Like everybody knows by now, persistence is the foundation of the entrepreneurial mindset. You need to give all your blood, sweat and tears to bring your idea to life and make it profitable enough to get by. Like other infamous entrepreneurs before him, Josiah Cantrall used all his courage and willpower to shape the odds in his favor despite having a modest background.
The second oldest of 14 children, he grew up milking cows and shoveling manure in Farmington, Wisconsin, a place he describes as “A bustling metropolitan area of corn fields, cow pastures, and John Deere tractors.” But he never let his background get in the way of his dreams.
In his TEDx talk “What do poor people dream about?”, Josiah talks about his inspiring journey and how he went from working on local farms to becoming a motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, and generational and cultural expert.
The key to his success? He always knew where he wanted to go, and he had the courage to get there.
They had a say in his town – poor people don’t dream, they survive – but he was adamant on pursuing his dreams and moving on. “We were always poor but that’s not really a big deal, right? A lot of people are poor and it doesn’t mean you don’t have a happy life,” he explains. “I always wanted something more, not that I didn’t love Farmington, but I always wanted something more than being poor.”
He had to start somewhere, so he figured that to become rich and successful he had to meet other rich and successful people who would be able to tell him how to do it. There weren’t that many options in his small town but he persisted, he went to church picnics and local fundraisers and tried to pinpoint the rich people in the room so he could go and talk to them.
He soon found out that wearing a tie and parking his rusty car as far away as possible wasn’t enough to escape the judgements and stereotypes, and people would suddenly treat him differently when they learned where he came from. “All of the sudden the expectations got lower, I’d hear a lot of things like ‘I’ve heard machine operators make really good money these days’ or ‘You can make a lot of money as a mechanic’. Nothing wrong with these jobs, but I wanted something else”, explains Josiah, “I thought the opportunities that life presents to me would be much lower [if I told them where I come from] so I hid it and I guess I was kind of ashamed of it.”
Everything changed when he met James T. Harris, who became his friend and mentor, and told him the words he lives by today: where you come from doesn’t determine where you're going to end up. Josiah published his first national column at 18 and by the age of 20 he had made over 30 cable TV and radio appearances. Soon after his 21st birthday he was hired to advise a leading presidential candidate, but he was demoted when the campaign manager found out where he was from. At first, he was devastated – he had lost what he thought was the job of his life not because of something he’d done but because of his background. He learned a really important lesson that day, what he considers the best thing that has ever happened to him: “I learned to embrace myself not for my name or where I came from, but for my talent and the belief that I can get the job done.”
That lesson gave him the momentum he needed to become a serial entrepreneur and currently he is COO and co-founder of Stevia Kitchen, a company dedicated to 100% natural sugar-free food. His entrepreneurial journey made him want to become a venture capitalist and he spent three years pursuing that dream, working hard to learn everything he needed to know and trying to meet the people who would make it possible. But he didn’t make it. He tracked down the right people and sat down with them but in the end, it wasn’t enough.
This time he didn’t feel disappointed because he had learnt that winning is not achieving something, and failing is not the end of the journey. Josiah explains how victory is not about arriving somewhere or achieving your dreams, it’s having the courage to try and get there. “For me, it was the courage to believe something better was out there, to be 17 years old in Farmington and say I’m going to be there someday. That was a victory, and it can be a victory for you too”, he says.
Josiah finishes his inspiring speech with a message to everybody out there: “It doesn’t matter where we end up, all that matters is where we are going and being brave enough to try to get there.”
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