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Oct 18 2018
The Road Not Taken....  E-mail

The Road Not Taken: How Ice Cream, Girls, and Gum Made Me an Entrepreneur

In this series of posts, Influencers explain how their career paths might have changed. Read all the stories here and write your own (please include the hashtag #RoadNotTaken in the body of your post).
I learned to value money and the freedom it could buy at a very young age.

I was sixteen when I had my first steady job and earned my first buck, and let me tell you, it was an empowering moment. After getting that initial taste of my own cash, I vowed to never be broke and always made sure I had a job—whether it was cleaning garbage trucks, bricklaying, or planting trees in the suburbs.
One of these odd jobs turned out to be the most pivotal moment in my business career, and my ultimate life path.

It was a brutal and humiliating job that truly taught me where power lies. It’s also the place where my entrepreneurial streak was fully revealed to me, where I learned that I was born to work for myself.
I applied for a job at Magoo’s Ice Cream Parlour because it was located in the mall where the girls tended to gather after school. It was a cheery place, with pumped-in music, green walls, and Mexican tile floors. The boss was a bit of a witch, but working there was a surefire way to meet girls.

The first day went well. The boss gave me a general overview of the store and a clear outline of my duties, which included standing behind the counter, serving ice cream, and being friendly to customers. My scoop skills were sound, and I could say with pride that although it was a busy day and I was new, I kept the lineups short and the customers happy.

My second day on the job was even busier, but I was getting faster. During a lull in the action, the boss came to the front of the store, looking for me. I’ll admit I was hoping for a bit of praise, for being swift, efficient, and a fast learner. Instead, she said to me, “Kevin, there’s some gum in the grout on the floor. I want you to get down on your hands and knees and scrape it out before anybody comes back in.”

This request stopped me in my tracks. The first thing that entered my mind was that if a pretty girl saw me doing that, she might not talk to me. The second thing that crossed my mind was that I didn’t get hired to scrape gum.
“That’s not my job,” I said. “My job’s to scoop ice cream.”

Her features twisted into the meanest expression I’d ever seen on a face. Next thing out of her mouth was “You’re fired. Get out of my store.”
When I got home — hot tears of rage stinging my cheeks — my parents weren’t impressed.

“You were hired not just to serve customers, but to serve the person who owns the business, whether you like that person or not,” my stepfather, George, explained.
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll never work for anyone ever again. I’ll just work for myself.”
George shook his head. “Even if you’re self-employed, you’ll be serving someone.”
“Yeah, myself,” I replied.

“No, Kevin. You’ll be serving your clients or your customers. You’ll never be successful if you think of work as serving only yourself.”

It would take me years to understand what my stepfather meant by that, but he was right. Today, I am in business for myself, but I know whom I serve: I serve my shareholders, and I do it passionately and happily.

After the shame of being fired from the ice cream parlor subsided, what remained was a dawning understanding that to be an employee was to allow another person to have a lot of control over my life. My boss held all the power because she could, for any reason, stanch the flow of money to me in an instant.

I’ll admit now that my boss at Magoo’s had good reason to fire me, but I also realized at that moment being an employee was never going to make me happy. It was as though an arm swept aside a heavy gauze, illuminating a clear entrepreneurial path.

But let me be clear here: even though I was not built to be an employee, that doesn’t mean I am better than the people I employ. I’m different from them, but not better.

I’m telling you all of this for a reason. You must discover which role suits you best: employee or employer. Being a successful employee requires continually honing a talent for diplomacy and collaboration. In turn, you’re rewarded with security and a steady salary, with fewer of the headaches from which entrepreneurs suffer.

Running a business on the other hand, is an all-consuming, all-encompassing venture, which totally invigorates some, and totally exhausts others.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my boss from Magoo’s. If I could ever track her down, I’d write her a big, fat check, because she did me a great favor. She removed any notion that I could be happy working for someone else. I am an entrepreneur. I employ.