Excuse Me, I Think Your Bathing Suit Is On Fire!

They say it’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to have experienced a time in their life when they have either personally struggled with money, or saw their parents fall on hard times. Times when they looked around as a kid and said to themselves, “this will not be me.” I think that for those individuals there was always a small spark deep within; they just needed something or someone to fan the fire.

For some, they knew as a child as soon as the opportunity arose, they would be stepping out of their norm to do something big, or at the least, better than where they were. Maybe they grew up in a single parent household and saw their hard-working mom/dad/caregiver struggle despite punching the clock every day. Or you know what, maybe their situation was the complete opposite. Maybe they had that drive and couldn’t understand why the person who was supposed to be providing for them wasn’t or didn’t. Some people continue on with their family’s business, with some advancing it beyond where it once was or driving into the ground because that ambition to answer to only yourself just wasn’t in their blood.

It all sounds a little dramatic I know, but in my journey, I have yet to have met one entrepreneur who didn’t have a background story. Something that set the stage for where they are today. I absolutely love reading or listening to the reasons as to why a person went into business for themselves. I have met some whose family member or child set the compass for where they were going. A lot want to solve problems or help people. Most have a true passion for what they are doing and the hope they can convey and convert others to share in that enthusiasm.

I have such a new respect and admiration for those who stand by their dream day in and day out no matter how the tide turns. The high of riding the biggest wave, holding tight, and praying you don’t drown only to open your eyes and see you’ve landed on the sand with your bathing suit still on is worth the times where you are sucked under, naked, barely breathing, and feeling like you’re about to be eaten by a shark.

It isn’t scientific or a proven fact, just my experience thus far.

I would say my experience is a combination of having experienced seeing not only my parents struggle, but also seeing a lot of the most influential people in my life step out and try their hardest in the world of Entrepreneurship. Let me give you a little background of their business ventures…

I was extremely close to both sets of my grandparents. Both of my grandfathers served our country and were hard workers. While my maternal grandfather (Granddaddy) worked full time, he also worked for himself in the heating and air trade. He was so skilled in this area that he taught at a local trade school. He also had his own nursery in his backyard selling plants and shrubs. In addition to this, he spent hours collecting, shelling, and selling pecans from his own trees. After retirement, he would go on to teach his sons on how to manage a business of their own.

My paternal grandfather (Bigdaddy) was one of the hardest workers I knew. He worked well into his 80’s even while receiving cancer treatment. He originally was a salesman for a steel company. In order to meet the needs of his family, he decided to open his own steel business. His wife, my Grandma, was so creative and talented. She sewed, painted, cross-stitched, quilted, made pottery and jewelry, honestly, I could go on and on in all the ways she was gifted. She owned her own fabric store in the 1960’s. She also made holiday specific items for gift shops.

I can’t help but add my maternal Grandmother to this list. While she may not have fulfilled what most would consider the true definition of an entrepreneur, you can’t dismiss how amazing of a wife, mother, and grandmother she was/is. Suggesting that a stay at home wife and mother is a “job” is quite offensive to some people I understand. Others will agree that it is by far one of the hardest yet most fulfilling position they have ever held. But when I tell you she was/is by far the most amazing “career” wife/mother/grandmother ever to have walked the face of this Earth is an understatement. That was her aspiration. That was what she always wanted to do. Different people will define this role in various ways. She cooked meals each day with fresh produce from their garden. She sewed for her children and for her grandchildren. She kept a beautiful, clean home and loved being there taking care of her family. We always could rely on her to be there for us no matter what else might have been going on in her life. She was a natural caregiver, thankfully so, because my grandfather was a brittle diabetic and later developed Alzheimer’s disease. Her faith in God was unwavering and she instilled that faith in her entire family. She is a beautiful person in and out. I’m not sure what the definition of being a perfect stay at home wife and mother is or if there even is one, but she exceeds any standard that might be out there. By no means did her devotement to her family take from her personally. She was active in different clubs, she worked out almost daily, and even today she loves to read, write, and draw. She always seemingly managed it all with ease. She is such an admirable woman.

Now, down to the nuts and bolts of it all, my parents. My mother worked off and on while I was younger, like very young. She was a preschool teacher mainly, and later as we got older, would end up substitute teaching for extra money. Then she, like myself, had two babies back to back. From that point on, she and my dad decided it only made sense that she stay home to raise us to curb the cost of childcare. Not only that, it was just important to her that she stay home with us. That was something she really wanted. My father was very sick when I was growing up (we will talk more on that later) so holding a job was extremely difficult for him due to his chronic illness. That never once stopped him from trying though.

