If you want to start a successful business find your one thing.

Yesterday I talked to a good friend of mine about his entrepreneurial ambitions. He is a rockstar who has held impressive positions with 5 elite brands that everyone in America knows. Thanks to COVID-19 he is now starting the next chapter of his career. This is an exciting opportunity for him to do something new and self-directed. Like a Spike Lee joint.

As he told me about all the things he has in the works right now I was impressed. There were interesting partnerships, licensing opportunities, consulting requests, new product development ideas and brand building thoughts. It was like a Thanksgiving table full of opportunities. And everything looked delicious.

A blessing and a curse

Having many options in front of you is a gift. It is also a recipe for entrepreneurial failure. Because entrepreneurship doesn’t require dabbling and exploring and nibbling at a number of interesting things. It requires you to focus your attention on one thing completely. Like a hitman.

Dreaming Vs Doing

When you have many opportunities available to you, you are still in the dreaming phase. You are considering the possibilities. It is exciting. But it is still fantasy. And there is a big difference between dreaming, dabbling and doing. Which sounds like a Fred Flinstone-ism.

The Weaponry

When I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I was completely focused on my mission. I threw all other options aside. I put all my eggs in one basket and then focused on the basket as if nothing else mattered. Because it didn’t. That focus made all the difference.

Getting Obsessive

To be successful as an entrepreneur you have to become obsessive. You have to roll a rock up a hill to get started. Which is hard. And it can’t be done while texting. Or with one hand in your pocket. Unless maybe you are Alanis Morrisette.

If you are thinking about starting your own business, pick something you are really excited about and focus on that one thing completely. Think of it as your one nail to drive. Then hammer away at that one nail until the job is done. Don’t touch, tap or tickle another nail until the alpha nail is hammered home.

Once you have the business humming it will afford you new opportunities to do more. You can pour all that you learned bringing the first business to life into the next. A successful first business will also provide additional funds to deploy towards your next venture. You can repeat the process over and over, and make many great things happen. But start with one. Just like Brian McKnight.

Key Takeaway

If you are thinking of starting your own business, think singular, not plural. One business opportunity should step forward and take all of your attention. Find the one idea among the many that you are most excited about and feed it. Fuel it. Fixate on it. And force it to happen.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Passionate people don’t focus on passive income.

People love the idea of passive income. Or earning money while doing nothing. I blame Dire Straits. But if you focus your attention on making money while doing nothing there is a high likelihood that you will earn nothing too.

The focus should be on passionate income. The money you make from aggressive moves, serious work, and taking risks. The money you make from following your passion. And harvesting that passion fruit. (Which sounds abstractly naughty.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. Everyone should. And I understand the value of accumulating assets, investing and letting your money work for you.

But I don’t believe that should free you from work. It should free you from the work you don’t want to do. And let you work hard at your favorite challenges and opportunities. That’s the sweet spot. Aim there.

What happened after I had my This-Can’t-Be-My-Life moment.

The summer after I graduated from the University of Wisconsin I didn’t have a job. No full-time job. No part-time job. I was living in Madison, lightly looking for an entry-level position in advertising. But not looking in a way that gets the job done. In fact, I still hadn’t set foot in an ad agency.

The Ricki Lake Show

On a hot afternoon that July, when real grown-ups were at work, I found myself lying on my couch in the middle of the day watching The Ricki Lake Show. And suddenly the reality of my situation hit me like a Miley Cyrus wrecking ball. 

I was a good student. I went to a great school. I now had degrees in both Journalism and Psychology. I had ambition. And goals. And pride. And bills to pay. And here I was in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, plopped on my couch, watching a crappy talk show, because I had nothing more important to do with my time. I thought, WTF? (even though WTF hadn’t been invented yet), This can’t be my life.

In that moment, my life changed. I rose from the couch, an unemployed man on a mission. I bounded up the staircase to my bedroom. I grabbed a scrap of paper on my desk that my Profesor Roger Rathke had handed me weeks earlier. On the paper was written Paul Counsell and a phone number.

