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Often when starting on the entrepreneurial journey, visions of huge success loom large.  It can be heady to think of the possibilities of owning your own business, when there are stories all around of folks who went from nothing to multiple millions with one idea.  The vision of huge success is one thing, but creating it is entirely another.

As anyone who has ventured on this path will tell you, it is not for the faint of heart.  Customers, suppliers and contracts come and go, trends change, recessions and market crashes re-arrange the landscape for financing…often as the famous movie line said; you better  “fasten your seat belts, for it’s going to be a bumpy ride”.  That’s entrepreneurship…and it can be a Shark Tank.   Yet we keep going, pressing on, working to build the big dream, to make that vision a reality.

But sometimes as I’ve gone along this ride, moments happen that make meaning more important than ambition.  That happened again this week when our ComfortCake HUGS Foundation hosted 20 students from Urban Prep Academy at our offices as part of their Discovering Our City Initiative.  This initiative engages businesses and organizations to introduce students to parts of Chicago and career opportunities that they may not have ever been exposed to.  I’m proud that this is the second year we’ve hosted them.

To me, there is nothing more meaningful than to see lights of interest come on in the eyes of positive, young people.  To get their curiosity flowing about possibilities, to add to their menu of options, to field their excellent questions while sharing stories of what it takes to complete an education, start a business, and give back to others…it was priceless.  We all know that the images portrayed of our youth is much more negative than positive.  Yet, there is positivity all around us, and we can all do something with our youth to let them know we care about them and about their future, because it is our collective future.


I think it is important to let young folks see us doing what we do as entrepreneurs, whether times are good or times are hard.  Let them see that as the old African proverb says, “To stumble is not to fall, but to move forward faster”.   I made those young men promise me that as long as they could look up they would get up as they go through this life.  And being with them, sharing with them gave such meaning to my soul.  This is what matters more than ambition to me.  I could have had them stay all day because of the hope they engendered in me.

What can we all do?  As our city copes with such astonishing violence and a mindset of hopelessness, we can reach out to our youth.  It doesn’t always take a program or a foundation.  Sometimes it just takes a moment.  When you see youth engaging in something positive, stop and let them know it’s appreciated.  When you see something needing correction, don’t be afraid to correct with a loving touch or tone.   For example, this week my cable was out, and the young technician who came to fix it was on time, which was terrific.  But he came to the door with the straw from his soft drink hanging from his mouth, and started trying to go through his analysis with it hanging there!   Now, I wasn’t his momma, but I just had to stop and let him know that while I was glad he was on time, that straw was not building my confidence that he knew his stuff.  I said it directly but with a smile…and he promptly got the point, trashed the straw and ended up doing a great job.  It felt wonderful to then give him high marks when a survey call came later.  Who knows, perhaps he will think about the impression he leaves when on future service calls, and the good survey marks will encourage him to succeed.

So, each one can reach one.  In a store, on the street, look young folks in the eye.  Say Hello…Smile…  Engage…say “you’re doing a great job!”  We used to do that in our communities all the time to build each other up.  You know, but for the grace of God go all of us…your son or daughter could be the one needing encouragement from a stranger one day.   If we find ways to pay it forward – both small and large – then moving from ambition to meaning will become easier, and life can become sweeter for us all.

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