Lemonade Into Lemons: The Death Of Entrepreneurial Spirit?

Entrepreneurial SpiritFolks who read these pages know that I was raised in a family of entrepreneurs.  That spirit (the entrepreneurial spirit) informed all of my choices as I navigated my own path through childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood.  Figuring out how to make a profit on my own terms was exciting.  It still is!  And my children, homeschooled and raised by my side, watching me “do business” from home, share that entrepreneurial spirit.

As it stands, they already qualify as creative entrepreneurs (many kids do!)  When my oldest son was 10, he became very involved in yo-yo-ing.  I thought it was great and marveled at his skill, hard-won through hours of practice.  But I balked when he came to me asking for $150 to buy a limited-edition, professional stainless steel yo-yo.  “He’s a kid and it’s a toy,” I thought.  “I don’t want to spend that kind of money on something he’s going to lose in a month.”  So, I challenged my son:  I will help you to buy that yo-yo, but you have to figure out how to earn half of the money yourself.  My son picked up the gauntlet with flair and set out on a mission:  Earn $75 fast!

Fortunately, my son had listened to me lead hundreds of training calls and was familiar with my response to folks who were trying to find alternative ways to raise money to get started in business for themselves.  One of the stories I would relay was of a woman who had downloaded a recipe for gourmet dog biscuits from the internet and sold them to her neighbors to earn part of the money she needed.  My son liked that idea and did the same thing!

First, he found the recipe, then he figured out how many biscuits he’d have to make to earn $75 if he put 5 in a bag and sold the bag for $2.  With that figure in mind, he gathered his ingredients and set out measuring, mixing, patting into shape, baking, bagging and tagging!  The next day he set out on foot with a backpack of home made dog biscuits and walked our neighborhood in the blistering Texas heat; it was his first direct selling gig!

He came home delighted that he’d earned about $20, but knowing that he needed much more than that.  The next day, he enlisted the help of his little brother and sister and he asked me if I would give them a ride through the remaining streets of our subdivision so that they could cover more area!  I agreed and was stunned (and very proud) to see that at the end of his venture, he had earned not $75, but $110!  He paid his brother and sister for their help, I kicked in the balance, and he had his $150 super-duper stainless steel yo-yo.

It was a fabulous experience for all of us, and marked the entrepreneurial first steps for my children.  My oldest son has now moved on to graphic design (at the whopping age of 15) and has begun to earn an income for the design of everything from internet advertising banners and website design to tattoos!  And his brother and sister have followed in his footsteps with very successful house-sitting businesses, pet-sitting businesses, and a list of regulars for whom they perform minor landscaping.  Not bad.

I don’t for a minute believe that my kids are different than any other kid out there.  What they might have that some do not is the freedom to pursue their dreams and the support of parents who would prefer to see them work for themselves rather than work for someone else.  Given the opportunity, I think all kids would rise to the occasion and thrill to create their own income and test their entrepreneurial mettle.

That is, after all, what the American Dream is all about:  Entrepreneurial Spirit.  And what could be more illustrative of entrepreneurial spirit in America than a lemonade stand, right?  It brings to mind Rockwell-esque images of knock-kneed kids selling 5-cent dixie cups of lemonade from a makeshift stand with a hand-painted sign under a maple tree!

But if you are paying attention to the news, you know that lemonade stands are at risk.

An article in NPR the other day said that just this year, The Associated Press reported: “In July, police shut down a lemonade-making operation in Midway, Ga., because law enforcement officials were not sure how the lemonade was being made. In April, a 13-year-old lemonade purveyor was robbed of $130 by dastardly customers in Warner-Robins, Ga., and, in July, kids in Strongsville, Ohio, said a handful of teenagers, including two boys sporting skinny jeans and blue hoodies, stole at least $13.50 from their lemonade stand.

“During the U.S. Open in June, officials in Montgomery County, Md., fined kids $500 for running a fancy lemonade stand — that sold bottled lemonade and other drinks — near the golf tournament. Proceeds, the children said, were going to charity. County officials finally agreed to waive the fine and allow the kids to operate without a permit if they would move the 10-by-10-foot tent down the road a piece.”

One of the mothers of the children told WUSA news: “The message to kids is, there’s no American dream.”  I disagree!

I firmly believe that you find what you’re looking for:  If you’re looking for a message that says “death to the entrepreneur” you’ll find it, and if you embrace it, you’ll stifle your own entrepreneurial spirit (or worse, that of your children!)  But if you look for the stepping stone instead of the stumbling block, you’ll find that, as well.

What entrepreneur has ever set out towards a goal and never had to overcome a single obstacle?  Isn’t that what it’s all about – refusing to quit, disciplining yourself to go over, under, around or through whatever obstacles present themselves on the path to your dream?  Don’t we all have to learn to play by the rules (i.e. appropriate permissions or permits, etc.)?  Don’t we all have to learn to be savvy?

I understand very well the pain the parents feel seeing their children’s efforts thwarted by law enforcement officials and young thugs, but as a veteran entrepreneur with over 30 years in the trenches, I also see tremendous opportunity for learning and for teaching in this scenario.  Entrepreneurs don’t pack up their pop stand and go home!  They figure out what they need to do to improve, and they take steps to make it happen.

The lemonade stand (and the American Dream) are alive and well, waiting for next intrepid entrepreneur to step behind the makeshift stand under the hand-painted sign and offer fresh-made lemonade to one and all.  They may need to show their permit, their ingredients list and their mace, but an entrepreneur’s gotta do what an entrepreneur’s gotta do!





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