Paul Counsell was a college buddy of Profesor Rathke’s, and the CEO of Cramer Krasselt, one of America’s great advertising agencies. He was someone I was told I should call. But I hadn’t.

I plucked my corded 1990’s phone from the wall, punched in the phone number, and was introducing myself to Mr. Counsell less than a minute after dumping Ms. Lake. And things started changing.

From that phone call I got an informational interview. Then a job offer as a copywriter. Then I started my real job, with a salary and benefits, and opportunities for growth and travel. All doing what I always wanted to do. I met my wife Dawn at that job. And I met a client there who years later would call me out of the blue, just like I called Paul Counsell, and encourage me to start my own advertising agency. Which I did.

Today I am the Founder and CEO of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry. Over the past two decades I have worked with some of the best brands in the world. And the best people. My career has taken me to Argentina, Iceland and India. My wife Dawn and I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our first date tomorrow with our 3 kids. This is my life. Because I got off the couch and made it happen.

Is this your life?

Are you living the life you imagined?  The life you thought you would have when you graduated from high school or college? Or did you fall behind, veer off course, or never get started? Have the recent health and economic crises spun you around and left you wondering what’s next for you?

If you are not living the life you imagined, I hope you have your own This can’t be my life moment. Because that moment can change everything. It can motivate you to take the actions needed to get you where you always wanted to go. There are on-ramps everywhere. So take one. Make that call. Or make a thousand. Change jobs. Change careers. Start your own business. Get back to work. Get away from toxic people. Get near sunshine people. And can-do people. And finally, do what you always knew you could.

Key Takeaway

This-Can’t-Be-My-Life moments are a gift. They are the push you need to get to the place you are supposed to be. The first half of 2020 was full of challenges and setbacks. But it also created opportunities. Take advantage of them. Get off the couch. And make your life happen.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Want to do great things? Follow someone who already has.

If you want to do something great, find someone who has already done it. Or is doing it now. And doing it well, like L.L. Tuck in behind them and learn as much as you can from them. Ask questions. Observe. And follow.

There is no reason to waste time reinventing the wheelie. Get the blueprints. And the Cliff Notes. Learn as much as you can from those who have already traveled the path. And you’ll experience the least resistance.

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This dude is tucked in and ready to draft.

You still have to put in the work. Like RuPaul. Your endpoint will be your own. But playing follow the leader will allow you to expend less energy in the early stages. Which will allow you to travel faster and farther and spend more time on course than off.

You will condense the journey to your initial success by squeezing out the mistakes and missteps. The types of mistakes and setbacks that are inevitable if you go alone. Going down the only road you’ve ever known.

Your success will also be the success of the person you are tucking behind. Because you are Them 2.0. You are them but smarter, sharper, and more efficient. You are them with experience, time traveling back to the beginning. Like Uncle Rico playing high school football again.

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I played follow the leader when I was a kid, and never stopped. 

You can follow a person you know. Or a person you want to know. But you can also follow someone who has done it, and written a book about it. Or created a podcast, newsletter blog or poem about it. You can even follow Robert Frost by not following Robert Frost. Think about that for a moment in the yellow woods.

I have been following too many people to count. They have all made my journey to this point easier. Becuase there is so much already figured out that I didn’t have to figure it out myself. And that has made all the difference

Key Takeaway

Dream a big dream. Then get going. But don’t go it alone. Find someone to break the wind for you. #snickering  Follow a proven recipe for success. Then add your own nuts and marshmallows. The world is full of great stories. Find one you like. Or mix several together to create your own formula. But find a guide. You’ll get there faster. Then just keep going.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

How to make your own treasure map in a notebook.

I am on a treasure hunt. In fact, I am looking for hidden treasure everywhere I go. But I am not expecting to find a chest full of gold. Instead, I am looking for valuable insights, nuggets of wisdom, and how-to’s from rockstars who have already done what I want to do.

To find the treasure I need a map. Something to guide my steps, and direction. But I am not looking for One-Eyed Willy’s tattered, yellow, X-Marks-The-Spot number. Google maps doesn’t know my destination. And Rand McNally doesn’t sell what I need. Although those guys really put maps on the map.

