“How do you run a company when you are still in high school? How do you know how to do that? You’re just a kid!”
On average, I hear this 2 -3 times per week.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret:
I didn’t know what I was doing when I first started. Over time, I just got better at making FEWER wrong decisions.
Starting a nonprofit organization at the age of 13 was not easy. The past four years of my life have been an emotional, professional, and mental rollercoaster. Learning to deal with people, mentoring peers, managing finances, and balancing rigorous school work on top of attempting to maintain a social life has been next to impossible, but not impossible.
Trial and error. Determination. Dedication. Time. Talent. Sleepless nights. Missed homework assignments. Failed tests. Failed business endeavors. No money. A lot of money. Laughter. Joy. Crying. Sadness. Lost friendships. Gained friendships. All of these – these are the attributes of the life of an entrepreneur, a visionary, a leader.
To get to where I am now – to have sought out a dream and leave behind a legacy in my community – has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do. This difficult journey, however, has taught me these five valuable lessons.
1. Age Is Just a Number
Young people – we’re creative, spontaneous, full of energy. We’re free thinkers, and we challenge the status quo. Adults often fail at chasing their dreams because they get caught up in the shuffle of everyday life. Creativity is manacled by imaginative restraints, and motivation is trapped in an impasse of disappointment. However, as high schoolers, we are not yet subject to this cruel fate, which allows us to dream bigger and more often than our parents. Another part of the reason high school students (and even younger!) can become some of the best entrepreneurs this world has ever seen is our technological advantage. We’ve grown up with information accessible at our fingertips at any given moment. Our acceptance, and even expectation, of cutting edge technology allows us to think without limits.
2. It Is a Lot Harder Than You Think
Friday night high school football games. Spontaneous road trips with friends. Binge watching Netflix. Sports. Prom. There are a lot of “kid” things that I’ve given up for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. You think, you plan, you research, you do everything you know you can do to prepare, and then when you start, you realize you really have not any clue what you have gotten into. This struggle teaches you to focus on your end goal – the big picture – and figure out how to make things work so that you get there. Going through some major struggles now as a young person has better prepared me for dealing with struggles that are yet to come. You learn how to deal with failure, and how to bounce back once you fail.
3. Most People In Your Life Won’t Understand
Entrepreneurs thrive on taking risks, whereas most people, or “employees”, avoid it like the plague. If you were to ask a group of employees why they won’t start their own business, the number one reason would be that they like the security of their 9 – 5 day jobs, sitting behind a desk, collecting a paycheck, having access to a pension and health insurance. Not having that is too much of a risk, they say. We, as entrepreneurs, thrive on risk. Because without risk, there is no reward. However, since most people do not share this similar mindset, you will receive a reaction of confusion and resistance from those who you thought would understand. You have to learn to accept that it is OK that most people do not and cannot understand. Focus on you, building your life and your dream. If you are criticized when you are first starting, or when business is down, remember that actions speak louder than words. When you achieve success, they will be crawling out of the woodwork, on your side, this time. Remain confident in every action that you take, and never second guess yourself.
4. Everyone Is Important – There Are No Little People
There is a great quote attributed to Albert Einstein that reads: “I speak to everyone the same way whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” This is a simple process that produces gigantic dividends. How you treat other people matters. It is important to be genuinely vested in the people you work with and their families. Treat the custodial staff just as you would the big-wig executives whose office suites are 9 floors up. I grew up with my grandmother always reminding me of Luke 6:31, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Practice this, and you will see big success.
5. If You Fail To Plan, You Plan To Fail.
Do you have a vision for your life? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 20? How will you achieve this vision? You don’t need to meticulously plan every second of your life on pen and paper, but you do need to have a roadmap of where you’re going because it can be very easy to get lost. Life has a way of picking you up, throwing you around a little, dropping you, stepping on you, and just once you think you’ve recovered, you slip and fall. We often tend to get caught up in the little things and lose sight of the end of the tunnel. Give yourself some time every day to do a self-check-in. For me, this time is in the morning, when I first wake up. I wake up, make a cup of coffee, and then the next 20 minutes of my day are solely devoted to thinking. Am I aligned with my personal goals? What am I going to do today that will increase my chances of achieving those goals? This allows me to create short term goals to help my achieve my long term goals. It helps to carry a pen and paper with you at all times of the day and night, too, so that you take a quick note when and idea finds its way into your brain.
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Evan A. Read is the Founder / Executive & Artistic Director of Greater Augusta Youth Theatre, Inc., a nonprofit theatre company. Please visit http://www.grayt.org for additional information.