“Highway Subject to Crosswinds,” was what the sign read as my friend Rod and I rode into Oklahoma from Vega, Texas.
Our mission that day was to make it to my grandparents’ farm in southern Kansas. I’ll never forget thinking to my-self how asinine that sign was. Nothing could be as bad as those horrendous Santa Ana winds, we first experienced as we set-off on our trip from L.A. to Baltimore…or could it?
As a business leader, you should make sure you don’t assume that you have already seen the worst; you need to be prepared for anything. In this case our assumption of having ‘seen the worst’ got the better of us. After passing the sign, about another 30 minutes into the ride, the skies began to darken. Before the rain was released upon us, the wind hit us with a power I never want to experience again on a motorcycle (or anywhere else for that matter). It battered us all over the road; pushing us from one side of the road to the other. Back and forth, back and forth…it took all my strength to keep the motorcycle from completely being derailed from the road. Then the rain came; it pummeled us all the way past Oklahoma City.
We made it to my grandparents’ farm later that night - soaking wet, muddy and exhausted. As we opened the backdoor to the farmhouse, the smell of beef and mash potatoes filled our noses. My tired spirits perked up. From a distant room I heard my grandmother yell, “Get your selves cleaned up!” No warm hug or hello, it was always just right down to business.
Nonetheless, I’m thankful for that. My grandparents taught me the true nature of entrepreneurship, and business, and gave me an appreciation for risk and reward. In my early teens, I worked summers at the farm. The first day I came to work there my grandfather gave me the privilege of being responsible for 2 acres of wheat. He promised me that I would receive full payment towards anything yielded from those acres. The knowledge that I was responsible for using my skill set to create my own earnings excited me. I worked from dawn to dusk and made sure I paid full attention to my 2 acres on top of my other duties. At the end of the summer I asked my grandfather when I was to going to get paid. My ground had been tended and prepared to be sown in the fall. I thought for sure that after that much work my wages were due. He gave me a small smile and calmly replied “next year, in the spring, when the crop is harvested.” I was foolish to think I was a successful farmer when in reality anything could still happen to my crops. When spring did come - my grandfather was true to his word, and I received a check bigger than I could have imagined. Along with the check was a note asking if I was interested in returning to help again. I have to say, that was the point I knew I was onto something. The second year was not so profitable – a tornado came and wiped out all my crops. It was a hard business lesson to learn, but the experience had “planted the seeds” of my entrepreneurial mindset.
The following summer I was not able to return to the farm. As a 9th grader and a promising trumpet player – I had obtained a position in the All-Ohio State Fair band. The band’s practices and tours had me booked for most of the summer. However, I still needed cash, and that summer I didn’t want to find a job. Similar to working my acres on the farm, I wanted independence and a chance to utilize my skills and get paid for them. Hence, Buddy Roger’s music store became my target. I walked into the store and found the owner, Buddy, behind the counter. I asked if I could teach trumpet lessons at the store. I could tell I had caught him off guard and he did not know what to say to the 14 year old standing before him. I opened up my trumpet case and told him, if he didn’t like what he heard he could tell me to leave. As the final notes of Chopin’s Valse Brillante resonated from my trumpet - Buddy got right down to business and remarked – its $6 a lesson. You get $3 and I get the other half.
Looking back I don’t think I would have ever reached out to Buddy – if it was not for my experiences at my grandparents’ farm. They had sparked my entrepreneurial leadership attributes. My suburban upbringing probably would not have afforded me to realize that:
- I would rather earn equal return for my efforts in something I was fully invested in and felt enthusiastic about
- I enjoyed the risk associated with these opportunities. Whether it was the uncertainty of Mother Nature or the possibility of a no, the risk element made it more of an adventure and challenge in my mind
- Sometimes you cannot prevent failure, but you should learn from it and use it as a step towards your ultimate success
- I could utilize my creativity and be profitable by searching for new opportunities and pursuing them
What experiences planted the seeds for your entrepreneurial spirit? Can you think of any particular person or experience that helped to cultivate your gifts?