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How to be an entrepreneur: Written by a toddler

Because we’re excellent parents, we’ve established a reliable system of rewards and consequences to encourage good behavior from Lucy. Our strategy essentially boils down to this:

Good behavior is rewarded with chocolate

Poor behavior receives no chocolate

Lucy loves chocolate so much that while she was eating a chocolate cupcake the other day (her reward for eating her “dinner,” basically one blueberry and a bite of plain flour tortilla), she proclaimed, “MMMMMMM CHOC-YATE,” in a deep, primal voice with her eyes closed.

Naturally, our potty training strategy consisted of an M&M’s reward system. (It’s worth noting that Lucy only likes brown M&M’s because she thinks they are the only ones that are chocolate.) While the reward had been established as “one M&M,” Lucy would run into the kitchen and thrust both of her little fists into the bag before we could tell her otherwise. She usually came up with a handful of M&M’s, handing one to me, one to Alex, then dashing away to eat the rest (all the brown ones) herself.

Cut to Alex and me, smiling, chewing our M&M’s alone in the kitchen, and thinking about how wonderful it was that we’d taught her to share. Much later, we realized that she’d out-negotiated us once again and made us feel like the real winners.

She’s going to make a fine business-woman one day.

In today’s post in the Written by a Toddler series, Lucy teaches all of us how to run effective businesses as entrepreneurs.

Lesson 1: Ask for what you want

If there is one thing I have learned about trying to make a business work, it’s that it isn’t going to grow unless I am willing to be vocal about my goals, strengths, and needs. This truly makes me uncomfortable. It doesn’t come naturally for me to ask my network for speaking engagements, referrals, or opportunities. Lucy, on the other hand…

“I want to eat candy for yunch.”

“We will to go to the pawk today.”

“Make me bweakfast.”

“We can buy a new toy next time at Taw-get.”

“You will take me with you, and I can push my own cawt.”

Lesson 2: It’s going to take a long time

It feels like everyone creates a business overnight. I look at successful entrepreneurs, I listen to their podcasts, I see them on Instagram, and it seems like they hacked into some magical growth algorithm that made them instant rockstars.

It really doesn’t happen that way.

Lucy illustrates the gradual crawl of business growth by putting her shoes on, “AWL BY MY-SEF!”

Picture her: brow furrowed, eyes focused, tongue pursed between her lips in concentration. Forty-five minutes go by. “NO I DO IT!’ (We’ve missed gymnastics by now.)

“YAY! YOOK! I DID IT!” She hops up smiling and congratulates herself with enthusiasm, as we all should when we have painstakingly accomplished a goal.

(They’re on the wrong feet.)

Lesson 3: Do it your own way

I’m a rule-follower. When I was growing up, if my mom bought me a pair of pants and a shirt as an “outfit,” I never mixed those clothing items with anything else in my closet. I like a formula, a strategy, and a 10-year plan for success. It’s extremely tempting as an entrepreneur to try to imitate other people’s growth pathways rather than experimenting with my own.

But, I’ve learned that for my business to be successful, it has to look and feel and sound like… me. My most successful projects have all been the ones that I’ve made my own--my style, my voice, my personality.

Lucy already knows that, though. That’s why she’s wearing backwards Moana underwear, purple snow boots, a unicorn horn, and a soccer jersey.

In a deep, imitation-man voice, she shouts, “Twink-o TWINK-O YIT-TO STAW! HOW I WAN-DO




She explodes into a fit of giggles.

Lesson 4: You can change your mind

Entrepreneurial analysis paralysis sounds a lot like this: “I can’t get started until I know exactly what I want to do and how to do it.”

What I’ve learned, though, is that you’re not even going to know what you want to do or how to do it until you start. Just start, and feel free to pivot as you go. Pick up a side hustle, try out a project, take on a client. If something’s not working, just change your mind.

I once told Lucy, “Sometimes people change their minds, and that’s OK.” Now, we make her three breakfasts every morning.

“Lucy, your pancakes are ready!”

“I changed my mind. I want toast.”

“Lucy, your toast is ready!”

“I changed my mind. I want choc-yate see-wee-oh.”

Lesson 5: Have selective hearing

Starting your own business is going to feel like a risk. There are going to be people in your life (often with your best interest in mind) who don’t understand why or what or how you do what you do. If you’re at all like me and you thrive on validation from people around you (Enneagram 3, anyone?) it might feel like a setback when friends, family, colleagues, and people on Facebook can’t automatically embrace the fact that you’ve chosen a career without a 401K, an established course of progression, or any guarantee whatsoever.

It’s also hard for me not to get sucked in to all of the education, advice, and resources for entrepreneurs. I have about five podcasts of this genre on rotation every time I hop in my car. It’s at the same time extremely helpful and extremely intimidating to know how others have grown their businesses.

I, quite simply, have to pick and choose what information, questions, or advice I’m going to take to heart every day. In order to be productive at all, I have to tune some things out.

Kind of like Lucy does with 95% of the things we ask her to do.

“Lucy, say cheese! No, no, no… come back! Look at the camera! Don’t run away! I’m gonna get you! OK, OK, good. Now smile! Nope, wait. It’s blurry. One more time, but don’t make a funny face…No, come back! Ugh! Lucy!”

“If you hold still and smile for this picture, I’ll give you an M&M.”


Lucy holding a soccer ball

For more life and business lessons from Lucy, check out How to grow: Written by a toddler and How to be a feminist: Written by a toddler.


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