Today, we call it “buy now, pay later.” But when I was in high school, I just thought of it as easy money.
Those fancy Air Jordans my classmates can’t afford? I’d buy them a couple, and let them pay me back in monthly installments. In the end, they shelled out double or triple what I did – but that was just good business, right?
When my school found out, they did not agree. Combined with some of my other high jinks, my little layaway scheme ended up getting me expelled.
In hindsight, I realize I wasn’t the only enterprising kid who was in hot water. Like a lot of nascent entrepreneurs, I had ambition, vision and a strong creative streak. The problem is that’s not how most people saw it.
Children like me are still dismissed as problem children for the very qualities that can make them successful in business. It’s time we reframe the conversation. I know from my own life and from mentoring promising young entrepreneurs that the problem trains are assets when they are constructively constructive.
In fact, research shows many “naughty” children Grow up to be Successful entrepreneurs. In one 40-year longitudinal study, rule-breaking tweens grew to earn more money than their educated peers.
As we navigate a shifting economy, climate change, the AI revolution and continuing globalization, we need more, not fewer, contrasting thinkers willing to challenge the rules. Here’s how to channel the next generation of “problem” kids.
Problem trains? Not exactly
I will not glamorize my youth. I was definitely a shit storm. But when I look back, I see that many of my “problem traits” are actually entrepreneurial tendencies waiting to be developed. And I see the same qualities in so many promising young people today:
Money-focused: Growing up in a difficult immigrant family, I was no stranger to poverty, I looked for creative ways to earn my own money. Many of my struggles are not 100% above board, but this is a typical story among successful entrepreneurs of all stripes – from impresario Jay-Z, who sold drugs in his Brooklyn neighborhood as a young teenager, to Warren Buffett, who sifted by litter. In horse racesLooking for discarded winners.
Risk-tolerant: Like any good entrepreneur, I’m not afraid to take calculated risks. I bought fireworks across the border, and sold them to kids in the neighborhood, figuring that if I got caught, the punishment would be light. Many successful entrepreneurs display the same kind of risk tolerance. Cybersecurity guru Kevin Mitnick Started as a hacker, for example, before donning the white hat.
People convince: I was naturally adept at motivating people, recruiting my friends to go door-to-door selling candy bars (among the guys from a youth soccer team!) and giving them a small cut of the profits. Studies show Persuasion is the single most important trait for successful entrepreneurs, even greater than leadership or goal orientation.
Cruel Creative: Remember Columbia House Music Club, where they would send you 10 CDs for a penny? I rented a dozen PO boxes at my corner store, applied for a dozen memberships, then resold the CDs to my classmates at full price. Other would-be entrepreneurs turned their side hustles into full-time businesses. Sir Richard Branson Drop out of high school To completely start a magazine.
contrary: Another common trait between “problem” kids and entrepreneurs? They would rather find their own way – a way that is faster, easier and more profitable – than to follow the beaten path. The list of tech titans What fell out of College witnesses to this healthy skepticism of established norms.
How to channel “problem kids” to entrepreneurship
Looking back, I could have easily gone down the wrong path, but several factors helped me redirect my energy. For parents out there today, these simple steps might just help your children’s passions for entrepreneurship:
First—parents, teachers, counselors—let’s rethink the value of conformity. Research shows that nonconformists are actually More likely like their colleagues To work for the greater good.
But for these restless young learners to thrive, we need to embrace hands-on opportunities like co-ops, technical programs, project-based learning and idea labs. After I was expelled, I enrolled in a new school that helped me channel my entrepreneurial energy. Today, programs like startup experience, BETA CampAnd Young Entrepreneurs Academy Offer hands-on experiences geared specifically toward helping budding entrepreneurs.
Next, it’s crucial to expose kids to mentors who can nurture their talent. I was fortunate to have an entrepreneurial uncle who ran a video and electronics store. I would lend a hand on weekends, and he helped me understand concepts like merchandising, marketing and customer pipelines. But for kids without family role models, mentorship programs like The genius school can play the same role.
Finally, all kids—especially precocious rule-breakers—need a firm foundation. I was blessed to know I could count on my mother’s unwavering love no matter how bad I messed up. And, as Abraham Maslow taught us by being Hierarchy of requirements, people can only thrive if they have the essentials of survival. That’s why I’m a strong supporter of programs like this KidSafethat provide vulnerable children with resources and support.
Look, I know how trying it is to write off trouble. I remember the looks of exhausted frustration on adults’ faces as they struggled to understand why I couldn’t just behave yourself But as we move forward into an uncertain future, it will be the “problem children” who lead the way, challenging old, broken models and creating new opportunities. We can either help them channel their energy into new ideas and new businesses or stand by and watch.