It’s easy nowadays to stereotype. Many of our thoughts and views can be misguided by a single perspective-driven news article we’ve read or a movie that displayed the actions of only a certain subset of people. Being human means that we are only able to contain and process so much information, so we almost always inevitably fall prey to biases.
For example, what do you think when you think “start-up?” You wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if an image of Mark Zuckerburg appeared in your mind’s eye. Young and male is often the image conjured by Hollywood – take The Social Network and the Steve Jobs movie to start. Of course, this doesn’t mean the movie industry is ignoring anyone that isn’t young and male; it just means that the most extreme examples of something usually overshadow what’s actually going on in real life.
We do have statistics, though, to help us discern what goes on in “real life.” While self-employment in general has been rising, few would guess that many new startups are created by women over the age of 55. In fact, Barclays bank reported that women over 55 were opening business accounts 67 percent more frequently than they did in the last decade. They might not land on the Fortune 500 or get crowds to the movie theater, but even women 65 and older have been opening up business accounts at a 132 percent increase – more than any other demographic, period.
Liz Earle, an entrepreneur who works for Barclays as an adviser to new customers, was herself taken aback by the statistics.
In an interview with The Guardian, she said, “To be honest, I was surprised: I’ve done a lot of mentoring over the years, always focused on younger people. I suppose I was falling into that trap of being ageist, thinking that startups were for the young.”
With life expectancy on the rise, more capital and more experience, being older seems to be the perfect storm for a startup. Though it may not seem that way to those who haven’t ventured into business themselves, the risks are not as glamorous as it looks on the big screen. Having a firm foundation of prior experience is often the best way to guarantee success.
Earle says, “I will probably get shut down for saying this, but 50-plus women are often more agile and more adept at multitasking, because that’s what we have had to do over the last decades of our lives, juggling caring for older relatives with bringing up younger children. Home and work. It makes you nimble in your mindset. Nothing can replace experience, knowledge and wisdom, and you can’t buy them or study for them at university.”
It’s important for people to see these stories, too, as they are plentiful and can inspire even more willing and able people to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
Karen Stubbings is the founder of The Wood Pile, a communal workshop that provides tools and equipment and that collects wood waste and furniture to sell. She also expressed to The Guardian how her thoughts on the proper age for entrepreneurship were skewed.
“I had massive concerns about my age – I never expected that, at 51, I would be humping and lumping wood into the back of the van,” she said. But then, echoing Earle, she said “ . . . but without all my experience, I would have really struggled. I knew people I could ask for advice, and spent my career writing tenders for grants and setting up projects.”
“Some days are very long; others I can get away with 11 hours,” she said.
Success stories can be rewarding without looking so glamorous.
“When people who came here stop by and have now found a job, that’s absolutely brilliant.”
All it takes is the belief that you can do it, so don’t let a go-to narrative be the reason you feel like you (or anyone else) can’t.
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