Plight of the First Generation Entrepreneur

With so many diverse communities in the United States, one of the most intriguing is the "first-generation American" community. Today we understand first-generation Americans as native-born American citizens and residents whose parents are foreign born; children of immigrants. Reflecting the same array of countries our parents immigrated from, first-generation Americans descend from regions and cultures all around the globe. However, even with the diversity among the countries that birthed our parents, there is an underlying bond that all first-generation Americans tend to share. That is, we have all had to deal with the repercussions of our parents sacrificing, and ultimately adapting to the social, economic, and cultural differences encountered in America.

As a population, we all share stories of the ups and downs, as well as the paradox of experiencing foreign-born parents trying to raise American children. We can all identify with the struggle to balance our parents' attempt to embrace "The American Dream", while also instilling particular "foreign-based" morals and values into their children. Their efforts to encourage us to assimilate to American culture, but not too much so as to avoid adopting any of the perceived negative traits of "American kids." We're told that we have to study harder and work harder than "your American friends" and are criticized as "so American" if we do something wrong or complain too much. Above all else however, the overarching bond first-generation Americans face is likely to be the pressure to be "successful" because of the resounding belief of relatives abroad that anyone who makes it to America should take full advantage of the resources there, and thus has no excuses to not be successful. There is the constant pressure to accomplish even more than your parents have because you were actually born in America.

A primary reason for this phenomenon is that oftentimes the core focus of immigrant parents is to ensure that their children are, at the very least, well off and financially secure. These parents are typically willing to make any sacrifices necessary to provide their children with opportunities and preparation to accomplish more than they did themselves. As such, it is not uncommon for first-generation Americans to be reminded of these sacrifices and hardships because, in theory, it is supposed to motivate our generation to surpass the achievement of our parents and provide even more for our families and the second and third generation Americans to come.

With this in mind, we can begin to deconstruct and understand why so many immigrant parents encourage their kids to pursue what they consider to be "stable" careers. These career options tend to be limited to jobs that are predictably lucrative or that involve a skill or a talent that you're extraordinarily good at. The doctor. The lawyer. The engineer. While I certainly cannot speak for all first-generation Americans, at the very least I feel confident saying that many parents of Asian and African descent urge their kids to choose these careers. Why? Because these are the career paths that mean that their kids have "made it". A stable income; the ability to work mostly anywhere, the perceived ease and security of finding employment in these industries. Ultimately, these career paths help to justify the sacrifices and hardships that foreign parents endured.

It should come as no surprise then that immigrant parents tend to be hypercritical of their children pursuing a career path in a field like entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is practically synonymous with risk; the risk of walking away from security to create something new; the risk of braving an unfamiliar storm of stress and uncertainty; the risk that you might have miscalculated an opportunity, or your own internal resources as you plunge into a new venture. Running a business is as risky as it gets. However, I would argue that this phenomenon has not and should not preclude first-generation Americans from pursuing careers as entrepreneurs.

In fact, the very attributes of the first-generation American phenomenon and the pressure prescribed by immigrant parents may, arguably, create the perfect context for a successful entrepreneur. Affirmation can be found in the fact that some of the most successful entrepreneurs in America happen to be first-generation.

Considering a career in entrepreneurship already sets a person apart from the vast majority, but what distinguishes the drive and motivation of first-generation entrepreneurs from other types of entrepreneurs is the very weight of their parents' burdens and the other aforementioned challenges of being first-generation American.

Take for example, the perception of the average hours per workweek. For many Americans, a 40-hour workweek is completely sufficient and typical. For a first-generation American however, "normal" working hours looks very different. The average American immigrant often works anywhere between 60 to 80 hours; an amount more consistent with that of an entrepreneur. Other experiences and attributes that distinguish first-generation Americans entrepreneurs from other types include:

1) The catalyst of direct or close affiliation with abject poverty or standards of living so low that it excludes the alternative of failing and leaves success as the only option.

2) The general understanding of "no" to really mean "not right now" and something that can turn into a "yes" later on.

3) The acknowledgement that doing what one loves is secondary to achieving security and success because security and success will ultimately enable you to do what you love.

4) The insatiable urge and critical need to show our parents that their hard work and sacrifice was not in vain; but rather, has been utilized for the advancement of the family and future generations.

First-generation Americans can make successful entrepreneurs because of their beliefs and the way they were brought up. To the conflicted first-generation American deciding between medical or law school and the risky path of entrepreneurship, don't be deterred or discouraged by your first-generation background. Rather, embrace it and recognize the benefits of your unique perspective and upbringing.