My Treasure Map

My map is a small black, hardcover Moleskin notebook. I bought it myself. And when I bought it all the pages were blank.

I bring that notebook with me to meetings. To networking events. To chocolate milk conversations (because I don’t drink coffee). To meetups and roundtables. When I hear something, see something or think of something that I believe will get me closer to the treasure, I write it in my notebook.

That once-blank book is now full of good advice. It holds inspirational quotes. Rules of thumb. Philosophies of successful people. Resources to consider. Math equations. Events to attend. Books or articles to read. Podcasts, blogs and newsletters to follow. And social media feeds worth checking out.

I always keep my notebook nearby and my ears and eyes open. (Okay, I do blink occasionally, but just for eye maintenance.)  As a result, the treasure map in my notebook gets more detailed and more valuable all the time. In fact, I believe that my notebooks (there are many of them now) are my most valuable possessions.

Where Is Your Notebook?

Given the high value I place on my own notebooks, I am always shocked when someone requests a meeting with me and then show up without a notebook. Or paper. Or a writing utensil. Or a sense that they showed up to the meeting partially naked.

What That Says

Coming to an informational interview, or networking meeting without your notebook says 2 things:

  1. You are not prepared for the journey.
  2. You don’t expect to find any gold in my world.

My Response

Depending on the age, experience and potential of the person I am meeting with I may note the missing notebook, and the value that it would brings. I kindly suggest that in the future, paper and pen or pencil or crayon may be valuable additions to their meeting gear.

Other times I simply write them off without saying anything. Because some people are simply not on treasure hunts. They are not seeking the gold. They are simply going through the motions. And if that is all they are doing, they don’t need my help.

Key Takeaway

If you are seeking treasure, you’re going to need a map. Your treasure map will be individualized. Which means you’ll have to write it yourself. So pick up an empty notebook, and collect the golden advice you get along the way. Write down the directions and the steps as you find them. It works for careers and building businesses. It works for happiness, relationships, parenting and fitness.

You can use a notebook, a smart list of questions and good pair or ears to find anything you seek. And once you begin looking for the treasures, you will find them everywhere. So draw your own map. Let the world know what you are looking for. And the world will show you how to find it.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this nugget, please share it with them.

Do you love your work like Stephen King loves writing?

I love to shop for books at Goodwill. I love the treasure hunt. I love finding great books for cheap. And I like picking up value that someone else discarded. So when they toss it and leave it, I pull up quick to retrieve. Just like Sir Mixalot.

Stephen King

One of the books I nabbed at the G-Dub was On Writing by Stephen King. It’s the only Stephen King book I have read. I’ll admit, there was way less blood than I was expecting.

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This was written on the inside front cover of the book I picked up at Goodwill. Sorry Mom. I don’t think Ben loved it as much as I do.

I am always trying to improve my writing. And I figured who knows more about writing than a guy who has written a bazillion novels. (I guess a person who has written 2 bazillion novels.)

This morning in the section on editing Stephen King made a statement that jumped off the page like an Acapulco cliff diver. On editing he wrote:

I love this part of the process (well, I love all the parts of the process, but this one is especially nice).  -Stephen King

I love this statement! Not because Stephen King loves editing and re-writes. But because I love hearing that someone loves all the parts of the process. Loves all the parts of their work. Because that is exactly how I feel about my job.

Advertising!

I love everything about advertising. I love pitching new clients. I love the research. I love studying the audience. I love developing and sharpening creative briefs. I love the creative thinking. The ideating and concepting. I love pulling ideas and language out of the ether. I love directing creative. And I love presenting new ideas the way an obstetrician loves presenting naked newborns.

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I love that nobody really wears socks.

I love it when clients love our ideas. But I also love it when clients give us a difficult challenge. Because I love being thrown a good curveball.

I love big budgets, and I can not lie. But I also love small budgets and short timelines, and the way those constraints force you to think harder and dig deeper.

