When I was 12 or 13, my friend Gene and I started a lawn mowing business. Our services included: mowing, raking, and trimming lawns. We mowed with a push mower, raked with a real rake, and trimmed the border of the entire lawn, including around the trees and shrubs, on our hands and knees using hand clippers. Depending on the size of the lawn it would take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, and we would earn $1.50 to $4.00.
One day, an elderly widow who lived down the street saw me pushing my lawn mower and and called me over to her to ask how much I would charge to mow her lawn. It was only a little bit bigger than three postage stamps. I felt sorry for her and assumed that she didn't have much money, so I told her my partner and I would mow her lawn for “fifteen cents!” She was excited, but Gene was not happy at all with the bargain. Selling him on the job was one of the hardest sales I ever made. Finally, I persuaded him, and we got started.
What I thought would be a twenty-minute job took more than two hours. To my surprise she was very picky and hard to please, and eventually I gave up counting all the pained “I told you so” looks and comments Gene gave me. Then I had a brilliant idea and told him that if we kept working so hard and so long, maybe the woman would be impressed with our work or even feel sorry for us and offer to pay us $1.00 instead of the agreed upon fifteen cents.
That is not what happened. She paid the agreed upon price, as was her right. We walked away with our 15 cents and some hard-earned lessons in business savvy.
Today my lawn is approximately the same size as the widow’s (actually it’s the size of four postage stamps). It costs me $20.00 to have it mowed, raked, and trimmed, and it takes two guys only ten minutes to complete. Technology has made lawn mowing much more efficient, but not less expensive!
It is true that our children today will probably never experience mowing a lawn using a push mower or clipping lawn borders using hand clippers while inching along on their knees. Still, in every age, the ability to work hard remains one of the greatest skills any of us can ever develop. Times are different, but the ability to work hard is a resiliency skill that never changes.
Here’s to happy failing forward!
Calvert and Anne
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