Nothing equals the high of discovering you’ve changed a life. It’s hard to stop everything, battle traffic, and drive to school, but every single time I leave the classroom I mentor, I am on a high. What keeps me coming back are the letters.
Consider Kevin. After visiting his business class at Largo High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland for three months, I hadn’t even noticed him. He sat at the back of class as if camouflaged. However, his entrepreneurship teacher introduced us and everything changed.
We met in the library, and his gaze never met mine. He was focused more on the scratches in the wood table. I began softly, and explained that the ideas we would discuss were his. He was the businessperson who would make all decisions; I would be his consultant. Most importantly, he could reject my ideas. He had all the authority.
One day, Kevin handed me a fully completed business plan for his lawn-mowing business. He whispered, “I just don’t know how to get started. Besides, I have a job at McDonald’s, and I don’t know how to fit it all in.”
I replied that many entrepreneurs are conflicted by the comfort of a steady paycheck versus branching out on their own. I helped weigh the pros and cons, and outlined a way to handle both. I asked, “Kevin, how good are you at mowing lawns? Do you have a track record? Is there a need in your neighborhood?”
At this point, Kevin sat up straight, leaned in, and looked me dead in the eye. “Yes ma’am, I’m really good at lawn mowing. I mow my parents’ lawn every weekend, and it looks super nice. Beds are edged; grass is even. But, I’ve noticed that my neighbors’ lawns look terrible.”
I asked him if we could practice a role-play to help get him started in business. “I’ll pretend to be you going door-to-door in your neighborhood,” I said. “Hello, my name is Kevin and I run Kevin’s Lawn Services. I am a student in Largo‘s entrepreneurship class. This is a copy of my business textbook and my business plan. I’ve been mowing lawns in the neighborhood for two years now. I would like to demonstrate my work for you and start by possibly mowing your lawn today for $20.00. If you like my work I would like to set up a weekly contract.”
Then we switched roles and Kevin nailed it. We wrote out a simple contract that detailed weekly payments and established dates for recurring service.
I only saw Kevin once more after that, but at year-end, received this letter:
Dear Miss Patty,
I really appreciate the time you spent with my class and helping us to make our business ideas and plans better. With all the great and new ideas you put into my head, I have already become a success in my neighborhood. I have eight regular weekly customers already, and I have used the contracts you said I should. I am very proud of myself and have found that the advantage of gaining self-confidence is true when you own your own business.
He quit McDonalds.
The amazing thing? We had only one conversation. Kevin had it in him all the while. A skosh of how-to and a small dose of mentoring was all he needed.
Did you ever consider that by simply showing up, sharing your professional experience, and describing how you overcame bumps along the way, you could inspire a lightbulb moment for a student?