Insight for entrepreneurs from a great literary classic

I recently found some time to put my feet up and catch up on some outstanding reading that I had been meaning to get to for some time. This time the book of choice was the classic ‘Old Man and the Sea’ by Earnest Hemingway. What started off as just another read, quickly became a comparison of the life of Santiago a fisherman past his prime, myself and small business owners everywhere.

Every Entrepreneur Is After the Big Fish

In the Old Man and the Sea, veteran fisherman Santiago seems to be content with going out daily in search of a good catch. It wasn’t until he ventured out beyond the comforts of his normal fishing holes that he would land his “big fish” a beautiful 8 foot, 1,500 pound marlin. We live in a hyper startup society where entrepreneurs everywhere believe that they are one Shark Tank presentation away from the next big thing. Even those small business owners that would claim to be content with a simple micro-enterprise, secretly wouldn’t mind if they stumbled upon a unicorn.

Every Entrepreneur Experiences Doubt

Show me an entrepreneur that hasn’t had doubt at some point in their journey and I’ll show you someone that has a really nice hobby. Despite having a lifetime of fishing experience, old man Santiago would doubt every aspect of who he was as a person and a fisherman in his epic three day battle with the giant marlin. He would question his fishing tactics, cursed his age and body for failing him and wondered why he had ventured out so far. Like many small business owners Santiago would have to acknowledge his fears while finding a way to push through in pursuit of the biggest catch of his life.

Parting Thoughts On Hemingway’s Character

Santiago is no Atticus Finch, but I think his life provides some insight that a lot of entrepreneurs can identify with.

  • Entrepreneurs Often Wear All Hats: During the defining moment of Santiago’s life he would find himself trying to handle a task alone that really required several people to accomplish. At times being a small business owner can feel like you are on a deserted island responsible for all tasks related to your survival.
  • Entrepreneurs Need Good Mentors: In the story there is a friendship between a young boy Manolin who is a helper/apprentice or simply sees Santiago as a grandfather type. The two spend time talking baseball and sailing as the boy has been taught how to handle a boat, set bait, fix and adjust lines as well as bring in fish. To be successful I think everyone needs someone to believe in them, nurture them and encourage them to greater things. For entrepreneurs finding a good mentor is a must.
  • Success Can Be Fleeting: You rarely see tales of true overnight success. What may seem like instant fame typically has been years in the making. Despite his many adventures, Santiago would be up in age before embarking on the adventure of his life. For those familiar with the story you know that it doesn’t end as the old man had envisioned. Santiago’s tale is a reminder that success can often be delayed while also being fleeting. So up and coming entrepreneurs should make haste and take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.

Cavanaugh L. Gray is the Director of Business Development for The Entrepreneur Café, L.L.C and Adjunct Professor of New Media Entrepreneurship at Loyola University in Chicago. His book The Entrepreneurial Spirit Lives: 25 Tales to Help Entrepreneurs Start, Grow, and Succeed in Small Businessis available on Amazon. Contact the company at cgray@ecafellc.com or 877-511-4820 for help starting, growing and succeeding in small business.


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