How five lessons I learned as a refugee helped me become a business owner

It’s often been said that adversity builds character — that it makes us stronger. The time I spent as a refugee from communist Romania was difficult, but I learned some important lessons that I later applied to being a successful entrepreneur and owner of a local, organic dairy that provides a line of A2 Guernsey-cow milk products.

At the age of 7, I was smuggled out of the country by my father for the promise of a better life in America. A year later, I was living in an Austrian refugee camp, awaiting approval by the U.S. government for my family to immigrate to America. I spent 18 months in refugee camps, longing to reunite with my mother, who before our escape had gone to the U.S. on a travel visa to visit family.

Here are five lessons I learned in those challenging years that I have used in becoming an entrepreneur:

  • Have the courage to face the unknown. When we fled Romania in the dead of night, we had no idea where we’d wind up. We were scared. But my father wanted more for us. Years later, when I left my corporate job to start a business, I needed a similar courage. I had a wife and children to support. I didn’t know if I’d succeed, but I had the courage to try.
  • See an opportunity. My father saw an opportunity for his children to be educated in an open country. After years working for U.S. corporations, I saw an opportunity to become an entrepreneur, to be free from the constraints of a corporate hierarchy.
  • Be intellectually inquisitive. When we started working with an Amish farm to produce milk for our organic ice cream and yogurt shops, I kept asking questions about the milk. I asked about their cows, their farm and their families. I discovered they used Guernsey cows, which had some unique qualities. It sparked an idea that later turned into my second company, Origin.
  • Take a difficult situation and turn it into an opportunity. Escaping Romania was not easy, but my dad knew that the opportunities that lay ahead were worth it. There are many roadblocks in business, but you have to embrace them as opportunities.
  • Failure is not an option. Before we escaped Romania, my father called my mother in the U.S. and told her to apply for political asylum. My dad could have been jailed or killed if the Romanian government caught us. My siblings and I would have been sent to an orphanage. As a business owner, if you fail, the consequences are grave, too. It’s not like working for a company, where often times, if your project fails, you just try again — and still get a paycheck.

Surviving challenges in life like I did helped me to become an entrepreneur. But above all, challenges provide the opportunity to draw upon the resilience of human nature, just waiting to be put to use.

Adrian Bota is founder and owner of Origin. Origin launched a line of A2 Guernsey-cow milk products and Piccadilly Artisan Yogurt and Piccadilly Artisan Creamery shops.Adrian previously worked as a manager in strategic policy at a large pharmaceutical company and also as a senior manager at the Cleveland Clinic.