I was recently asked what is an important thing that a young person should know in high school. I get this question a lot. There are a lot of ways to answer this important question. This time I answered, it stirred my memory of my first job after I graduated college and a relationship that would end up changing my life.
After college, I had no direction. I had a degree and didn’t really want to pursue the career I studied at the time. Without any idea what to do, I ended up going to bartending school. It was a two week program and I would gain status as a “mixologist.” The title “mixologist” alone hooked me. After I completed the course, I was hired as a bartender at a country club in South Bend, Indiana.
As I began my first shift, a member came up to the bar and smiled. The other bartender handed him two Coors Light cans to take with him out to the golf course. Neither the member or the other bartender said anything in the exchange. They both nodded at each other and the member went on his way out to the course. The other bartender let me know.
“The Bank VP like Coors Light.”
I quickly learned how to memorize the members names and what their drink of choice was. At the end of his round, that bank VP came into the bar area and came up to the bar. He noticed me and said, “Are you the new guy?” I replied that I was and quickly grabbed him a Coors Light. He extended his hand and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Jim. What’s your name?” I let him know with a firm handshake. Jim let me know that I should always have two Coors Lights cans on ice. Always.
I could have rolled my eyes right there and played the interaction off as just another uppedy member. I am glad I didn’t do this. As a 21 year old, there were several times I thought I knew it all but for some reason, Jim intrigued me.
I felt like this guy could teach me something.
From that day on, I always had two Coors Light cans on ice. As my first couple months went on as a bartender, I observed the members. In particular, I would observe Jim frequently bringing in business people. He played golf with many of them and treated them to lunch in the bar area. Any group with Jim were usually all in a good mood. Business was being done. I asked Jim lots of questions about the banking industry, business, money, actually anything over my tenure as a bartender there. We had a great relationship. He never made me feel like a low employee of food service. He respected the servers and staff around him. He knew how to interact with all people.
Fast forward three years later. I had moved on from the food business and bounced around different locations and jobs. I finally got the guts to start a business with a friend in the video production realm. My business partner and I started shopping around for equipment for our company. We made a list and the costs of everything we needed one one sheet of paper. The bill to start out our business was going to be around $29,000. We didn’t have that kind of money. I did have an idea on how to get the loan. Jim could help us.
I called Jim to set up the meeting. He remembered me immediately. He accepted the meeting even though he was the VP. He even said he would personally look over my proposal. I was feeling pretty good about getting the loan. After all, I was working with the banks VP!
“If I didn’t know you, you’d be laughed out of this bank.”
That was how the meeting opened after I handed a one page list of items I needed along with their costs. It was like a note demanding money. Jim saw the confusion on my face after he said those words. He kindly explained that we needed a plan. A business plan. We would need to write out all our goals and projections for three to five years. In the end of all this, Jim helped my business partner and I build a 50 page report that planned out our business. He helped us all the way through it. We ended up getting the loan.
Jim didn’t have to help me. He had bigger fish in the pond. JIm taught me so much about so many things. Out of this experience, there are many things I would tell students in high school they need to know. They are as follows:
1. Network and find a mentor as soon as you can.
In my case, Jim guided me through a process I would have never pursued because he was willing to teach me about it.
2. Ask Questions … Lots of them.
I learned so much by asking questions. Sa many young people want to “prove” they know things and show off their skills. That’s fine, however, if you are not asking questions, you will not get any experienced answers.
3. Be Humble.
This one goes along with the previous point. You can show your skills, but don’t brag about them. Nothing worse than a person who talks about themselves all the time. My humble moment with Jim came after I made the choice not to act like he is just another annoying member. It opened up a path for conversation.
4. Write it down. Please write stuff down!
Most young people think they have it in their heads once they think about it. The problem is there is so much going on in our lives and it will exit your brain as fast as it came in. Jim taught me to write out our business plan. Writing it down forced my business partner and I to really think about where we are aiming to take our company. Without writing it down, there is no direction.
5. Help others.
Jim didn’t have to help me. He did because he saw value in helping others. You should too. Since I learned about writing business plans from Jim, I have brought it into my teaching of youth. Thousands of young people actually benefited from Jim helping me understand this process as I teach it to hundreds of students every year.
6. Understand school won’t teach you everything.
These skills I have listed mostly came from working with people outside of the traditional education realm. We are coming along in the system to help teach them, however, we have a long way to go. I would encourage young people in high school or college to work in the field they love. Even if you are sweeping floors, you will learn so much from just being around it. I ended up becoming a teacher because what Jim taught me was something that I never learned… even in college with a business minor. Get in the outside world and work with people while you are young!
As the years have passed, over 20 to be exact, I have unfortunately lost contact with Jim. I am not sure where he is at today. I do know that in his actions, he not only helped a couple of young dudes trying to start a business, he helped generations of people learn about business. Go find you “Jim” as soon as you can. In fact, try to find more than one!
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