Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Royal Introduction: Rebellion


In the lifetime of my memory, my parents have always been self-employed, and as such, I did not have a "typical" childhood. With my parents there was no Bring Your Kid to Work Day, it was Bring Your Kid to Work Summer and even then it was more like Put Your Kid to Work Summer.

My first paid job was as the Honorary Assistant Harbor Master. In Maine, the legal harvesting seasons for scallops and urchins are in the winter and so my father found himself as Harpswell's harbormaster for 10 summers. Harpswell sports 216 miles of coastline (more than any other town in Maine), dozens of harbors, and hundreds of boat moorings. As we cruised around town my dad would slowly nose the boat up next to the pink and yellow poly balls and I would lean out over the gunnel and check to see if it had a registration number. If it didn't have a number, I would slap a big red warning sticker on the ball, informing the owners that we would confiscate their mooring the next time we came through if it was still unregistered.

After my dad had moved into the lobster business, I learned how to haul a 90 pound crate out of the water without hurting my back or being pulled in myself (not that had never happened). I also learned how to cull and weigh lobsters, track fuel and bait costs, and write checks for fishermen.

By the time I was in high school my parents had decided to expand the wholesale lobster business into retail and my brother and I wound up as their primary source of labor. My brother learned to fry clams, while I learned to run the front of the store. My first responsibility was to to help customers navigate the waters of fresh seafood and live lobsters. But my duties did not end at being a cashier. No, I also learned how to do payroll, balance the books, train other cashiers, and served as tech support for programming and managing our cash register and other electronic devices.

My first year as dive club president (I'm in pink)
Working for my parents did not end upon graduating high school. I helped pay for my education by working in the store while home during vacations and some weekends. I also became incredibly valuable to my father once I received my scuba certification. Though my father was no longer the Harbor Master, he had retained many customers for whom he built, repaired and inspected moorings. With me certified, he could stay dry while I dropped into the water to do the in water inspections and repairs.

It wasn't until I graduated college that I vowed I would never be self-employed. I promised myself that I would get a nice stable job working for The Man. I would have health and dental insurance; paid holidays; regular hours; and, best of all, a boss to whom I have no familial obligations.

Don't get me wrong, my family is my top priority and because of the family business I walked out of college with a bang up education, no debt, and more work experience than most of my classmates and friends; but, I also learned some key lessons about being a business owner.

  1. Insurance is insanely expensive. 
  2. The work is never done. There is always more to do. The more you do for yourself the more you make, which makes hiring someone to do work for you difficult.  
  3. The conversation is always about work. I do not think I have ever had a conversation with my family that the topic has not turned to lobsters, scallops or some other part of the business. 
  4. Family is great. Working with family is not so great. My mother fired me at least three times in a single summer. I have quit and stormed out more times than I can count. 
  5. Weekends are lots of fun. Lobsters don't know what weekends are, nor do scallops or the self-employed. 
It was these lessons that drove me to rebel against my parents and go find most 9-5 job ever.

To be continued . . .