I love production, casting, shooting and editing. I love finding the perfect music track. I love testing and optimizing. I love creating work that produces laughter. Or chills. Or good tears. I love the results that come as a result of the work we produce. That’s the best. It is the reason we exist.

I love the people of this industry, both on the agency and client-side. I love how interesting and smart and varied they are. And they are very varied. Like Vera Bradly and aloe vera

I love the dress code. I love the travel. I love that I met my wife Dawn at work in an advertising agency. And I love that she understands all the things I love about my work.

Entrepreneurship

Since I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry,  I have found that I love everything about owning an agency too. I love the competition of business. It’s my all-time favorite game.

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This guy loves to write about things he loves. 

I love budgets and revenue and profit & loss statements, and balance sheets. I love taxes and capital expenses. I love adding software and apps to our infrastructure to create a better, smarter, more efficient machine. I love filing our annual report with the state. It’s a reminder that I am officially a business owner.

I love finding office space, and negotiating leases.  I love partnerships with other businesses. And dealing with our client’s CFOs and procurement and reviewing legal agreements. Which may sound like drudgery. But it feels like a privilege to me.

I even like the challenge of a crazy global crisis that comes out of nowhere. It tests your preparedness, your resourcefulness and your resolve. The do-or-die nature of such challenges is a thrill. It forces you to ask yourself just how much you want what you want. And I really, really want. Just like the Spice Girls.

Key Takeaway

Find work that you love. It makes every day fun. It lets you wallow in your passion. It makes you look forward to every day and every new challenge. A love for your work is a key performance indicator. It’s hard to be passionate about your vocation and deliver poor output. Because the time, energy and interest you invest will drive continuous improvement. And over time you’ll become frighteningly good at what you do. Just like Stephen King.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.   

Happy 4th of July! Will today be your Independence Day?

Before 1776 there was potential. A lot of potential. The American colonies were full of smart, talented, ambitious men and women who wanted more and better than the old world could provide. We had stars. We had bars. And we had Betsy Ross threaded and ready.

The fuse on this firecracker was lit in the summer of 1776. The best and brightest came together with a vision and a quill pen. And when they finally took action they launched the greatest startup the world has ever seen.

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Betsy Ross Like A Boss

But like any startup, they didn’t get everything right, right out of the gate. However, they created a system that enabled the system itself to get better, stronger and smarter over time.

Using the system itself we have been able to clarify that all men are created equal really means all men and women. It includes all colors. It includes all religions. It even includes the New York Yankees.

Today, that cute little Philly startup from 1776 is now the most valuable organization on Earth.

This Independence Day weekend I hope you take a few minutes to consider this amazing organization of ours. An organization that began with just some powdered wigs and a dream.

We must continue using the system to make the system itself better. It is not only our right, as shareholders, but it is also our obligation.

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In the words of the great American writer, Will Smith, Boom, Shake Shake Shake The Room.

I hope the 4th of July also inspires you to consider your own independence.

If you have been thinking of starting your own business, do it now.

If you have lost your job or your entire industry, start fresh now.

If you are energized and eager, it’s go time!

If you are desperate, you have the most powerful fuel of all.

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In the words of Montel Jordan, this is how we do it.

If you want to start your own business but don’t know where to begin, send me a note. I have started my own business. Today, I want to help others experience the same feeling of independence.

And If I can do it, you can too. I know. Because we are all created equal.

Happy 4th of July my fellow shareholders!

God Bless America.

An important spark on my entrepreneurial journey.

Today I am at the beach vacationing with my family. I am also working. This is the reality of entrepreneurship. When work needs to be done you do it. Even if you are at the beach. Even if it is your birthday. Even with a fox or in a box or wearing socks.

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The sunrise this morning from my balcony as I write this post.

The Night Shift

On Sunday night, Father’s Day Night, I worked until 2am. Late in the night when my family was asleep, and my keystrokes were the only noise in the hotel room, I was reminded of a story from 6 years ago.

