When I was a teenager I didn’t have a green card, which unfortunately made it very hard for me to find legal and normal work. From a very young age I had always wanted to make my own money, but in order to succeed I needed to get creative. While my case was very unique in nature, the idea of a summer job as a teenager isn’t an easy task to begin with, especially when combined with high unemployment rates.
When I was a teenager, I was very new to the idea of working and I certainly had no idea what entrepreneurship was, or that it was even a possibility. I did eventually find work at a telemarketing office that took a chance on me using my school work-permit, but it hardly paid anything amazing. My dreams, ambitions and goals of making big money seemed to be put to a halt by a $12/hr job of making phone calls.
Regardless of what it paid, for someone who is not legally allowed to work, having work is a privilege just by itself, but it certainly was no excuse to not pursue my goals and dreams of making beaucoup money.
What I Learnt By Getting a Summer Job as a Teen
While working at the mall seemed like a nicer job than calling people on the phone and being hung up on the majority of the day, it also didn’t offer flexibility, high commissions, or a nice arcade across the street to spend my breaks playing video games. After following this routine of going to work, playing arcades, collecting a paycheck and repeating it week after week, I realized very early on that perhaps I was looking at my job all wrong, and that my goals and actions were not aligned one bit.
I dreamed of buying myself a nice car at 16, but I was earning $200+ a week and spending most of it. While I dreamed of being able to help my family support themselves, I was spending my 45 minutes of lunch each day playing video games at an arcade. I had gotten this idea of work all wrong and perhaps even misunderstood what working even meant.
You see, in my first job, I realized a few very important things that I know many people don’t even grasp in their 30’s, which help set me up to become the person I am today. These lessons were simple in nature but were quite difficult to execute as my mind was untrained at that time, but today these standards are part of everything I do.
Lesson #1: I wasn’t earning $12/hr, my work was worth $12/hr.
I used to think that what I was paid was what I was worth, but I soon realized that what I was paid was given to me in exchange for the time I spent sitting in that chair doing what I was told. It wasn’t my worth but rather what my time at that moment was worth to someone else. In order for me to increase my own worth, I would have to find a way to be more efficient and more productive in my time there, therefore earning me additional money equal to my worth. When I realized that what I was doing was simply following instructions, I realized why no one wanted to pay me more money. It was only when I realized that all I had to do to be worth more was simply to start selling, closing deals and earning a commissions, that I realized that all I had to really do was actually do the work I was paid for to begin with.
How much do we really work in a 40 hour week? And I mean really do effective work? On average, most people work at about 20% of their capacity meaning that 20% of the time is spent doing active quality work. While I didn’t know how to sell, or how to effectively close deals, I simply knew that I was capable of working at 80% of my capacity instead of 20%; and therefore started doing so. This lead me to more practice, more calls, more results and eventually into a few sales that earned me $2,500 in commissions which, to a 14 year-old, is a lot of money.
This same money was also a confidence booster that reminded me that working not more hours in a day, but rather better for each hour would lead me to a better place. This better place eventually led me to making $50,000/yr by the age of 16 and earned me two promotions in the same company. Sometimes you don’t need to change what you do, but rather do what you do better than before.
Lesson #2: Align my goals to reality.
I was young and what I really wanted was a nice car by 16, but the income I was making certainly was very far from allowing me to afford the car I wanted. So it was clear that continuing the same behavior wasn’t going to lead into a new outcome, it was simply going to be a waste of my time. I witness this today in many of my students in my academy. High goals and ambitions, aligned with very small work and thinking.
When you are young and set a goal for yourself make sure to check in with yourself often and ensure that you are on track daily. If making $200 a week wasn’t going to buy me a $27,000 car at 16, then why continue to do this and expect to actually reach my goals? Either the goal needs to change or the actions leading to the goal should. Many people today say to me that they will buy a Lamborghini next year, and yet 2 months later, nothing has changed in their behavior so why would the car miraculously appear in 10 more months?
Lesson #3: Doing something doesn’t have to come with a grand plan.
I used to believe that everything I did had to have a large purpose or plan behind it. Without planning you couldn’t get anywhere, or so I thought. In the summer following my getting the telemarketing job, I decided that I would stop playing arcade games during my breaks and instead focus on washing or detailing a few cars in the parking lot. My goal was to spend every minute of my time at work working, and even though I had 1-2 breaks a day that I was legally forced to take, I didn’t want to stop.
I created a few flyers on a computer using very cheap graphics and put a flyer on every single car in the massively large complex I worked in. Weeks passed and no calls but I kept putting those flyers. I had printed a 1000 and it was worth at least getting rid of them. Finally a few calls came in and then my breaks were spent cleaning cars in the parking lot. Enough came to fill about 50% of my break times and give me $30 a car. This was three times what I was earning per hour, for an hour I wasn’t allowed to work. This mobile car wash quickly evolved to cleaning, detailing and minor repairs being done.
Before my 16th birthday, I had hired two of my non-working friends to come help and we continued to be in business in the very same building every evening for 4 hours. With their hard work, and my ability to get new clients we were earning a powerful $38,000 divided between the three of us. The important detail here is not about what we were earning but rather that this very same business evolved 15 years later to gross over $10M in revenue as a luxury concierge business known today as VIP Motoring.
While the business evolved quite a bit between then and my 30th birthday, it ultimately would have never happened if it wasn’t for me putting out flyers that day hoping to get one phone call so I could wash a car instead of playing video games.
Since then my views have changed significantly and with what I know today about entrepreneurship, which I break down in Third Circle Theory, I certainly would have focused on building a business instead of working for someone else. The reality is that we don’t always control where we end up, or how we even end up there but we do control our actions once we get there, and if we don’t like where life takes us, or how far we are towards our goals then it is in our hands to change it.
Remember that everything you do today, builds a foundation for everything that happens tomorrow.