My mom was a “Ding Dong, Avon Calling” lady at one time for extra money. I personally thought the extremely tiny tubes of lipsticks were the most amazing part of that job. She would later sew maternity clothes for women in her church and she helped my Grandma finish sewing projects that were due to be turned in to the shops she served. She was an amazing stay at home wife and mom. To be honest, she and my dad were both so great I never really knew how poor we really were until I was older. I am not going to get into the entire dynamic of our home life, at this time, from a financial perspective. Just know moving forward that it was very terrible starting around the time of my early preteens.

My dad worked with my Bigdaddy at his steel company for many years. However, he was always trying to find something that aligned more with his interests and would allow him flexibility with his Crohn’s disease, but also provide extra income for his family. I know, I know, isn’t having your dad (his dad) owning a steel business profitable? One would think. But it was small with very few employees and by the time you calculated overhead expenses there was not much left.

He did take big chances and try to brave the waters of being an entrepreneur. He owned a convenience store for awhile, as well as a hot dog restaurant. The store burned down and the restaurant ultimately failed due to location. He got very resourceful in those hard times. He “flipped” cars and trucks on the side. Once when he really wanted to take us to the beach one summer, he painted a dump truck for the money to do so. He painted houses. There was a time where he sold plastic fishing worms which he dubbed as “Dixie Wigglers.” That’s cute Dad. And when that didn’t turn out to be as gainful as he had hoped, why not try the real thing. Yes, you guessed it. Real worms. Red ones to be exact. He grew? Cultivated? Raised? I’m not sure exactly what the process of raising red worms is but he did it. And apparently, you need a LOT of Styrofoam cups to be a worm farmer. And I only say that because when things didn’t pan out we ate ice-cream and drank from Styrofoam cups for what seemed like an eternity! He sold a hand cleaner for a period of time. Had his own label designed and everything. If you can’t say anything, you have to admire his tenacity. I truly believe if he didn’t become as sick as he did which resulted in him having to file for disability, he would be running a business of his own now. There’s no doubt about it; you must have that drive to keep going despite what happens, no matter how big or small your venture is.

Once he was no longer able to work, my mom didn’t think twice about stepping in and picking up the slack. The take away here is the fact that mom jumped right on in the work force feet first with only some college in early childhood education (preschool). She landed a job as a receptionist at a senior care facility and twenty years later is gearing up to retire as the Director of Human Resources there. Her work ethic is unbelievable; often working more than ten to twelve hours a day, goes in early, stays late, stays over for days during inclement weather, takes on the work for others, leads committees, etc. Like her mom, there is a lot to admire in her.

I not only saw and experienced first-hand financial struggles, I saw my family, particularly my parents, work very hard to provide for their family. In some ways, this had a negative effect on me in my early adulthood and with the birth of my first child. No three-year-old really needs a million pairs of designer denim and footwear. However, as expenses for Jack rose and then with the birth of two more children, I became so much smarter with not only my money but my priorities as well. I don’t think it’s uncommon to grow up struggling financially and later want to give your child any and everything, even if they don’t even care about or want it. It’s funny how life comes full circle as I find myself using so many of the cost saving “life hacks” I saw my parents use. I am so grateful that I had the chance to see both sides because I can fully understand now what is truly important in life.

Taking this all in, I realize now that I am finally where I need to be. It’s in my blood. Where I should have always been. You can’t write a chapter of your life while you are still in the act. Now that chapters have closed it’s been easier to look back and understand why things unfolded the way they did. I came to the realization that no one will ever hold me to a higher standard than I hold myself to. I will always find it difficult to be boxed in and unable to experiment and release ideas and concepts that I have. I could never work again in a place where good ideas lay dormant at the expense of outshining someone else. It feels so amazing to not be stifled. I live, eat, and breathe the work that I do, and I have loved every single minute of it. I go to sleep thinking of ways to improve and build When Life, and some of my best ideas wake me in the early morning hours.

Maybe I am very naïve at this point, but I think I could drink my fruity beachy cocktail in the belly of a shark or in a bathing suit in the sun and be just as happy either way.



1 comment

Sarah Gray

I’ve also made the observation that the ones who hustle the hardest usually have quite a story. Thanks for writing about yours – your family sounds amazing. <3

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