Cathy Maas

In the spring of 2014, my great friend Cathy Maas contacted me. I worked with Cathy, who is everyone’s great friend, for several years at Engauge. She is an excellent brand planner. And by 2014 one of the world’s greatest food companies had snatched her up and made them their Director of Consumer Insights.

One of the brands Cathy worked on needed some strategic concepts written for an upcoming round of new product research work. I told Cathy I was happy to help. Although when I discovered the timeline I realized that the whole project would need to be completed while I was in Florida, on spring break with my family. I took on the project anyway.

The Taste Test

On that vacation, my family and I had fun each day on Marco Island (which was also one of Cathy’s favorite places). Then, each night after my wife and 3 small kids went to bed, I would fire up my laptop and work on my side project like Rumplestilskin.

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My babies on Marco Island back in 2014.

I loved everything about that project. I thought the work was fascinating. I loved feeling like I was the head of my own ad agency. Albeit an ad agency of one. And I loved that the money I was being paid for the project would pay for our family’s vacation.

Start Me Up

That experience lit a fire in me. It gave me a glimpse of how I could create an advertising agency, develop great work for great clients, and provide for my family without being someone else’s employee. The door had opened just a crack. But all I needed was that little crack. Kinda like Whitney Houston.

George Mort

At the end of my vacation, I had lunch with my snowmobiling buddy George Mort. George had moved from Wisconsin to Marco Island. I was inspired by my freelance experience, and I told George that I was seriously thinking of starting my own agency.

George is a wise guy. I don’t mean he’s a mobster or a dude who gives frankincense and myrrh to a newborn. But George is a genuinely wise guy. And I remember George’s response to my entrepreneurial plans like it was yesterday. He said matter-of-factly, ‘This is the time to do it. It’s now or never.’

It’s Go Time.

I knew George was right. So I got to work. And less than 18 months I had planned out my agency in detail and landed my first client.

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My family and George Mort at his home in Marco Island in 2014

Today

Six years after Cathy Maas sent that spark project my way, The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, is 4 years old. We have offices in Milwaukee and Columbus. I am working on vacation. And I couldn’t be happier. Over the past few days I’ve been swimming and boogie boarding and enjoying time with my family. I have also been working on clients based in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas and Milwaukee. Because I chose now over never.

Thank You

Thank you Cathy Maas for providing a spark. My journey has been propelled by hundreds of important and inspirational events. But this one was special. It allowed me to see what the future might look like if I started my own agency. And today, that future looks exactly the way I thought it would back in March of 2014 during those late nights of work in a hotel room on Marco Island.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Did you know that you own a business?

There are two types of business owners. The first type are those who work in their business. They do whatever needs to be done to deliver the goods and services the business produces. They are doers. They are time-to-make-the-donuts types. They make the business run.

Then there are business owners who work on their business. They are like race mechanics who are tinkering with and tweaking the machine to make it more powerful, more capable, more efficient, and easier to work with. Like Ricky Bobby, they want to go fast.

The business owner who simply works in her or his business never creates a better business. They never grow beyond the limitations of there current inputs and processes. They are hamster wheel owners. And they will never get ahead.

No Limit Soldiers

But the business owner who works on his or her business will know no limits. They will continuously find ways to improve the machine. Sometimes in small ways. Sometimes in transformative ways that make the new version of the business so different from the old that you wouldn’t recognize them as the same organization. Kind of like the Bash Brothers of business.

Those who work on the business create growth organizations. These are the success stories. The highly profitable businesses that attract the best and brightest to join and contribute their ideas for improvement. This is the most rewarding organization to be a part of. And it contributes the highest returns to its employees.

The United States Inc.

Our nation is a business too. You and I are the nation-owners. And we have to decide whether we are going to work in the business or on the business.

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As Americans, we own this thing together. Never forget that.

If we simply decide that we are going to work in the nation, then we as the owners are not growers, increasers or improvers. The nation we hand down to our children will be the same one we inherited. We will be the forgotten ownership era who did nothing to increase value.

