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Lessons in Entrepreneurship, Courtesy of My Daughter (TESTHEAD)

On June 19, 2013, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Some of you may recall that my daughter embarked on an ambitious fundraising project so that she could go to Japan on a school trip (we participate in a Sister City exchange program between San Bruno, CA, USA and Narita, Japan). We hosted two girls from Japan in March when the Japanese contingent came to visit us. In a little over ten days, my daughter will be leaving for her leg of the program. Yes, I’m not just a little bit jealous.

This post, however, isn’t about my jealousy. Instead, it’s about how my daughter used a talent that she loves (her ability to draw) and turned it into a way to raise money for her trip. I encouraged her to embark on this initiative, and told her I’d be happy to help her. In a way, I was her “business manager” as she considered commissions and how to charge and schedule her work. I was interested in seeing what her reaction would be, and how she would approach what she did, when there was more of a “business” aspect to what she was doing. The results were rather telling.


Even Doing Something You Love Takes a Hit When It Becomes A Job


One of the things I found interesting was the fact that my daughter had varying levels of interest, focus and desire on a variety of the projects that she took on. Sometimes she was really into it, but other times, she was a bit less enthusiastic. Some she was able to do very quickly and with a flurry of activity. Others took a lot longer to complete. This probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to long-time testers. Even when we love what we do, some projects just tax us in different ways. Unlike our volunteer or personal projects, which we can put down and get back to whenever we feel like it, we can’t do that when we’ve made an agreement with someone to complete a job, and especially not when they are paying for it. She told me that she felt a different level of personal pressure to do the work and complete it, and that sometimes, while she was having fun doing it, at times the fun was mitigated by the fact that she had to produce even when she “wasn’t feeling it”.

We often think that, if we really love what we do for a living, that that will carry us through all the downers and negatives. The truth is, that’s just not the case. Back when I took a job at a video game company, I was excited, because, hey, I got to test video games! That level of excitement wore off after about a week, and then it was just another job. Don’t get me wrong, I still like games, and I still enjoy playing, but when you don’t get to chose what you are testing, and what aspects need to be done, even that huge love only goes so far. My daughter discovered that a love of art can be tempered by the fact that she’d need to produce, and do so on time and on budget, even if it was not 100% what she wanted to do at that given point in time.

It’s Vital to Have an External Outlet

Sometimes I’d come upstairs and see Karina working on something, and I’d ask “hey, what’s that for?” She’d stammer and say it was something she wanted to work on. When I quizzically (and with a smile, I might add) asked her if what she was working on was a commission, a lot of the time the answer was “No”. “No? Why are you working on that?” She would often make some reason, but invariably, each time it could be summed up as “yes, this is something I’m doing for free, but I need to do this, as it’s what balances my commissions and keeps me interested.” Note: this is not me being critical, this is me nodding my head in total agreement. I explained to her that this is, in a large part, the reason I’m involved in activities like Weekend Testing, BBST classes, podcasting and SummerQAmp. Each of these allows me a place that I can recharge, find inspiration, consider different things, and do them just for the fun of it. She felt the same way, and she really depended on these diversions to keep her focused and energized.

Money Really Wasn’t The Object

Some of the commissions she was offered were quite lucrative. Hour for hour, on some of these projects, she was earning more than I do :). Still, I found it very interesting that the jobs she did for her friends (who could not afford to pay her a lot) were ones she was excited about. Others, where she was being offered a lot more money, she was willing to do, and did very well, but she sometimes found herself struggling to complete them. I wondered if a big dollar amount would be a big enticement, but it really wasn’t. She said in many of the cases that, while she was motivated to do a good job, she felt she was much more engaged when she had an emotional connection with the subject. She was certainly grateful to those who contributed and offered her large paying commissions, and she gave it her all to complete them, but it was interesting to see which projects she genuinely smiled while she worked on them, and which ones she did out of a sense of obligation for the goal.


Giving Her All, Even When Challenging, is What Separates a Tradesperson From an Artist


At my daughter’s age, she’s likely to see the end product of what she does as the “Art” that she delivers. In truth, that’s missing the point. Yes, the finished product, with what it represents, is art, but the uniqueness of it, the creative scenarios, the giving of one’s time, talent and energies to make something special, even when they themselves are removed from the subject matter… that is the Art that she brings to these finished pieces. It’s also the art that we all bring to our work, whatever it is.

My daughter will be the first to say that she loves to draw, and that she loves art and being an artist, but this is her first experience with really being “on” with what she does. For many of us, our passions are often kept outside of our livelihoods because we want to keep them something we are passionate about. Once we put commerce into the equation, the dynamic changes. I think a lot of it stems from the control that we have. When we volunteer, we are ultimately the ones responsible for the output. If it delights our customer, then that’s awesome. If it doesn’t, well, hey, we were volunteering our time anyway. Once actual payment enters into the equation, we are now subject to another person’s interpretation of what is good and what works for them. If we don’t live up to the hype, then there’s some anxiety, because we feel as though we may have failed to meet an expectation.

This process has been very eye opening, I think. Not just for my daughter, but for me as well, as it’s helped me to see through my daughter’s eyes the way that I approach my own work, and confirmed, at least for me, some things I’ve long suspected. Additionally, It’s also given my daughter a chance to really appreciate this upcoming trip a lot more than it would have if we just paid her way. In addition to getting a gauge on what her skill set is worth at this current point in time, she’s also learned what it takes to please a customer, adjust to a customer’s wants, and deliver on that promise. More than anything else, though, she will appreciate the fact that that plane ticket, suitcase, and per diem going with her are all things she worked very hard for. Some say that people don’t know the value of a dollar. I think right now, my daughter knows intimately well the value of the dollars that are paying for this trip :).

 

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