On a recent trip to Vietnam, I encountered the entrepreneurial spirit at its rawest and liveliest.
? Everywhere I looked someone had opened a shop repairing shoes, bicycles or "motos."
? Every bit of open sidewalk was crammed with vendors hawking new clothing, used clothing, books, knock-off books, watches, luggage, lemonade in plastic bags, gasoline in 1-liter whiskey bottles (the better to fill up your motorcycle), and everything else you can imagine, including cobras inside bottles of liquor.
? Women weighing 30 pounds less than I do (and I'm not a large woman) carried yokes with complete soup kitchens balanced upon them, bowls, utensils and food on one side and a charcoal grill on the other side holding pots of broth and tea. The grill was hot, and the pots were simmering even as they walked.
In Vietnam, fast food comes to you.
? There are no grocery stores, so some people purchased fruit and vegetables at the markets on the edge of town. Then, using their bicycles or their backs, they carried the produce to customers in the downtown streets.
Entrepreneurship Is Our Birthright
Everyone in Vietnam seems to have a side-job, side-shop or sideline and wants to be their own boss. Why so many budding entrepreneurs in a third world country like Vietnam which doesn't even encourage entrepreneurship?
I believe it's because entrepreneurship is in the human DNA. The Vietnamese people have been victims of war and turmoil for more than 1,000 years.
Today they live under a communist regime with limited infrastructure, few government handouts, little welfare. They know that what their government can give, it can also take away. Yet in spite of ? or perhaps because of ? these challenges, thousands of tiny independent enterprises have sprung up and flourished. Even the communist government is unable, or unwilling, to stem the tide of free enterprise.
No one wants to work for the government or for an institution they distrust. In fact, the current generation of Vietnamese is not interested in socialism or communism, and they're not willing to live on the average $50-a-month salary. They're interested in materialism and creating better lives for themselves, just like Americans.
The Vietnamese are remarkably self-reliant, and nothing drives entrepreneurship more than the need, or desire, to be self-reliant. They are not afraid to work hard to improve their lives, and everywhere I looked, I saw hundreds of people working extremely hard.
No One Has a Corner on Free Enterprise
Is this entrepreneurial DNA unique to the Asian population? Most Americans know the common story of Asians coming to this country with nothing, opening a restaurant (in which the family lives) and within 3 years not only owning a chain of successful restaurants but also having two children graduating summa cum laude from Harvard and another child who is high school valedictorian.
I've witnessed the Vietnamese work ethic first hand, and I know Asians who own a chain of restaurants in Houston. It's easy to believe that Asians have some gift for hard work and entrepreneurial success.
But entrepreneurial DNA is not unique to people of Asian ancestry. Every one of us inherited our own entrepreneurial DNA from our immigrant ancestors who created the American melting pot. When my grandfather was 13 years old he came to the U.S.
from Italy with virtually nothing. In his pursuit of a better life he owned numerous small businesses over the years, some successful, some not. He had the work ethic to match, working until he was 80 years old (I hope I didn't inherit that part of his DNA!).
On the streets of New York, Chicago, Houston or any major city you can see the results produced by generations of entrepreneurial immigrants. You may not find curb-side restaurants thanks to our boards of health, but you will see people working their hardest to provide for their families. In my own neighborhood in Houston I see plenty of evidence of this spirit, from a 10-year-old selling lemonade, to a self-employed plumber working his brand new business while holding down a full-time job. My husband would work all night if I didn't turn the lights off, and I'm up early and at my desk hours before most people awaken.
All of us are doing whatever it takes to make our enterprises, large or small, prosper because we want to create better lives for ourselves. This desire is inbred in most of us.
Even those who don't want to be their own boss still want a piece of the pie ? a life of their own choosing, not one chosen by someone else.
Success Is in Your DNA
Those of us who connect with our entrepreneurial DNA often find ourselves driven to work harder and longer in order to achieve our goals. While other people are watching television, we're dreaming up new business plans, inventing new technology or charting a way to penetrate a new market.
It's hard work; it requires long hours and consistent commitment to your vision. But success is in your DNA, if you can only tap into that spirit, that drive, that desire.
This doesn't mean you won't face obstacles and be tempted to give up. But the next time you find yourself thinking about flopping in front of the TV and pondering who'll get voted off the island, consider this: Is it possible that you're turning off your entrepreneurial DNA and voting yourself off your own island of success?
If your answer is "yes," think of the Vietnamese woman carrying a soup kitchen on her shoulders, think of the 10-year-old lemonade merchant in your neighborhood, think of the generations of immigrants who have turned poverty, language barriers, ignorance and prejudice into shining examples of success.
Without that bold entrepreneurial spirit, there would be no America, and the entire world would be a far poorer place.
As for me, I'm busy pondering and working on my own dreams, not watching someone else live theirs. Excuse me.
I have to go! My entrepreneurial DNA is in high gear and I have work to do..Inc. Top 10 Entrepreneur Vickie L.
Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD is the founder and president of Vickie Milazzo Institute, a legal nurse consultant certification company. Vickie has revolutionized the careers of thousands of RNs. She is the author of Inside Every Woman. Order this anticipated bestseller now.
By: Vickie Milazzo