My kids have an entrepreneurial streak. I think they caught the bug when they encountered their first yard sale. What? You can make cold, hard cash just by throwing some old toys out on the lawn for strangers to paw through? Sold! Then they tried their hand selling tissue paper ghosts at Halloween, handpicked flowers in the spring, and lastly, a juice and water stand.
On the first warm day of spring, my younger son hauled out a table and chairs, coaxed his older brother into making a sign, and set up shop in our front yard. Now, our street is not exactly a high-traffic thoroughfare, but kind neighbors and a confident sales approach (see the tip jar?) netted the kids $25 in one day. Off they raced to Toys R Us to purchase the latest Power Rangers toy. They got a taste of success and drank it up like they were sucking down a Slurpee from 7-Eleven.
So the next warm day came along and, you guessed it: another stand. This time, it was water, juice, and candy. I admit I was a teensy bit less enthusiastic this time. Were we taking advantage of our generous neighbors? Were we teaching our kids to be greedy capitalists? And why was *I* the one having to constantly run to the store to restock our OJ?!
My husband and I talked to the boys about how the proceeds from this sale would need to be split into categories: savings, spending, and charity. “OK,” agreed the 6yo. “I want to give $100 to a hospital for kids who don’t have a home!” Um, wow. Wasn’t expecting that. Also, he gave a free bottle of water to the mailman, and served some very thirsty moving men who seemed genuinely happy to patronize his budding business. Turns out it’s more the thrill of the hustle he’s interested in, not necessarily the amount of cash he can rake in for his personal Power Rangers stash. Good to know.
This article in Inc. magazine, “Why My 8-Year-Old is a Better Motivator Than Tony Robbins,” confirmed my suspicions that I was letting my cynical adult viewpoint color my sons’ first foray into business.
“Just like everything in life, as we get older, we lose the innocence of our youth. We tend to forget what truly drives us and what made us enjoy doing what we do in the first place,” writes Dana Severson.
“It’s life. It’s unavoidable. As an adult, you have responsibilities. Life is no longer in beta, and your decisions have greater meaning. We become more fearful, more jaded, more superficial. All of our dreams become drowned in doubt and pessimism.”
As a self-employed writer and editor, I struggle with many issues every day. Am I doing work I am proud of and find meaningful? Am I being paid what I’m worth? Am I selling out if I accept this assignment? Will I be able to pay for summer camp if I turn down that assignment? 20+ years into my career, I have had my share of successes and failures, achievements and disappointments. And of course, I never imagined any of it as a kid. As Severson writes, “Oftentimes I yearn for that youthful naiveté.”
I had forgotten until fairly recently that I myself was quite the go-getter career-wise in my early years. Not only did I babysit, but I got myself a paper route, then a job at a department store after school, then a summer stint as a camp counselor in college. At no point was I purely motivated by profits, or 401k contributions, or job security.
Another link – this one to a podcast with Warren Cassell Jr., a 15yo author, entrepreneur, and investor from the Caribbean – convinced me that kids really do have the inside track when it comes to success. This kid is on a mission to pursue his passion, better the economy where he lives, and generate wealth for others.
His response to “how do you find the time to do all this?” is so spot-on: we make time for what’s important to us, and if it’s really important to us, time doesn’t matter. Also, his strategies for getting in touch with big-name entrepreneurs to learn from them are genius. I have totally used his Ivanka Trump email strategy to pitch magazine editors. This is also true: successful people do what others won’t.
Kids get it. They’re wise beyond their years. They intuitively do what we grownups pay hard-earned, income-taxed money to life coaches and self-help books to tell us to do. We could learn a lot from them, if only we step back and let them be themselves. Personally, I’m thinking of putting a tip jar on my kitchen counter.