The very first job I ever had was something I built for myself back in elementary school. I confess that It’s not something I can ever put on my resume. In fact, I was actually threatened with arrest at one point during the height of my business success.
The tail-end of my elementary school years changed my entire life for the better. This was around the time when I decided I would try writing more and that I would pursue a career in the arts. I picked up the pen, went through dozens of sketchbooks, notepads, journals, and paper that I stole out of the large recycling bin on campus, and started writing and drawing. This was also the time that my crazy ideas began to have more of an impact on the lives of me and everyone around me.
At this point, I was drawing every single day. I still draw every single day, and if you have ever been in a classroom or a meeting with me, you have definitely seen me do it. They say writing and drawing while you’re learning helps you understand, process, and organize your knowledge. I think I may have just developed a habit that no one comments on anymore.
The point is that I had way too many of these random drawings of different cartoon characters that I created or copied, and I got good enough to the point that people really started noticing.
“How much?” A girl with curly hair and freckles had started hanging out with me after realizing that we studied dance at the same dance studio and went to the same Catholic school. Her parents owned one of those smaller indoor-outdoor theme parks with the go-carts, mini-golf, greasy pizza, and arcade games inside, and I would see her there on occasion too.
“How much, what?” I looked up from a piece of paper with one of the characters that I created in genuine confusion.
“For the drawing,” she said, pointing at the cartoon. “I want you to draw me in that style that you created.”
The gears in my mind immediately began turning. They were jump-started by the opportunity to actually earn McDonald’s money and not have to ask my mom to buy me those non-biodegradable fries and questionable sandwiches. I turned to my best friend, my sister, and elicited the B2B marketing help of the first person to commission my artwork. With calculated risk, I started a modern art business that was open during the select times of recess, between ballet and jazz classes, and sometimes while I was waiting for the bathroom during P.E.
Business was booming. Ten-year-old kids in private school uniforms were dropping tens of dollars down on requested commissions. I had to hire more staff and started offering a commission to the associates acquiring more business for the company. When activity slowed because of the sensationalism of dodgeball, I had to get creative with my strategy. I asked my mom for more snacks, brought them to school, and placed bite-sized pieced of Pop-tarts and cookies on a cold bench for children to eat while enjoying the gallery I set up outside. Swarms of children came, and I was not prepared for the backlash.
In the heyday of my successful art business, I was receiving money, coupons, and free game passes to that tiny theme park, and Chapstick (because everyone knew I had a huge addiction problem). I was going through so much Chapstick left and right because I was kind of eating it, but the revenue coming in made my spending habits irrelevant. I was networking, looking into expansion opportunities at the theme park, and never thought the upward trend would end. Unfortunately, everything would eventually have to come crashing down.
On the day in question, the vice principal at the time walked over to the bootleg bench gallery dispersing all my customers in a panic. No one wanted to receive a pink slip, but my best friend and my sister held their ground and stood by me in solidarity as the takedown occurred.
“We have been getting complaints of you taking kids’ money,” the vice-principal said while looking down on three nervous little girls.
“It was in exchange for artwork.” I tried to explain with my sister and friend jumping in on occasion for support.
“Well, that’s solicitation,” the vice-principal responded. “You can get arrested for that.”
In true form, I immediately overreacted and threw everything away to avoid conflict with the law. Drawings, concepts, plans, weeks of dedication- it was over in an instant. I eventually started up again a little later underground for a while. It never met the success of our first run, but it did eventually get me into architecture school. I don’t ever regret doing any of it, and if given the chance, I would step it up several notches and do it all over again.