James Cash Penney was born to a poor, farming family in 1875. His humble beginnings taught him the value of hard work, and he worked his way up the ladder at the Golden Rule store chain until he eventually bought the business and changed the name to … J.C. Penney.
There’s much more to the story, however, than just his hard-scrabble upbringing, re-branding of the store chain and the J.C. Penney you recognize today.
You see, Penney (and his business) was hit hard by the Great Depression, losing $40 million and finding himself $7 million in debt. He became ill with tuberculosis and was close to his death bed when he decided to do something amazing: Cheat death and rebuild his business.
Armed with a loan, he did just that and lived to the ripe old age of 95. His namesake store chain, which is still alive today, is currently in some financial trouble — but his story of success, failure and renewal is that of the American entrepreneur.
Penney also became famous of saying:
“Some folks have a wishbone instead of a backbone.”
Of course, Penney’s quote applies to the value of hard work, blood, sweat and tears.
But I also apply it to the would-be entrepreneur who is either too scared or too paralyzed by analysis to jump in, start a business, change his or her lifestyle and realize his or her dream.
As I wrote in this previous post, it’s the risk takers who make the world go ’round.
Am I suggesting that you should put your family at risk by immediately quitting your well-paying job (that you might hate) to jump in with both feet and start your own company? Not necessarily.
But there are some great resources out there to help set you on the path to your dream:
- In his book, Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss provides some great how-to advice on finding and testing your business idea (what he calls your “muse”), while you’re still employed at your current job.
- Marianne Cantwell, writing in her book, Be a Free Range Human, also provides an excellent blueprint for putting your business idea in motion on nights, mornings, and weekends until you can quit your current job and start living your dream.
I highly recommend both of those books for motivation and advice and to read some case studies of people just like you who minimized their risks, and added backbone to their wishbone to change their lifestyles and career paths.
James Cash Penney was penniless and dying. He turned it around and built an American icon. His dream (his wish) was vital, but it wouldn’t have come true without his backbone.
What’s holding you back from taking bold steps to start your business, change your career path, take charge of your lifestyle or take your start-up to the next level?