What A Knight’s Tale Taught Me About Entrepreneurship
A man can change his stars.
Before I knew what it meant to be an entrepreneur, I knew I wanted something different from my life than what everyone expected of me. While my family and peers pressured me to fit into a traditional mold, I found inspiration in an unlikely place.
A Knight’s Tale, a medieval/pop cultural mash-up starring Health Ledger, premiered to mixed reviews in 2001 during my teenage years. It tells the story of an ambitious young squire, William Thatcher, who, in a fit of spontaneity, decides to impersonate a fallen knight to compete in a jousting tournament. The rest of the movie follows the false knight’s (somewhat predictable) quest for glory, riches, and love.
William was a lot like me — spontaneous and stubborn but determined. I was always looking for a way to make a buck — mowing lawns, shoveling snow, selling soda out of my backpack at school — whatever it took. I was never handed a ticket to success. I had to work for it.
I didn’t have any entrepreneurial role models growing up. My uncles, two career law enforcement officers, were my biggest critics. They mocked me relentlessly for my ambition, what I did for a living, how much money I made — anything that deviated from a traditional career path. They were convinced I’d fail, and they, not so secretly, waited for the day it would happen, wishing for the time they could say, “I told you so.” They hated their jobs and were convinced that was the way it should be. As they say, “Misery loves company.”
My parents, while not nearly as bad as my uncles, didn’t really do much to foster my entrepreneurial spirit. They were teenage parents, and, although that’s not a bad thing, being in your early 30s and raising a teen isn’t exactly easy. While they did their best and provided a pretty awesome life when I was younger, they were forced to grow up fast. They were stuck in the old mold of what should be and always has been. As hard as I worked, I still had my family’s voices in the back of my head telling me that nothing I did mattered — that it would all end in unhappiness and misfortune.
But that movie showed me what was possible.
“A Man Can Change His Stars”
After William wins his first jousting match as a faux-noble, he’s faced with a choice: take the money and settle down or go for broke and follow his passion.
He chooses passion.
His friends tell him he’s crazy, that the guarantee of a full stomach is more important than the possibility of fame and fortune. They try to convince him to take his share and be thankful for his meager offering. William doesn’t listen.
In this scene, William tells his friends that “a man can change his stars” — that you can take control of the seemingly immutable forces in your life. For a young kid who didn’t grow up in a particularly supportive environment, it really hit me with a sense of inspiration and encouragement that I had never heard from anyone close to me.
3 Entrepreneurship Lessons from A Knight’s Tale
1. I Am Not a Victim of My Circumstances.
William fought against the idea that a person’s life is predetermined and that ancestry determines worthiness.
Sure, some of us seem to start from square 1 while others are born at the finish line, but does that mean we shouldn’t fight for something better? Heck no!
There will always be things beyond my control. I couldn’t choose how much money my parents made or my family connections. I couldn’t control it when essentially broke my back, crushing the lower discs, in high school and had to give up my major league baseball aspirations. I could only control the way I reacted to adversary.
I believe that every individual is their own person, and everyone has to take responsibility for their own lives. It’s all about what you make of it. So, forget what other people think. If something is in your control, you just have to grab the bull by the horns and go.
2. Fortune Favors the Bold.
William gave up his initial winnings, choosing to invest them in tournament fees and equipment. He calculated the potential risk against everything there was to gain, and he had the confidence to bet on his success. That’s what it means to be an entrepreneur.
You need to be willing to take a hit in the short-term to reap long-term benefits. Whether it’s sacrificing a steady paycheck or taking a chance on a brand-new idea, entrepreneurship relies on risk.
Besides, fear of failure is the death of innovation. Going against the grain, taking a risk, and, yes, risking failure, is the only way to move forward.
3. Money Doesn’t Matter.
Sure, as William’s friends point out, money is important. Money means a roof over your head and a full stomach. However, it isn’t the most important thing.
I will always choose a project I’m passionate about for less pay over a project that will make me miserable but pays handsomely. Why? Because there’s more to life.
For William, it wasn’t really about the money. It was about the adventure. It was about the thrill of victory and overcoming the challenges in front of him.
That spirit of adventure is what every true-bred entrepreneur feels when they start something new. It’s a mix of apprehension and exhilaration that money can’t buy. When you feel this excitement, and it is a piece of you, that you don’t know how to live any other way, that’s when you know you’re an entrepreneur.
So yes, money matters, but at the same time, it’s not why we do it.
Written in the Stars
Looking up at night, you’ll see the stars seem to move across the sky. Their positions, however, remain fixed.
Sailors and adventurers judged their position by the orientation of the North Star in the sky. It was their guiding light — a constant in a changing landscape.
So maybe, William had it wrong. Maybe we can’t change the stars, but we sure can change the direction we go. Maybe we’re born with the North Star above our heads, but we’re free to turn and follow our hearts instead.