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The New American Dream: Unleashing Your Inner Entrepreneur

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There used to be a simple formula for building a good American life: Go to school and make good grades. Then go to college. Then find a job with a good company. Work hard. Save money. Finally, enjoy a decent (if not lavish) retirement. For years, the middle class has dutifully followed this path. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most exciting life but it paid the bills and maybe even allowed for a week or two of vacation every year.

It is amazing how much can change in a decade or two. These days the traditional path leads only to daily stress, crushing debt, and uncertainty about the future. The most remarkable part is that so many people continue to blindly follow it, says Gregory Downing, author of Entrepreneur Unleashed: Wealth to Stand the Test of Time—when what we really need to do is make an about-face and learn how to think about work and wealth in a whole new way.

“Consider that probably half of all college graduates are moving back home because the jobs just aren’t there,” notes Downing. “In some cases they’re saddled with student loan debt in the six figures. Meanwhile, the price of everything from food to gas to healthcare to education itself continues to rise.

“Clearly, the system is broken,” he adds. “It’s time we realize, as a society and as individuals that we need to make a huge mental shift. The government can’t save us; it’s in dire straits, too. Neither can any teacher in any traditional school, because the education system is caught in a time warp where college degrees and 401(k)s are the be-all end-all. The only one who can save you, and your entire family, is you.”

Downing is referring to entrepreneurship. He knows firsthand how dramatically it can transform your life. Once a car dealership manager working grueling 80-hour weeks, he is now a millionaire many times over who takes four months of vacation a year. He made his wealth as a real estate investment business owner and motivational speaker, and he says regardless of the field you may choose, entrepreneurship is the only logical path to financial freedom in a global economy where all the rules have changed.

First, let’s be clear: The entrepreneurship he espouses is NOT the “open your own restaurant and bust your butt working there seven days a week” variety. Rather, it centers on generating multiple streams of income (earned, passive, and portfolio) so that the money you make is not directly connected to the time you spend. (“Time is more valuable than money” is one of Downing’s favorite mantras.)

Anyone can make the leap to entrepreneurship, and, subsequently, financial freedom, insists Downing. Sure, you may have to learn new practical skills—but mostly it’s a matter of changing your mindset. Once you break free of what he calls “middle-class programming,” half the battle is won.

The 40-some Universal Laws of Being an Entrepreneur revealed in Downing’s book sum up the mindset needed to be successful. Here are 5 of them:

“I will always do exactly what I say I will do.” Most of us do keep our word to others, or at least try to. And of course being trustworthy is critical to your success. (How else will we find investors and get return customers and referrals?) But what about the promises and pacts you make with yourself? Downing says most people are far more likely to break agreements with themselves than they are with others. Yet since becoming an entrepreneur requires a dramatic change in both mindset and habits, you won’t get far if you keep letting yourself off the hook.

“Breaking any kind of commitment—even those that may seem insignificant—hurts us because our subconscious gets accustomed to our ‘crying wolf,’” he says. “Then, when we want to make a big change in our lives, our subconscious simply doesn’t believe us. It will actually work against our success. So when you don’t do what you say you are going to do, you are actually giving yourself permission to falter, to quit, and to fail.”

“I will take action in my life—now!” I’d like to build my wealth. I want to start my own business. It would be great to be in firm control of my financial future. These are nice, positive thoughts, but when they’re not paired with action, they are nothing but daydreams. Only action—not plans, not goals, and not ambition—gets results. Every day that you don’t take a concrete step forward is another day of the status quo, another day of accepting a mediocre, hum-drum life.

“Life rewards action,” he asserts. “And yet, most people just keep going through their daily motions, procrastinating, thinking their ideas to death, and never moving forward on them. Every morning, ask yourself, What action can I take today to move toward my dream of financial independence and self-reliance? Then do it, for your own sake and for the sake of your family. Otherwise, one day you’ll look back at your life and realize that while you had good intentions, you did not create results.”

“I will remain aware that I am 100 percent responsible, 100 percent of the time, for the results in my life.” It’s easy to blame disappointments and failures on everything other than ourselves. For instance: “I could be a lot wealthier if the economy hadn’t tanked.” Or, “How was I supposed to know that there would be a storm and I’d have to clean out my savings to replace my roof?” While it’s true that you can’t always foresee or control what happens in your life, you can choose how you respond to those circumstances.

“I get it—life has a way of kicking in the door and derailing your plans,” admits Downing. “There are bills to pay, problems to solve, and circumstances that need attention. You need to deal with these issues, but you cannot allow them to stop you. Every day, you must make time to move toward the life of your dreams, no matter how small that step is. If you aren’t taking steps to change your reality, you forfeit the right to complain about it.”

“I will invest in a financial education program to master the skills of being an entrepreneur.” For decades, American schools have taught (and are still teaching) students that they’ll need to give the best years of their lives to employers so that they can retire on 40 percent of their working salary. (That’s assuming they can get a good job at all in today’s economy, of course.) It stands to reason that if you want more out of life, you’ll need to seek some non-traditional education that will help you cultivate the skills that will enable you to generate multiple streams of income.

What those skills are specifically, of course, depends on the field you want to play on. Most likely they’ll have to do with acquiring credit, using debt wisely, seeking (and persuading) investors, and marketing your products or services to buyers. Downing’s main point is that you shouldn’t be afraid to pay for the expertise you need.

“I will remain coachable.” The annals of history are filled with the tragic downfalls of leaders who got “too big for their britches,” refused to consider the advice and expertise of others, and ran their organizations and empires into the ground. Entrepreneurs, by nature, are go-against-the-grain types. It’s easy for them to assume they know best and disregard good advice from those who’ve been there. Don’t fall into this trap. Not only should you carefully consider advice, you should actively seek it out.

“The greatest athletes in the world have coaches, and the president of the United States has advisors,” points out Downing. “Why would you or I be any different? Other people have done what you want to do and know things you probably haven’t even considered. If you seek those individuals out and actively learn from them, you’ll minimize mistakes while growing your business as effectively as possible.

“Keep in mind, though, that a true mentor won’t just tell you what you want to hear—he or she will tell you what you need to hear,” he adds. “Sometimes it’ll be uncomfortable, and you’ll be tempted to disregard the advice. Don’t. Leave your pride at the door and always remain open to learning new ways to approach business problems.”

To learn more, visit www.GregoryDowning.com.

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