However, if we decide to work on the nation there is no limit to how much better we can make this business of ours. Abraham Lincoln worked on the business. So did FDR. And Susan B. Anthony. And Martin Luther King Jr. And Team America, World Police. They were all owner-citizens, just like you and me. Yet the visions they had, the decisions they made, and the actions they took improved our business in immeasurable ways.

Get To Work

Today, as nation-owners, we all have the ability to work on the business in large and small ways. Voting helps. Speaking out helps. Taking action helps. Fixing the system to work better for all Americans helps. By improving the system we can add more fuel,  more horsepower, more capacity, and more contribution. Which leads to more output, greater results and a more prosperous nation for all.

As nation-owners we should expect profit sharing. When the nation does well, all who contribute enjoy a bonus. The more who contribute the greater the bonus will be.

I like a good bonus. I expect you do too. So does Gordon Gekko. The promise of a bigger bonus is how you get Gordon to buy into the plan.

Key Takeaway

Our nation is like a business. It is time for us as the nation-owners to work on the business. Let’s turn this business of ours into a high-powered, smooth-running, high output machine. Because when we do, all shareholders will enjoy greater dividends. And we’ll be able to pass down an even greater asset to the next generation.

*If you know a fellow nation-owner who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

I’ve been teaching my son about business. And here’s what I have learned.

Being a dad can be hard. One of the great challenges for me as a dad is not laughing at the really funny but inappropriate things my kids say and do. Potty humor has not lost its power over me. I regularly get in trouble with Dawn, my parenting partner, for laughing at things I’m not supposed to laugh at. I am told that I am encouraging my kids’ behavior. But hey, I want to be an encouraging Dad.

To counterbalance my chronic immaturity, I also try to be a good influence and teach my kids important life lessons. I have been reading Dale Carnegie with my 13-year old son, Johann. I have read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. to my now 14-year old daughter Ava. And I  am currently reading Rich Dad. Poor Dad. with my 9-year-old son, Magnus.

Magnus is really fun to teach about business. Even though he is only 9 he is displaying the same type of interest in business ideas that he has in sports. Which is great, because business is the ultimate competitive sport. And because Magnus is now my retirement plan.

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Me and Magnus and our hair and some wind in Astoria, Oregon.

As we read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. Magnus is fascinated by the good financial advice offered by the book. He now knows that assets are things that make you money and that liabilities are things that cost you money. He knows that poor people work for money and that rich people make their money work for them.

Over the past few weeks, Magnus has shared a steady stream of business thoughts. He has a notebook that he is filling with ideas. The ideas range from a garage cleaning business to a business idea for boys with long hair. Because Magnus has long hair, like his father. And like 9-year-old girls. Which I expect is why he likes wearing baseball caps. And why he doesn’t like wearing pink dresses.

Magnus and I have talked about business processes, research, pricing, margin and the value of good employees. What started out as a father wanting to teach his son a few important ideas about business has turned into a son asking lots of great questions to extract more information in order to help him paint a more complete picture in his head.

Last weekend as we were working on a yard project, Magnus revealed with great excitement that he came up with a business that he and I could partner on. I was proud and curious about what he was thinking. So I asked him to tell me more about his business idea. He started by sharing that he picked out a great name for the business already.  Curious, I asked him what the name of the business was going to be. He said, ‘We’ll be Madams! It’s a combination of Magnus and Adam’s!

It tried not to burst with laughter. He was so proud of his name. It was the perfect mashup of our first names. But little did little Magnus know that it also sounded like this 9-year-old boy thought it would be a great business idea to run a brothel. It seems I have much more to teach. 

Key Takeaway

Take time to teach your kids, nieces, nephews and neighbors what you know. Whether it is about business, how to fix a lawnmower, applying first-aid, or any of the millions of things in between, your knowledge is valuable. Pass it along. You may be surprised how enthusiastically a child responds to your teaching. It can help develop confidence and prepare them with life skills. But it could also expose them to a career path or hobby that will positively influence the trajectory and quality of their life. Who knows, you may also enjoy a good laugh along the way. Because kids say the darndest things.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.