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Why Starting From The Bottom Is An Asset — Not a Liability Darrell Vesterfelt explains why the school of hard knocks is an entrepreneur's best teacher.

By Terry Rice

Photo credit: Lucas Botz Photography

I decided to attend business school out of desperation. One year after graduating from undergrad, I still didn't have a "real" job and was struggling to define myself.

I saw attending business school as a chance to establish not just a career, but an identity. Unfortunately, I was also flat broke. I couldn't afford any fancy test prep programs or a tutor who would help me develop the skills needed to ace the GMAT, a standardized test you take when applying to business school.

Instead, I rented a book from the library. There was literally only one book to help me prepare for the GMAT and Google wasn't really a thing back then. So, I did the best I could with what I had.

Looking back, I believe one reason I did well on the test was that my resources were so limited. I didn't have the luxury of choosing which route I would take to prepare for the test, there was only one, so I had to make it work.

Fortunately, I did well enough on the GMAT and was accepted into the University at Buffalo MBA program. Months later I'd be surprised to learn that I did better on the GMAT than many of my classmates who spent thousands of dollars on test prep services.

That was the first time I realized the advantage that comes with having limited resources. You know you don't have much, so you find a way to make it work.

My buddy Darrell Vesterfelt shares a similar mindset, even though our experiences are different. He grew up in a trailer home and didn't have any real role models in regard to chasing his dreams or living up to his potential.

But instead of giving up, Darrell forged his own path. And as you'll learn, that path led him to found several multi-million dollar companies including School of Traditional Skills and Good People Digital. He's also one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and altruistic people I know, so I know you're going to learn a lot from him by listening to our recent interview on the Launch Your Business podcast.

I've shared a few of my key takeaways below.

Your disadvantages can become an advantage

Darrell said something that piqued my interest: Often, what people think it takes to be successful is different from the reality of what it actually takes to be successful. He calls this the "myth of success."

"The bottom line thing that it takes to be successful is this ability to just not quit and give up. What you have to overcome is actually what sets you up for success."

The benefits of coming from less-than-ideal circumstances? You have all the soft skills you need to push forward and figure things out. Darrell said that when you've overcome something in your past, you have "the ability to understand resilience, the ability to understand the stick-with-it mentality, the ability to understand that you have to make something work when you don't have all of the answers — or when you don't have all of the things that you need, or you don't have the know-how. There's a lot of advantages that I've gained coming from a place of not knowing."

Unhappiness is a guidepost

Darrell said that for some reason, he was never happy about that status quo. There was an expectation that he – like many of his peers – would graduate from high school, learn a trade, and then work that trade until his body started breaking down in his forties or fifties.

"I think there's something to be said about being unhappy," Darrell said. "And I don't think people will actually change until they realize that they are not where they want to be. They don't have what they want. And that pain has to become bigger than the pain of change."

Darrell uses discomfort as a catalyst for change by asking what the discomfort wants to teach him. What is there to learn? Sitting in the discomfort while determined to learn from it will take you much farther than quick fixes that bring temporary ease – but no long-term change.

What to do when you feel like quitting

Despite having built his resilience over the years, Darrell said that he feels like quitting and going back to a normal 9-to-5 on a regular basis. He said that the big surprise here is that this is normal and we should look for the lessons in it.

"I think there's a myth of leadership where we feel like we don't know what we're doing," Darrell explained. "We feel like we're struggling. We feel like we want to give up, and we think we're the only one. And the reality is, everybody feels that way on some level."

Here are the two ways Darell says you can stay on track, even in the face of uncertainty that makes you want to throw in the towel.

First, know your core values and have a firm grasp of your vision.

Second, have relationships with people who will hold you accountable to that vision. Honest relationships with folks who will call you out are hard to come by – but they're worth their weight in gold.

What's next?

Ready to learn more from Darrell?

  • Visit his website
  • Follow him LinkedIn
  • And of course, listen to the full interview below
Terry Rice

Entrepreneur Staff

Business Development Expert-in-Residence

Terry Rice is the Business Development Expert-in-Residence at Entrepreneur and Managing Director of Growth & Partnerships at Good People Digital; an agency that provides marketing and monetization solutions for entrepreneurs. He writes a newsletter about how to build your business and personal resilience and personal brand in just 5 minutes per week and created a revenue optimization checklist to help you multiply your income potential. 

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