Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Entrepreneurial Gift

Someone just asked me if I would buy her $25 Olive Garden gift card off of her for $15. This is after I heard her explain this plan to her friend on her cell phone. She loudly announced that she was desperate enough for money to do this, but also that "once the unemployment money comes in, that can be my spending money."

This is why everyone hates programs like unemployment and welfare services. Because people use them for the wrong reasons. Unemployment insurance is not spending money. It is not for new handbags and dinners out. It is not, (as funny as I think this would be,) for lottery tickets. It is to replace the money you were making at the job you lost so you can pay your bills. It is essentially paying you to search for the best job you can find.

I say this all preachy like I've been looking day and night for the best job I can find. Really I have been looking between other jobs for the best job ever. I am finding that I am qualified for nothing. Except teaching, but I tried that and I didn't like it. So now I can do something I hate or lots of things that are free.

While Olive Garden-of-crazy was hustling me, (that's not fair, she's probably not crazy - even if she had spectacularly sticky-uppy hair, lipstick on her teeth and asked me if there was "a dress code for this neighborhood,") I was trying to eavesdrop on the other table next to me. This is what I got out of my efforts:

"If you offer a group of people a bunch of candies and tell them to take as many as they want for free, they won't hoard them, they will most likely not take any. But, if you offer the same group of people the same candy and say it's inexpensive and that you can take as many as you want for a nickel, they will start buying them up."

His point was that whatever you have to offer, you have to show that it has value. He said to start thinking about what you do for free and start assigning a value to those services. I wanted to keep listening to this because it sounded really smart. Also because I think this is where I stopped paying attention in my college economics class and therefore I typically de-value my own worth in the work world. But then I also started thinking of all the things I do for free and I'm not exactly sure I can charge for any of these "services":

Cooking dinner


Playing Sudoku

Pretending I am famous and practicing my obviously imminent conversation with David Letterman

Watching TV

Searching for four leaf clovers

Making up stories in my head about strangers that I stare at during the day

Maybe it's just me, but parlaying any of these into a lucrative career choice could take more initiative than I am inclined to have. If someone offered me a salary to solve Sudoku puzzles or read the Classics one by one, I certainly wouldn't turn them down, but an empire built on talking to myself in the mirror does not seem to be on the horizon.

This idea of taking something you would do for free anyway and turn it into something valuable is intriguing to me. Partly because I do this already with gifts. I have mentioned before that I draw occasionally and this is something that crops up often in my gift giving. My first go at this was back in fourth grade when I discovered my own extraordinary talent at drawing flowers. At least according to my own ten-year old self. And my parents. Looking at these flowers now, I have the utmost respect for my parents and their ability to believe in an artistic talent that was clearly not awesome on any level.

Anyway, these flowers had vines flowing behind them and covered entire pages in my notebooks and drawing pads. Finally, one of my parents suggested drawing them on greeting cards and sending them to friends. (How many friends did I have to send cards to when everyone I knew lived in a four block radius? Not sure.) The flowers-of-epic-amazingness grew to include different colored backgrounds, done in colored pencil. As my mom was the ultimate fan of this series, my dad helped me color copy a selection of four flowers-of-epic-amazingness into a box set of greeting cards. We bought some envelopes and wrapped it all up for Mother's Day. (I say "we" like I had any income of my own at ten. Half the time I didn't even get my full allowance due to my aversion to doing the dishes.)

I'm pretty sure my mom still uses these cards. Probably because I made like 700 of them. I really thought this would launch my career as a greeting card designer. Let's be serious here - flowers-of-epic-amazingness never go out of style and can be used for any occasion. Too bad Etsy didn't exist in 1991. Even if the flowers never *ahem* bloomed into anything professionally, they made a great gift for the person who appreciated them the most. Sometimes the things you do for free can be coached into something that furthers your career. And something the things you do for free make excellent gestures of love and friendship. So, friends, watch out for transcripts of my pretend conversations with Letterman. They will be epic.


  1. What if you created sudoku puzzles and charged for them?
    And just on the positive side, just because you aren't 'qualified' for most jobs besides teaching, doesn't mean that you won't get it. Let's be honest, I'm not even remotely qualified for my job, but somehow I have it. There's a future employer out there that wants to teach you the ropes :)

    Sorry for my over the top glass is half full nonsense!

  2. Thanks, Erin! I def needed a pick-me-up. :) Also, I am not all that good at actually solving sudoku puzzles, so I'm not sure anyone would want to buy defunct ones from me, but I'll keep working!