(Ellen Densmore, CCU Senior) What do a small business owner, a cowboy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. have in common? The answer: courage and a dream bigger than any one individual.
The cowboy is the classic American icon—with his independence and his unwillingness to be bossed around, his steadfast defense of his homeland and his striving to build his own destiny. There’s a reason Americans, in all our fierce patriotic pride, determinedness to build our own futures, and “don’t tread on me” attitude towards government, have gravitated towards the cowboy image. This nation has allowed for the greatest individual liberty, both ideological and economic, of any nation in the world because, historically, Americans have stood on their own two feet.
But we find ourselves in an era of deep divisions—racial, political, ideological, and religious—where government, in some form or fashion, is viewed as the solution to every social ill and economic downturn. Judging by the doom and gloom of the national news networks, the fearless cowboy spirit seems to be fading.
Abraham Lincoln said that ours is a government of, by, and for the people. Benjamin Franklin, after the Constitutional Convention, said that we have “a republic, if you can keep it.” George Washington called this nation the Great Experiment, because the Constitution established freedom so broad that it could only survive with the careful protection of every citizen.
Ronald Reagan emphasized,
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream—it must be fought for, protected, and then handed on for to them to do the same. And if you and I don’t do this, we may one day find ourselves telling our children, and our children’s children, what it was like in America, where men were free.
The American Founders believed in the power of the free market—Adam Smith’s invisible hand—to regulate prices, wages, and supply in the direction of consumer demand. More importantly, a competitive free market of ideas causes sound concepts and healthy advocacy to triumph. Reclaiming this country from the relativistic, nihilistic left will require more than winning elections and passing legislation; I might go so far as to argue that elections matter far less in the modern American economy and political climate than they used to. Real, beneficial change must begin in the hearts and minds of individuals—it’s all about free people, free markets, and free enterprise, and if this country is to be restored, it will be from the inside out and the ground up. The key is entrepreneurship.
Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” Dictionary.com’s definition is similar, with one subtle but important difference: “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” Dictionary.com has it right—entrepreneurs identify a need, any need, and fill it. Entrepreneurs are the ones continually scanning the horizon for a hole in the market that they can fill, and they grow the amount of wealth that exists in the economy.
True entrepreneurship probably can’t be taught. It is far is more than the mechanics of starting a small business, developing a new product, or managing an enterprise—although it certainly does involve those things. At a fundamental level, entrepreneurship is a mindset that is born out of something deep in the American psyche—a drive for freedom, a desire for independence, a natural inclination to help each other, and a yearning to chase our own dream rather than work 40 hours a week to help someone else achieve theirs. An entrepreneur doesn’t have to invent a new product—his way of adding value may be a service, or simply a new way of doing things that takes an old system and makes it more efficient. Entrepreneurship breathes life into the economy by shouldering the risks that others have been unwilling to take, and ultimately, they add value to the lives of individuals.
Although the late, great Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist, in his relentless campaign to win racial equality and freedom, he had an entrepreneurial mindset that carried him through the fight, and inspired countless others to join his cause.
Dr. King was a visionary who knew how to dream big. His most famous oration was his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he described his vision for the future of race relations and freedom of opportunity in America. Entrepreneurs will face big challenges, and only when chasing an even bigger dream will they have the inspiration to persevere through them.
An entrepreneur’s dream has to be big enough to sustain not only himself but also investors, employees, customers, prospects, and the world. Dr. King fulfilled that bill: using non-violent civil disobedience, he persuaded millions of Americans of all ages, races, and social backgrounds to join the civil rights movement and support his dream. His core values, mission, and strategy were widely known and believed, and reached every corner of America.
Dr. King was able to embrace fear and choose courage—another trait every entrepreneur has. He was never ashamed to admit his fears: he was worried about violence breaking out, he was afraid people would not join his cause. Rather than the common admonition to “fear not,” Dr. King taught us that it’s better to acknowledge fear and do the right thing in spite of it—because, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
At its core, entrepreneurship is leadership—and the qualities of a great leader translate into entrepreneurship: determination, independence, confidence, courage that overcomes fear, and a dream big enough to inspire a whole team. In the 1960s, where society was arguably just as divided and broken and morally impoverished than it is now, it would have been easy to declare the cowboy spirit dead, the cause lost, the American experiment failed. But Dr. King held to his dream, and it sparked into a flame so brightly that all of America saw it, from east to west.