What is more American than picturing little kids setting up a lemonade stand on a hot summer’s day to sell small cups of liquid refreshment to all those willing to come off of 25 cents? We teach our children the importance of being industrious and useful so that they can contribute something meaningful to society because that’s who we are, an America that MAKES things, right?
I come from a family where we are expected to work for what we get. I think I came into the world with an entrepreneur brand on my soul. I’ve never been one who accepted that I had to play by someone else’s rules. Be aware of their rules, yes, but obey them when I knew I could do it better, absolutely not! It’s gotten me in trouble more than a few times, but oh the lessons I’ve learned (and the fun I’ve had) along the way.
I launched my first business at the age of five when I started a cookie selling business by reselling the cookies my school had given me for a fundraiser. See, my dad had paid for all of the cookies and turned in the check for the batch but I’d been trained on how to sell them to other people. I saw that we had a surplus of cookies that my parents would never let my brother and I just eat so I took the initiative to start selling them to people. I’d stuff as many units as would fit into my back pack and away I went to school and church with my order form, taking money left and right and providing excellent customer service to all of my clients, until my parents’ noticed that I had money to spend when we went to the store to buy the candy they wouldn’t buy for me. Thus ended my first business venture as they explained to me that the cookies were labeled “Not for resale”.
By the time I was seven I had revamped my business model. I realized that I needed to personally own the product that I sold. So, I began to save my allowance for doing my chores around the house and once a month I would walk down to the penny candy store with my babysitter’s daughter and buy up as much candy inventory as I could afford with my startup capital money. For the next two weeks I would take my inventory to school and sell candy to my classmates marking up the value of the candy so that I could easily turn a profit and have money to reinvest in the next penny candy store run. I was providing a much needed service because they didn’t sell candy in our school anywhere and these kids would pay anything for that candy. I’d buy a Jolly Rancher candy for a penny and could sell that same piece of candy for 25 cents. Pixie Sticks (the koolaid powder in a straw) I could buy those cheap and sell them four for $1.00.
Supply and demand were my daily mantra.
I didn’t fool around with chocolate because it melted too easily and it got hot in our school. Everything was just peachy until one day our teacher came into the coat closet and saw me selling candy to my classmates. She confiscated my candy and sent me to the principal’s office and called my parents to come to the school. I was so confused. This was my candy, I bought it fair and square with my own money.
My parents were amused, I remember them trying hard not to laugh when they realized what the teacher was saying I had done. They calmly explained to me when I got home that I couldn’t sell things at school to which I countered “Well what’s the difference between me selling candy and them selling pencils and notebooks in the school store”?
Not everyone in my family takes work to this extreme, certainly, but we all work, sometimes admittedly we work too hard even. So, it always amazes me when I encounter someone who won’t work or folks who decide that a certain kind of work is beneath them and don’t seek out alternatives. Seriously, my brain starts to scream, “Malfunction, does not compute!” I like to play with figuring out hard, messy, complex problems that can make things work better. Yes, that’s where I need to be. I love helping people plug into their passions as well. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve sat with and helped brainstorm on how they can fit their skills to an entrepreneurial venture. I’d do it all day long if I could use that to pay my bills. Sadly, many folks who need that type of service don’t have the money (or aren’t inclined to spend the money) on those types of thought-rich services.
How great would it be if we were encouraged to pursue entrepreneurship during those formative years. Imagine what I could have done if instead of talking me out of the sales business when I was in elementary, I had be able to take classes in starting businesses and securing investment capital. How many businesses could I have launched by the time I was 15, 18, 25?
Some friends of mine have started talking about how they wish their children, who seem to have an interest and talent for writing creatively, had an outlet to publish their works and I’m all about, “Well, lets CREATE a venue for this!” Why wait for someone else to bring these things to us that we can do for ourselves. Some children will grow up and plug into existing jobs and that’s fine. But some children will grow up with the potential to revolutionize some part of the play of our lives and we should do all that we can to help equip them for the task.
Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Lubbock, Texas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.