already proved to be massively valuable on my own entrepreneurial journey.


[1] Author Neale Donald Walsch
[2] Robert Reffkin quote from "In it to Win it: Compass Founder on Switching Up a Business Model" Creator Magazine (Nov. 2, 2015)

ARTICLE NO. 61/100 OF #THE100DAYPROJECT AND 100 DAYS OF WRITING.

TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS EXPERIMENT IN CREATIVITY, DISCIPLINE, LEADING UP, AND SLAYING PERFECTIONISM AND HOW YOU CAN JOIN CHECK OUT THIS POST.