Is There an Age Limit For Entrepreneurship?


The Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge has to be the safest most calming and most re-energising place to exercise in Lagos outside a gym. Yes, it’s better than the beaches and it’s certainly better than the National stadium. If nothing else, you’re not assaulted by the used ‘protection’ from the previous night’s naughtiness.

And so here I am on the bridge walking. It’s a steady pace, you don’t want to put too much strain on  43 year old knees. And anyway, the sights are much better appreciated walking head up, than going full pelt missing out on God’s finer creations as they saunter and shake along.

Coming down the top of the bridge, there’s a young fellow doing his warm up exercises. It’s all rather elaborate, almost as if he’s seeking attention to his colourful outfit. Said outfit is complete with tight knee-length shorts which look quite capable of putting an end to his lineage. As he sets off, I catch up to him with ease. I instinctively pull back my shoulders, hold my head up high and kick up a little dust as I pass.

Staying power, pacing and focus, have come to the fore

Now these concepts are completely lost on these young chaps, yet crucial to success in just about any human endeavour. With a huge grin, I pop my ear phones back in and settle to appreciate quality music on Classic FM.

And then it happened. I felt it before I actually saw him. It was Johnny Bravo in his tight shorts bearing down on me at a rather impressive pace. This was a confrontation. He was clearly vexed by the manner in which I had breezed past him, and he wanted to challenge his elder. But by now he was running. I could feel the eyes of the aforementioned finer creations waiting for my move as the young turk sprang away prancing like a gazelle.

So I moved. With a quick apology to my ageing knees, I took boy-wonder’s challenge and set after him. And at first I seemed to be closing the gap. Or was I? What was certain was that I was starting to struggle. How were his heels coming up so high behind him? His back was ramrod straight and he seemed to be pulling away effortlessly. I on the other hand was breathing through flared nostrils and with my mouth wide open. It had been all of 800 metres but it felt more like miles.

This chap had not read the script. Guys don’t do this to each other in public

How do you humiliate a gentleman whose only problem was his bad knee? But for that it would have been a more even contest, I lied to myself. And as is typical of most men, I couldn’t help but equate the situation to sex. From the brief encounter that had just transpired, it was painfully easy to imagine how much more satisfactory his solid performance would be elsewhere, compared to the limp struggles of a middle aged guy.

It didn’t matter how hard I tried, I was simply not going to outrun Mister show-off.

This episode is played out in slightly different variations in many many other life settings – dancing, use of and adaptability to IT, software applications, driving, sports of course, and even just basic everyday bravado. And don’t even dare think about software coding after 40. Some things are just easier for younger people.

And so the question has to be asked: are younger men and women also better suited to entrepreneurship? Are their skill sets more adaptable to the rigours of self employment?

Is there an age limit to setting out as an entrepreneur?

Sadly, the short answer is yes. And the first reason is this – younger people, the men especially, are mostly fearless. They are not shackled by life’s lessons, or by other life concerns like family – wife and children. And so, they can take risks, an integral ingredient for success as an entrepreneur. Their youth allows them grasp technical and even business concepts easier. They are not set in their ways just yet, and can therefore learn new tricks.

It gets worse: younger men have more stamina. They simply have more energy and can take the insults that come with self employment. They keep their pride at bay, assuming they even have any yet. Where the ageing entrepreneur sees disrespect and disregard, the younger man sees but a minor distraction. A small ‘dis’ which will soon be overcome by his charm, his exuberance and radiant energy. And he believes this completely.

Stories abound of retired workers from oil companies like Shell and Chevron who venture into business after retirement and die within months. Their minds are simply unable to adapt to the world of self employment after keeping within the safe confines of salaried work.

If most employers aren’t ready to take on new entrants after the age of 30, why should the streets accept a newbie at 40?

So is it all doom and gloom for the mature start up? Is it curtains for the actor who was never allowed to grace centre stage? No. It’s not. Yes it is more difficult for the person in his late 30s to early 40s to suddenly jump into the murky waters of entrepreneurship and survive, let alone thrive.

But thankfully, we have 2 things going for us that the younger men and women typically don’t and cannot have: experience and empathy. Relevant experience thumps youthful exuberance. In fact, in many instances, experience garnered in early life is a plus for self management and self regulation. Experience usually also means patience.  And where you have to wait several weeks to see a decision maker, patience can truly be a virtue for the self starter.

So what about empathy then? Decision makers are not typically young and unmarried. The biggest spenders in Lagos today might be young, but they usually have parents and guardians funding their lifestyles. And it is these people who typically sit across office desks listening to the entrepreneur pitch his case.

These people understand what it means to run a family. They know what it means to pay school fees, maintain a home, look after wards and dependents. These decision makers will 9 out of 10 times choose to work with a seemingly responsible vendor, all things being equal. Empathy, or rather the search for it, is why small business owners want to let on quickly that they are family men and women. That they are religious and God-fearing.

What they are doing in effect is signalling…

…that they are in many ways like the decision makers and would appreciate the opportunity to work with a like-minded adult.

And so like the tortoise who beats the rabbit to the tape, it seems the old slower moving entrepreneurs have rallied in the end. The deep thinking, patient and calculated 40 year old has won the heart of the dainty damsel with his tales of war and woe. His quiet confidence and his ability to see things through has helped him ride the rough waters and come out on top. If there’s anything ageing warriors know, it is that regardless of the situation,  “it will come, and it will pass”. Whatever ‘it’ is.

Ageing business owners stay the course, even if it means doing an easy shuffle as opposed to the galala. Doing it right beats doing it fast. And after all, grey is sexy. Apparently. Combined with a little money, grey cuts quite a figure.

So, all that’s needed now is a little more stamina in as many spheres of life as required. And if experience can work in one area, it can certainly make the difference in another. We still have to show the young ones how it’s done. Whatever ‘it’ is.

 

 

Ifeanyi Maduka is the Chief Content Strategist at ekoconnect.net with a few original pieces under his belt. He is an amateur photographer still searching for the holy grail, the killer shot. It will come.

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