I had my first taste of the entrepreneurial spirit in the 5th grade. I lived in a remote mountainous community in Puerto Rico. There were no phone lines where I lived; we lived off the beaten path. We communicated with our distant relatives by writing letters or making calls using a public telephone. Time seemed slow-moving, and back then, there was so much of it to enjoy.
It was the spring of 1985. It was a time of incredible pressure, stress, and change for my family. My father, the sole breadwinner, abandoned us earlier in the year to pursue a romantic affair. My mother had to give up her dreams to support us financially. Times were tough. The telephone company was finally getting the mountain wired for communication. It felt like a possibility awaited on the horizon. I marveled at the idea of having a telephone in our humble wooden casita.
Once the telephone poles were installed, the telephone lines quickly went up. As a result, the telephone company workers would often discard piles of colorful telecommunication wires on the side of the road. I collected the discarded wires on my way home from school every day until I had amassed an assortment.
Hungry for More
Creative as I am, I began making bracelets with my beautiful wire supply; Colorful bracelets in orange, red, white, teal, and blue. I added necklaces shortly after. I proudly wore my creations to school and developed a following from my peers at school.
It was the mid’ 80’s. Neon was in fashion. Every girl my age wore hair clips. We had little financial resources, so my daily snack allowance for school was 5 cents a day, 25 cents for the week. In the mid-’80s, 5 cents could get you a lot of penny candy or limber, but not much else.
I couldn’t afford to buy the bag of Doritos and Coke that the other kids could afford. I had to settle for a daily limber or penny candy. One day, after wishing I had more money to buy whatever snacks they wanted, I had the idea of selling my wire jewelry during recess. I had a market for my baubles. I sold individual pieces for 10 cents and sets for 25 cents. After my first week of sales, I enjoyed a bag of Doritos and a Coke from my earnings. I worked tirelessly making jewelry after school, using the only tools I had to cut and bend wire, my two small hands. I wanted something; I was hungry for more, so I found a way to earn the money I needed.
The following week, I earned several more dollars. I enjoyed my newfound freedom upcycling discarded wire and having snack money of my own! I felt a great deal of pride and saw myself winning in life. I was hopeful that my lot in life would be better. I felt optimism for my family. I set my intention on never lacking the resources to get what I wanted. I was inspired.
Generational Poverty and Mindset
Having grown up poor and having experienced many hardships, my mother had a set of beliefs that she passed on and ultimately influenced my thinking and behavior about money. Generational poverty has a long-lasting impact on your mindset about success and wealth.
My foray into being a mini mogul ended after several weeks. My mom decided that a better opportunity for a single mother of three was on the mainland of the United States. She gave up her dream of becoming a social worker, one semester shy of graduation, to improve our lives. On the day we moved away, I left my straw handbag of wire jewelry in one corner of the little wooden house, along with some of the hope I had newly discovered. My job now was to be a good student, get good grades, get a good job, and succeed at getting my family into a more comfortable socio-economic status. At that tender age, I felt the weight of that burden on my shoulders. That belief influenced every decision I made in early adulthood.
The pressure of being the hope for my family, being the “smart one,” pushed that entrepreneurial spirit aside. I falsely believed that I needed the security of a steady job and a “good profession” to succeed. Risk-taking was discouraged. And while I have earned several professional degrees and “on paper,” I am successful, I sometimes can’t help but feel like a failure. I daydream of working for myself, starting my own business. These generational beliefs about success and wealth had kept me anchored and stuck in fear, never trying anything new.
Through the process of writing and publishing on Medium, I have been challenging these beliefs and doing lots of learning. I am letting go of the feeling of having to take care of others at my expense. I have to center my dreams on my life’s journey. I’m redefining these constructs for myself. Most importantly, I’ve lit the fire back on that entrepreneurial spirit that I had pushed aside long ago, and I’m excited about the journey ahead.