On Thursday, we celebrate Thanksgiving across America, a time to focus on the gratitude we feel for the blessings we enjoy as citizens of this great nation and for those early settlers whose entrepreneurial spirit laid the groundwork for its creation.
The first Thanksgiving was held in October 1621, less than a year after the 102 Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth on the Mayflower.
About half were religious dissenters, with the other half considered entrepreneurs willing to start fresh in the New World. While I might be playing loosely with the definition of "entrepreneur," I'd consider them all entrepreneurs in some form, as each one took considerable initiative and risk in their voyage to America.
While nearly half died during the first harsh winter, the survivors built a self-sufficient economy within a few years. This took some definite entrepreneurial behavior. Let's look at this behavior and see how we can benefit today:
* Take risks. The Pilgrims left their homes, got on a ship with few belongings and set sail for the New World with little idea as to what would happen when they got there, if they got there at all. While we might never take a chance as big as that one, every new business comes with significant risk.
Did you quit a full-time job? Risk. Bootstrap your business with credit cards maxed to the limit? Risk. Hire family members to cut costs? Huge risk. Bet the bank on a previous successful entrepreneur with potential in hopes of leveraging his/her expertise, no matter the costs? More risk. But for your business to succeed, you've got to take some risk.
* Sacrifice. As I wrote in an earlier column, sacrifice is a key characteristic
of successful entrepreneurs. It was also a key characteristic of the early Pilgrims. They sacrificed their homes, relationships with extended family members, money they would have earned in their jobs back home or, in worst cases, their own lives or those of their children.
Starting any new venture requires sacrifice. At the beginning, we sacrifice full-time wages, time with our families and very often a good night's sleep. But as William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth Colony, once said: "All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage."
* Set goals. No matter their reason for traveling to the New World, someone had to make plans and set goals for success. Writing down the goals -- and referring to them often -- is critical to reaching them. The same goes for starting any business.
* Be flexible. The Pilgrims quickly learned they had to be flexible. Their intended destination was near Virginia's Hudson River. Rough seas and storms moved them far off course. Your company might face storms of its own, but if you're steadfast in your goals (yet flexible in how you reach them), you can overcome most any challenge.
* Be persistent. Those who made it through the first winter were diligent, strong and persistent. They didn't give up. They couldn't be any other way if they wanted to survive and thrive. You might feel like your struggling business can't survive another day, but unless there's really no hope, come back tomorrow and try again.
* Work hard. Surviving in a new land took hard work. Unfortunately, after the leaders organized a collective farm, without free enterprise, many of the men were unmotivated to work. The crops suffered, as did the Pilgrims.
Fortunately, the leaders decided that the land could be divided and each family grow its own corn. The ambitious would eat while the lazy would go hungry because they wouldn't work for it. The hard workers prospered, as did corn production.
Within two years they had a surplus and began trading it with Native Americans and other small settlements for furs to export to England in exchange for supplies. Corn became currency as entire families worked on their own patch of soil. Those were entrepreneurs.
* Form partnerships. The Pilgrims learned to partner with each other and with the Native Americans to survive. They couldn't do it alone. If you're struggling with a certain aspect of your business, partner up with an expert.
* Be teachable. If the Pilgrims hadn't been willing and humble enough to accept help from the natives, they would never have learned to live off the new land. As entrepreneurs, we need to be willing to ask for help and be teachable enough to learn and apply the new direction. As educated as we might feel, there's always something we don't know.
* Be thankful. After arriving at Plymouth Rock, Governor Bradford wrote in his journal, "Being thus arrived at a good harbor, and brought safely to land, they fell on their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof."
Whether or not you are religious, expressing gratitude (even to your employees, partners, customers and others) will give you the humility needed to continue.
As you pause to give thanks during this holiday season, remember these characteristics that helped the Pilgrims lay the foundation for the country we love. The lessons we can take away from their experiences can be invaluable.
This column originally appeared in Alan's weekly Forbes column.
What other characteristics do you see in the Pilgrims? Send me your notes to @AskAlanEHall or you can find me at www.AlanEHall.com. This column originally appeared in Alan's weekly Forbes column.