Wear That Badge With Pride

For my speaking engagement on Friday, I’m carefully reading the information about the guests (looking for clues and cues about theming the talk, and how much risk to take with the visuals and script). One of the guests starts their profile with “dropped out of high school at 16 to set up his first business”. Is that really the right headline for a professional profile? You won’t be surprised to hear that this person has an entrepreneurial background, and having dropped out of school is almost a badge of honour for those who have started their own business. After all, dropping out of Harvard never did Bill Gates any harm!

But what if you don’t personally have an entrepreneurial background? Will you automatically make the link that dropping out of school made this person a better entrepreneur? That having to fight to grow a business (without the extra knowledge and elevated status a higher education would bring) taught him toughness, resilience and made him what he is today? Or are we less empathetic to entrepreneurs, and see him as a drop out who had to find something else to do, which is a brutal but possible way to look at his profile? 

My father was an entrepreneur. He didn’t flunk school, but he left at sixteen and went to work. And worked hard; including buying a beaten-up car (and £50 of stock) and hitting the road to make a living. So I think I have some appreciation of the mindset of an entrepreneur, and I’m thinking positively about this guest. But if I didn’t have that life story, might I just think he was a dropout? 

My message is this – be careful with how you project yourself and write your profile. If something helps to better tell your story, then make the point – but link it to the #value the experience (or fact or feature) brings to the reader. In this case, what’s implicit is that my guest can help other entrepreneurial businesses grow, because he’s been through the pain and excitement of that journey. And if you do make the link to #value, then wear that badge with pride. But be explicit – don’t keep the reader guessing how a perceived negative leads to a positive outcome.