Lessons from a Yard Sale

yard sale

Ah, summer weekends…cookouts, swimming, and, for many of us, yard sales. My eight-year old daughter, Alexa, was excited for days about our own upcoming family yard sale at my sister-in-law’s home. Yes, she and our other children had toys, games, and clothes to sell, but she was most excited about her other business venture, nail painting.

The minute we arrived at the yard sale at 8 o’clock that Saturday morning, she was completely focused on one sole objective, attracting as many customers as possible to her grand opening of her nail salon. Her inventory consisted of roughly fifteen paint colors for her clients to consider. She also came prepared with paint remover, a cash basket, and even a nail dryer. I applauded her diversification of both product and service as well as her steely determination to make this a successful day.

After a seven-hour shift, Alexa netted $19.00 between the two separate enterprises. When she shared her earnings report, there was a smile along with a hint of disappointment. That made perfect sense considering she earned $2.71 an hour (or approximately $1.85 if Uncle Sam got involved) amidst difficult working conditions with temperatures above 90 degrees, high humidity, and a torrential downpour that occurred shortly before “clocking out” for the day. Despite this, I wanted to support her success and encourage her to continue this new found entrepreneurial spirit.

The following morning Alexa and I were sitting at the kitchen table and I used this moment as a coaching opportunity. Before going any further, I must note that I don’t treat my children as clients. However, this was the first time she really sold anything, and I wanted to hear what she took away from the experience.

“So honey, what did you learn from the yard sale yesterday?” I began.

Still half-asleep, she replied, “I dunno.” Her tone said, “That was so yesterday, Dad.”

I paused to take a sip of coffee and regroup. On to Round Two.

“What would you do differently if you had to do it all over again?” Now that question always elicits a thoughtful response. Nope. This time, not even an audible response, just a simple shrug of the shoulders.

I was determined, in some way, to make this interaction a teachable moment.

Then I posted the following question, “It’s a year from now and you can sell anything you want at the yard sale, what would it be?”

Without hesitation, she replied with great excitement, “Artwork.”

I then followed, “OK. Tell me more.” She continued, “Well, I’d sell paintings and maybe pottery.” Wanting to champion her cause, I said, “You sound super excited!” This prompted another silent, but positive, response…a vigorous nodding of the head coupled with a beaming smile.

She then looked at me, “Dad?,” Eager to hear more reflective insight, I said, “Yeah?”

“Can you make me pancakes?”

Lesson #1 – Learn from Every Experience

How often in our professional lives (and personal lives for that matter) do we even take time after a project, engagement, or event, whether successful or not, to reflect on not only the outcome but the process as well. Frederick the Great once stated,

“What is the good of experience if you do not reflect?”

I always like this quote because we lose such a precious opportunity when, in our haste, we wrap up an engagement only to begin another without contemplating on the successes or lessons learned.

In business, we refer to these events as a critical incident review, after-action review, or a post-mortem. Whatever you call it is not important. The important piece is to include it after any endeavor, whether you deem it a success or not. It will certainly increase your odds for a positive future outcome.

Lesson #2 – Do Something You Love That Contributes to the World

Somewhere along the way as children make their way to young adulthood, they lose sight of their true passion. Much can be attributed to self-induced as well as external pressures placed upon adolescents in today’s overly competitive society. In teaching business courses to college students primarily between the ages of 18-22, I repeatedly hear statements including:

-         “I want to major in business so I can get a job after college.”

-         “I need to pick a major because all my friends already have.”

-         “I’m just going to take the first internship offered to me to get experience.”

As you can imagine, each of those statements and many similar to those, lack any enthusiasm that can carry directly into the workplace.

I recently read The Path to Purpose by William Damon, Professor at Stanford University. In his book, he urges parents and teachers to have meaningful conversations with children to link their passion to a purpose that can result in a positive impact on society. This is needed now more than ever as the Gallup Organization recent surveyed employees from over 100 countries and asked the question,

Do you like what you do each day?

The results. Only 20% of the respondents answered “Yes”. This is not a U.S. problem, it’s a global problem. How did we get to a place where only 1 in 5 individuals enjoy the work that they perform? My answer to that question? We, as both employees and employers, are not doing enough to make a connection of how work contributes to a better world. Hence, employees lack an overall sense of purpose.

Considering Damon’s remarks, I later asked Alexa how her passion for art could help others. She said, “I want to make people happy when they see it in their houses.” That indeed was a proud moment.

Each of us should look for opportunities to engage “the next generation” to help them not only identify their passions but live them as well. Doing so will help to create more energetic communities and workplaces leading to more fulfilling lives.

Looking Forward to Next Year

I have never been a big fan of yard sales, but I’m grateful for the learning opportunities this event provided for my daughter (and me). If Alexa was happy with the $19 dollars and her experience, she could offer nail painting again next year. I talked with a friend about this and he asked an excellent question, “What if Alexa made $75.00 that day. Would she have been truly happy?” I didn’t ask her that question, but I assume, like most kids, she would have been happy. However, just like any person starting a career that pays quite well, the motivation would fade quickly if the passion is non-existent.

In the end, Alexa identified a way that might not only yield greater financial success but also, and more importantly, have more fun while making people happy in the process.

Something for all of us to consider.