I speak often to college and even high school kids on entrepreneurship. I’ve never spoken to junior high kids on that topic until last week. So it was with slight trepidation that I walked into my first junior high entrepreneur class to try and convey success principles in a way they could understand. I started my talk with a clip from our reality series Pond Stars. I then delivered a high level overview of the business today starting with my love of turtles at age 12. When I opened it up for questions I had no idea if I would get any, and if I did how interesting they would be. I didn’t have to wait long.
The first question was from a jockish looking boy in the back of the room “What’s it like to be a millionaire?” he asked to nervous laughter from his classmates. I’ve never been asked that question, at least so directly, and I decided to have some fun with it. I replied by asking the class if they “thought money bought happiness?” More nervous laughter before the same kid piped up “I’ve never seen an unhappy guy on a yacht!” More laughter ensued and I began to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. I replied by asking the class if they had ever heard of a dude named Bernie Madoff? The teacher jumped right in and pointed out to the class that Bernie Madoff ran a Ponzi scheme using money from new investors to pay dividends to old ones. Turns out they had recently covered that topic for one of their classes. I told them Bernie Madoff was a millionaire but he only achieved that “success” by defrauding others.
Bernie Madoff indeed had a yacht I said, but now he’s off it and rotting away in some prison cell. Silence. I asked them if they felt Bernie Madoff was content and “happy” when he was on his yacht? More silence but this time I saw a few heads shaking “no.” With the context established I felt it was a good time to lay down some of the most basic of success premises, but unfortunately few people fully comprehend in their lives. “Life is a son of a gun” I said. “Success is a journey not a destination. A life without problems is the definition of hell and all business is, is fixing problems. Find something that you love to do and you will never have to work another day in your life. Getting good grades isn’t by itself going to get you a good job or a “happy” life. Finding what you’re good at and developing your strengths while surrounding yourself with people that offset your weaknesses is how you achieve success and happiness.” And finally, “if you want to get what you want, focus your efforts on helping others get what they want.”
Give me the microphone and you better be careful what you ask for! I also let them know I learned more about running a business by playing sports in high school and joining a fraternity in college. I can just imagine the conversations around the dinner table … “what did you learn at school today son?” “Grades don’t matter, football rocks and college is over-rated!” Woo hoo! I wonder if I will get invited back?!
Truth be told, society is whacked and somebody needs to say so! I bet “millionaires” are just as unhappy, if not more so, than the general public. Money often buys as many problems as it solves. But then again if people think a problem free life is the answer to happiness than I betcha they’ve never put themselves out there accomplishing anything either! Talk to anyone who has achieved anything and I will show you someone who has sacrificed a lot to get it. They might indeed be on a yacht, but they will have the scars all over that it took to achieve it! If they got that yacht because they stole to get it or mom and dad bought it for them, well, it’s hard for me to imagine that being very fulfilling. We might know that now but I know at least for me I didn’t know that, or much of anything else about life when I was their age. What good does sugar coating it do anyone?!
So when some kid unwittingly steps on the land mine of insinuating that being rich buys happiness it triggers me to explode all I’ve learned the hard way. Hopefully, he in the process will hear there’s no easy way to success. And if and when my yacht does come in, I sure hope I have the cojones to set sail to another destination. And maybe just maybe some of them now will too. Their teacher gave me an A for effort. I think it might be my first A outside of gym!