A couple of months ago I began working at Corus360. Like most new employees, I began attending our company’s weekly Toastmasters class. Toastmasters is a great way to practice and enhance your public speaking skills. After attending a few classes, I was informed that I would be giving my first speech the following week. It was to be an icebreaker speech about myself. Naturally, I asked my two oldest sons for some ideas on what I should share. My 5-year-old son, Eli, encouraged me to focus on how I am a hard worker. Brooks, who is 3, said to tell everyone how big I am. I appreciated his suggestion but couldn’t figure out how to convince a room of adults of that fact. I stand a few inches taller than Spud Webb. Wanting to utilize their suggestions, I decided to title my speech “Think Big, Work Hard.” This blog is a written version of it.
I was born in Georgia but spent my childhood in Delaware. There wasn’t much to do growing up in lower, slower, Delaware, so I spent most of my childhood outside riding my bike and playing sports. One of my favorite sports was basketball. When I was in the 8th grade, I recall desperately wanting to make the middle school basketball team. The middle school I attended was not a small, private school where everyone made the team. It was a public school with a lot of good athletes. There were 30-40 kids trying out for 12 spots. I was one of the shortest kids trying out but convinced myself that I could make the team if I could differentiate myself from the other players. After much thought and conversations with my brother, I decided that I would have a chance to make the team if I did 3 things well:
- Play good defense.
- Hustle and dive after loose balls.
- Get to the free throw line and make my free throws. Size has no consequence or advantage at the free throw line.
For two weeks in tryouts, I did these three things to the best of my ability. And when the roster was posted, my name was on it. The coach later told me that I was the very last player to make the team. I can attribute making the middle school basketball team to two things:
Think Big. Work Hard.
Growing up in Delaware, my Father was a pastor. While all of our basic needs were met, there was not a lot of extra money for what most kids would consider necessities: new shoes, baseball bats, video games, etc. I learned at a very young age that if I wanted any of these necessities, and it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas, I would have to work and pay for them myself. This instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age. As a young lad, I ran a well-diversified group of businesses. During the summer, I sold lemonade and cut grass. In the wintertime, I shoveled snow. Snow shoveling in southern Delaware can be taxing work, as winter precipitation usually consists of a rain/ sleet/ snow mixture and forms absurdly heavy slush. During the winter of 1995/96, my older brother noticed how much money I was accumulating shoveling snow and asked me to hire him, which I did. From my perspective, it was the perfect partnership. I would knock on doors, find customers, and negotiate pricing. My brother would then do the heavy lifting while I went to find our next customer. Once the snow melted and Spring began, I knew that I needed one more business I could operate during school hours to hold me over until the summer. I began surveying my peers to see where the market demand was. After several conversations, I concluded that the highest demand product I could sell (legally) was candy. I know some of you are laughing right now, thinking there is no money to be made in candy sales to middle school kids. Well, you are wrong. You can make a killing pushing candy to 8th graders, as I was about to discover. After experimenting with several different candy products, I finally discovered my cash cow – the pixie stick. Today, when I hear the words pixie stick, I instantly grin from ear to ear. It’s like hearing the name of a long-lost friend. A pixie stick is a paper straw filled with flavored sugar. In 1995, I would jump on my Schwinn Dyno bicycle and peddle to a nearby Dollar General or Woolworth where I could purchase a bag of 50 pixie sticks for $1. I would then put them in my Eastpak bookbag and unload them for ten cents each. That is a 500% profit margin. Those are life changing profit margins for a 13-year-old. Those are life changing profit margins at any age!
After my candy selling days were done and I entered high school and then college, I always took the life lessons I learned in the 8th grade to inspire my work. From bagging groceries at Kroger as a high schooler to selling newspaper subscriptions door to door for the AJC during my college years, the think big/work hard strategy fueled my success through each venture. In conclusion, I encourage everyone to implement the think big/work hard strategy. And when resistance and doubt inevitably arise, contemplate the following: If an 8th grader can make a 500% profit margin selling flavored sugar, how much more successful should we all be in our respective fields?