I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.

There are not many people who haven't heard of Nike or someone who doesn't recognize the iconic swish logo. What else of Nike's brand and the creator's history do you know?

Phil Knight's memoir, Shoe Dog, about his rich history of creating Nike, is an excellent example of the route to business success. This was not an overnight success; building what he did was a tumultuous and chaotic journey filled with mistakes, conflict, and sacrifice. As you flip through the pages, all you can think about is how could this company possibly have survived.

Nike clearly made it, and not just barely. The company's sales have now surpassed $40 billion, and the Nike swoosh can be found almost everywhere. However, in the book, he begins more than 50 years ago, at the incredible inception of his company, selling imported Japanese footwear out of the back of his Plymouth Valiant.

Knights' story began in Oregon, 1962. Oregon was slow and nothing big ever happened, but it was still a place to call home, according to Knight. He didn't know what he wanted to do at the time, but he knew he wanted to be successful in something. His first attempt was to become a professional athlete, but after failing, he began to consider how he could make his life's work feel like that of an athlete. “What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athletes feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or else to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing.”

The company began as Blue Ribbon Sports, with a $50 investment from his father. Prior to the IPO, Knight was deeply in debt, going from banker to banker begging for more credit to keep the operation running. His strategy was to grow or die, so all profits would be reinvested back into the company. Looking back this was the correct choice but if something went wrong this would have most likely been dire for the business. Jeff Bezos used this same strategy for Amazon.

I pulled a few lessons from this fantastically written memoir.

  • Big businesses start out small. Nike was not born Nike. Originally it started as Blue Ribbon. During its first long years, Blue Ribbon could not even afford to have Knight on a salary.
  • There is a fine line between success and failure. Luck plays a big factor. Knight says that working hard is a necessity but luck can decide the outcome of a venture. After reading his story I think everyone should believe that luck plays a part.
  • Success is not for the faint of heart. Nike was on the verge of bankruptcy on several occasions through the years, all the way until they decided to go public in 1980. In addition, they were in a few lawsuits including with the US government. A clear attribute of a successful entrepreneur is chutzpah.
  • Anything can be learnt. When Knight decided to create his first factory, he states he had no idea how to start or for that matter run a factory, but the bottom line is he was willing to try, willing to learn on the go.

Shoe Dog remains one of my favourite books to this day. Knight tells his story truthfully and without the hidden agendas that some successful entrepreneur memoirs have. The ending couldn't have been written any better and despite all the hardships he experienced Knight closes by saying “God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing.”

Those who urge entrepreneurs to never give up? Charlatans. Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop. Luck plays a big role. Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky. Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome. Some people might not call it luck. They might call it Tao, or Logos, or Jñāna, or Dharma. Or Spirit. Or God.