Eminem: Life Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Eminem. Slim Shady. Marshall Mathers III. Love him or hate him, no one can deny that he leaves an indelible impression, nor can one argue his staying power.

Sure, he is not the only kid to come from a poor and broken home, or to have changed school every few months, or to have flunked the 9th grade three times. There are plenty like him who don’t make it; but, make no mistake, Eminem has earned everything he has, fair and square, and there are inspiring life lessons to be learned here, for every entrepreneur pursuing a dream.

When the Going Gets Tough, Eminem gets Going (and then some):

Eminem is a fighter. He has overcome struggles, both physically and mentally, when most would have collapsed from overwhelming exhaustion. He’s taken on challenges hardly suitable for the faint hearted (battling the Goliath of hip-hop as a young, white male). He had little emotional support from his family (his father left him when he was 18 months old and was raised by his mother on welfare); the one positive influence in his early life, his uncle Ronnie, committed suicide in 1991. A few years before that, Eminem himself almost died after being beaten up by a bully in middle school, leaving him in a coma for ten days. Barely in his early 20s, Eminem has a daughter. To top it off, rap labels continue to reject him because of the color of his skin, regardless of his rap skills. The odds were stacked against him before he was even out of the gate. Juggling the responsibility of a father with a less than stable career choice, e.g. aspiring white rapper, is enough for any sane person to go crazy.

The fight, for Eminem, never really stops. Despite his stardom, he still struggles with internal and external demons. In 2006, his best friend Proof was killed. There was concern that the tough Eminem had finally reached his breaking point. He almost nearly did. Amidst deep depression, his best friend’s death, and an elaborate cocktail of prescription pills, he collapsed from an overdose in 2007; he was later told that had he been found just two hours later, it would have been too late.

Eminem doesn’t pretend to be Superman nor act as if it’s been a smooth ride, and in that humble honesty, is yet another layer of his unique toughness. He has an uncanny ability to lift himself out of some of the most traumatic circumstances, even when his own inner voice is driving him to further self-destruction. This isn’t trite, this takes serious guts. It’s this “signature” Eminem drive that every Entrepreneur should heed.

He has always genuinely believed that “you can do anything you set your mind to.’ If his life story isn’t an endorsement of this in itself, I don’t know what is.

Hard Work Does Pay Off:

14 years of hard work, to be exact, before he gets his first real break, signing with Interscope Records. Eminem discovered rap at the age of 11. At 14, he was performing amateur raps with a group called Bassmint Productions. He wrote rhymes every single day, read the dictionary (he had a deep affinity for language and this was his toolkit for the countless hip hop battles he took part in – look up some vintage video of Eminem vs MC Juice). He immersed himself in everything hip-hop: from studying the classics like LL, Dre and NWA, attending and competing in rap “battles,” testing out flows and sounds until he found his own voice. He worked multiple minimum wage jobs to make ends meet, proceeds of which went into caring for his family and his dream. In 1996, he released his debut album Infinite, which only sold a handful of copies. No career break in sight, mounting drug abuse and relationship woes lead him to attempted suicide. But, again, that inner voice somehow kicked in at the eleventh hour. The next year he released Slim Shady EP, which would sell even fewer copies than Infinite. Yet, another blow to his aspiring career. He just couldn’t catch a break. But, he kept at it. He didn’t settle.

Then, in 1997, his hard work paid off in a rather bizarre twist of fate: After a heart-wrenching defeat at the Rap Olympics (he came in in second place, again, to MC Juice), he left the premises in utter disgust, but not without first “throwing” a copy of his EP at a young kid who, unbeknownst to him, worked for Interscope Records. That day would change the rest of his life. 14 years of hard work had finally paid off.

Embrace Authenticity:

Eminem has a unique brand signature. His real-life, drama-stricken upbringing is the secret sauce he mixes into each of his songs, creating the ultimate loyalty card between him and his audience. Eminem’s bouts of drug abuse, depression and suicidal tendencies remind us he’s not a robot. He’s human just like us, creating an uncannily relatable persona. He channeled his anger into a “unique value proposition.” He keeps it fresh and outsmarts his competitors by remaining engaged with trends, new acts, and his fans. Eminem’s brand is bold and authentic, yet, vulnerable. He’s a very public figure, but there is still a mystery about him. You see him in interviews, he hardly breaks a smile and speaks in a rather sedated voice. His brand IP is carefully protected. How many Eminem commercials have you seen? Only one: the 2011 Chrysler Super Bowl ad, promoting Detroit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmNzZZUmW9E. Perfect brand synergy. To date, very few brands can match Eminem’s over 12 million followers on Twitter. The authentic Eminem brand has been in the mass market for over 15 years. He turns 40 in October.

Hell has its Privileges:

Eminem has literally been to hell and back, but if he hadn’t experienced that journey, it is highly unlikely that he would be the iconic figure he is today. If you’re an entrepreneur, there’s no doubt that you can relate to parts of Eminem’s life experience. How are Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Andy Grove, and so many other inspiring entrepreneurs any different in their resolve? Life is not easy, and it shouldn’t be sugar coated with gold stars. There are bullies, haters, manipulators and liars everywhere you turn. It’s OK to get down, want to give up, and question it all. We should embrace these moments as a necessary and important rite of passage. The lesson here is that there is a way out to the other side, and it can yield amazing results, let alone build character. Everyone, kids and adults, need to be reminded of this. As you get older, kindergarten just turns into a bigger playground involving higher stakes: think lawsuits (a fight Eminem is not immune to), office politics, defamation, etc.

As an entrepreneur, you will hear plenty of naysayers telling you that you won’t succeed, your product has no market, and you’re wasting your time; it’s just a matter of time before Google or Microsoft crush you; besides, who are you to push the boundaries of the establishment, which of course to most, is never a good thing.

If all of it becomes overwhelming, take a break and find a YouTube video on Em or read his lyrics. I guarantee you that it will jolt you back in the right direction. You’ll again find that inner fighter.

You have a world to change. You don’t know what work/life balance means. Just like Eminem, you practice your craft every day, relentlessly, and with discipline; you are not easily swayed by those around you and are driven by proving everyone wrong. Yes, indeed, this is the stuff of which inspiring leaders and legacies are born.

Here’s to everyone who has a little bit of Eminem in them.

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