The guy who invented the ship – also invented the shipwreck – Paul Virilio

My first brush with running a business was at the age of nine when I became a financial trader. I know, I know that seems a bit too young to be handling lucrative transactions – but when it came to trading for profits I put Bernie Madoff to shame.

I was netting a return on investment of 250% for each and every single exchange. I challenge you to name one other financial adviser or trader who yielded those kinds of profits.

At the time my younger sister was about five years old and she had this porcelain piggy bank stuffed with quarters she got for doing odd jobs and choirs around the house. Meanwhile I, who was not as keen on helping out around the house, only had a handful of pennies.

That’s when I discovered a fantastic opportunity of supply and demand. My pennies were bright, shinny and new meanwhile my sister’s quarters were old, dull and fairly worn out. It only made sense to satisfy her demand for bright shiny objects with my overabundant supply. The cost was a mere ugly quarter.

Business was booming. That was of course until there was an unexpected intervention from a controlling party. My parents became privy of my ruse and thus began to educate my young sister on the actual value of legal tender. I became barred from processing another transaction and was forced repay the allegedly impacted party. Thus I failed as a financial trader. However I suppose I did learn a valuable lesson in honesty.

My next business venture was hosting the timeless and constantly entertaining classic known as puppet shows. My sister, a year or two older at this time, agreed to allow me to hire her to design the puppets, construct them and put on the performance. My job was to make sure we sold out every performance – not a hard task as the living room theater only housed two people and I had two parents to pitch to.

For each new performance we put on – I made sure the ticket sales increased slightly. It was my first rudimentary understanding of inflation and negotiation. As with my last business; this one started out beautifully with a net profit of 100% over cost. I was able to keep expenses at zero as I sourced all the needed materials from stuff around the house.

However, the fact that I was not paying my sister anything from the profits did not sit well with her and I lost my labor force. As such I failed at hosting puppet shows. Although I don’t feel I can take too much blame. After all, the state I live in is a right to work state and there was no worker’s union backing her. I suppose the veiled lesson was sometimes along the lines of treating your colleagues with respect and paying them what they’re worth.

My appetite to run a business did not cease. By the time I was in middle school I partnered up with my best friend to create our own comic strip series we marketed to our school newspaper. Now when I say “I partnered up with my best friend” what I really mean is that he wrote and drew the comic strip and I got to put my name next to his as co-creator. I like to think that I was the visionary leader of it.

In reality, it was my mission to promote it as much as possible. Yet after some “creative disputes” I took over the comic strip by myself. It was about (count in head) one day later I realized that not only could I not draw, but I am really not that funny either. Thus I failed at running a comic strip. There may have been a lesson in there about being able to back up what you promote.

My list of failures continued in high school when I tried to be a lead singer, a farmer and a professional spy… sadly not joking on the last one. In college I failed at trying to be an actor, a lead singer (again), owner of a promotions company, manager of a record store and even a wedding ring salesman.

But I don’t look back on my failures with negative impact in my life. Each one taught me something new, guided me, helped me refine my focus and directed me into what I wanted to be doing. However most importantly – it taught me the necessary value of taking risks.

When we set out to do something new and different – we try so hard not to fail. As such we often rob ourselves of taking the risks we need, not only to succeed but, to grow.

James Patrick
instagram @jpatrickphoto