Childhood and entrepreneurship

I’m fascinated by the relationship between childhood and upbringing and entrepreneurship or creativity of any sort.

John Cleese wrote the book “Families and how to survive them” back in 1984, and when I saw him recently on his alimony tour, he said that he’d noticed that most famous creatives had a really horrible mother. So if only his would’ve been a little worse, maybe he’d have really made something of himself.

About a year and a half ago, Jeffrey Zeldman wrote his “Dirty little secret of success”:

But you won’t be able to do those things, not really, not all the way, not as they must be done, unless there is a brokenness in you that continually craves attention and affection you somehow missed out on.

You have to have been abandoned, betrayed, ridiculed, unsupported at some point when you needed it most.

This sounds terrible and it is. But it’s the facts.

These days I’ve been listening to the auto-biography of first Gordon Ramsay, and now Andre Agassi.

They both have horrible, horrible fathers, and good, loving mothers.

Gordon’s father was a drunkard, a dreamer, violent, pretty much a text-book psychopath.

Andre’s father much of the same, but without the drug abuse.

Andre reveals how he hates playing tennis. Always did. Still does. His father decided that he was going to be number one in tennis before he was even born. It wasn’t his choice at all. His body is completely smashed, so he feels 96 even though he’s just 36 (at the time of writing). Yes, he was number one, but he hated every minute of it. What’s the use of that? Here’s what he says about fans dressing up as him:

“I can’t imagine all those people trying to be like Andre Agassi, since I don’t want to be Andre Agassi”

Gordon Ramsay seems to have struck a better deal with life. He chose to become a cook himself, and he loves food and cooking. His father didn’t try to make him into something. But he sure as hell spurred him on to make something of himself, to distance himself from his father.

I don’t have any clever conclusions here.

It’s clear that any man needs to find a way out from under his father’s shadow. The bigger, more powerful, frightening the father figure, the more work it takes to excise him from your system.

There’s a touching moment in Gordon Ramsay’s autobio (narrated by himself, by the way) when his father comes to visit him after several years of not seeing or speaking to each other. He’s a bum. He’s a drug addict. Gordon has had some success at the point - his first michelin star restaurant, although he’s still in the shit financially. And his father comes begging for money to get an apartment, because his girlfriend at the time has broken up with him. Gordon says something like “was that really the man I was so afraid of for all those years?”

Its very palpable how in that moment Gordon finally expelled the last remains of the ghost of his father from his system, and took his power back home to himself.

One of the fascinating things about life (and entrepreneurship) is that there’s never just one way. Each one of us has a different path, and the particularly exciting things happen, I think, when we embrace that path, and who we are, when we dare to open up and share that with the world, through the work that we do here.


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