I have thought long and hard as to why money was so important to me as a child. I think it comes down to three reasons. One, I simply wanted a lot of things and money was needed to buy those things. Two, as a self-employed inventor, my father would go through cycles of having lots of money, then having very little money. I got a taste of the good life, only to have it ripped away from me. And three, money was important to my parents and therefore it became important to me. Since I was under the minimum working age of sixteen at the time, my choices for making money were limited to odd jobs around the house and neighborhood, starting my own money-making ventures, or selling one of my kidneys on the black market. I chose the first two.
Despite what my father might have said, I had a strong work ethic growing up. I will admit, however, that I did cut corners at times. Most of the time my dad paid me by the job rather than by the hour, so when he paid me $20 to rake our lawn that was about the size of a football field, I gave him his $20 worth. I attached the rake to the back of my motorized dirt bike with duct tape and rode all around the yard. I wouldn’t say that the idea worked, but it did manage to remove a few of the leaves. $20 worth, in my estimation.
I also held the position of a masseuse, specializing in head rubs and scratching backs. I had one client, my mom, but that was all that I needed. On my mother’s side of the family, there exists a genotype responsible for an itchy back as well as the resulting euphoric-like reaction when the back is scratched, or the head is rubbed. While watching TV, I would rub my mom’s head for the starting price of $10 per hour. Usually, within the first 10 minutes or so, my hands became tired, and I quit. Jonesing for some more head rubbing, my mom would plead with me to continue. Here is where I would snap into Vietnamese hooker mode and start the tough negotiation: “You likey? You want more? Ten dolla ten minute.” Did I mention that I had a really nice bike?
My dad taught me about under-estimating the price of jobs the hard way. I offered to stain our 4000+ square foot house one summer and my dad asked me to take my time and come up with a price. If the price was reasonable, I could do it; otherwise, he would hire professionals. After careful, but grossly inaccurate calculations, I told my father I could do it for $400. My dad agreed to those terms. The job took me the entire summer working about 20 hours a week and I calculated my per hour rate to about $2.50. My dad surprised me with a $800 bonus, which I greatly appreciated. At first, I thought he felt guilty for taking advantage of his 14-year-old son, but I later found out that my mom made him give me the bonus. I was happy with my $1200… until my dad told me that he was willing to pay me $2000 for the job.
My dad offered me a unique opportunity working in his machine shop in our basement. Sure, I had to breathe fumes that would have killed a small animal, but the pay was well worth it. I would run injection molding machines and get paid per piece, which could sometimes mean up to $50 per hour. Not bad for a pre-teen. The problem was, besides the lung cancer risk, third-degree burns, and pinched fingers, the job was mind-numbingly tedious. To pass the time, I borrowed some of my sister’s motivational tapes that she and my mom used to help them forget they were selling ads to people who didn’t want or need them, but felt obligated to buy them due to political pressure. I was hooked.
Say what you will about the pseudo-scientific ramblings of overly-enthusiastic, positive-thinking, always-happy gurus, but I found them inspiring. They confirmed what my mom always told me: that I was special—just like everyone else. And that I can do anything I wanted to do—as long as what I wanted to do was something that I actually could do. My entrepreneurial spirit was most likely due to the fact that every member in my family was self-employed. This spirit combined with the inspiration led to a childhood that comprised one business venture after another, some that paid off, and others… not so much.
My first venture was launched at age ten. I built wooden key racks in my father’s workshop. I started with a 6” by 4” piece of pine wood as the base and rounded the edges. I used the bandsaw to cut out the letters “K,” “E,” “Y,” and “S” from smaller pieces of wood. I sanded both the base and the letters then glued the letters on the base. I gave it a coat of dark stain, then added three gold-colored hooks to the front and a sawtooth picture hanger to the back. After about an hour I had a key rack that I reasonably priced at $5. Fortunately, at age 10, I also had my cuteness, which made the door-to-door sales part quite easy. My sales pitch was simple. “Do you want to buy this key rack I made?” I was surprised how many of my close neighbors desperately needed a key rack.
Like many other kids in the ‘80s, I was a pawn for the Olympic Sales Club. This was a company that used children to sell their holiday cards and wrapping paper by assigning a point value to each sale and offering cheap prizes for compensation. I remember that I had my eye on the walkie-talkies. I must have sold $1000 worth of their substandard products before I earned enough points to get what I could have bought at Radio Shack for $25. It wasn’t long before I realized that this gig wasn’t for me.
Over the years, I would sell all sorts of crap door-to-door and I noticed a trend; the older I got, the number of doors slammed in my face increased. So I took some advice from guru Dale Carnegie in his book How To Win Friends and Influence People who suggested that we should “appeal to nobler motives.” Around Christmas time, I cut a branch off of a pine tree, spray painted it white and tied a red ribbon around it. I called it a “holiday wreath,” slapped a price tag of $10 on it, and told people that the all the money went to charity. I made over a $100 and spent it all on hedonistic pleasures. Looking back at this, I don’t think that’s what Dale Carnegie had in mind.
At age ten, cuteness is a powerful selling factor that sharply decreases along with successful sales until age eighteen, when successful sales increase slightly because of sales experience, then drastically increases around age 70 when prospects once again buy mostly because of cuteness.
Get the book, Some Really Personal, Yet Entertaining Stories From My Life That You Will Enjoy and May Even Find Inspiring by Bo Bennett, PhD by selecting one of the following options:
What is a “normal childhood?” Does it include almost being murdered by your sister with an ax? Speeding around town in the back of a station wagon because your mom is chasing an “alien spaceship”? Being busted by the police for intent to light a pond on fire? Tackling your mom to the ground and wrestling a knife out of her hand because she was trying to kill your dad? While my stories may be unique, readers will be able to relate to the broader themes are part of a normal childhood such as sibling rivalry, eccentric parents, doing stupid things, and frequently preventing one’s parents from literally murdering each other.
Although some of the subject matter is not something one would generally laugh at, you have my permission to laugh. Social rules don’t apply here; my rules do. It works for me, and who knows, after reading the stories from my past, you might be inspired to see your own screwed up past in a more humorous light.
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