My youngest brother is 16 years old.
He’s also 6’2”, outgrown any clothes I wore in college and a hell of a lineman.
He also goes to a 5A high school – in Texas.
You can imagine there was quite a bit of excitement when he walked onto the field as a freshman after an excellent middle school football career.
Just weeks into his first season of high school ball, the coaches loved him. He was smart on the field, a hard worker and continued to get bigger. When varsity made a playoff run last year, he was asked to suit up and travel with the team.
He chose not to.
Instead, his sophomore year, he decided to clean out his locker, start growing dread-locks, master the bass guitar, focus on his writing and begin some art projects he’d been putting off for a while.
My entire family watched with clenched teeth as the only person with our genetic makeup who would ever come close to being an athlete left the field to join the rest of us on the sideline with our asthma inhalers, Dr. Scholl’s heel inserts and low pain thresholds.
Over the next few months, his hair got longer - he began to wash it with some kind of natural dread-lock making shampoo that smelled like hippie. He also started carving a bass guitar out of a single piece of wood, making knives out of deer antlers, whittling Harry Potter magic wand replicas, writing songs, bringing a broken dirt bike back to life and starting a novel.
Then, one afternoon, I get a call:
“Hey, Reag –“
“Hey, buddy, what’s up?”
“so, I was looking through your stuff,” – first mistake, young man – “and I found this, um, broccoli steamer in the box with all of your kitchen things –“
“Yes, I own one of those.”
“and, um, I was wondering if I could have it?”
“Are you planning on making some sticky rice as well? Why do you want my broccoli steamer?”
“Well, I’m making these ray guns and I need some spare parts. If I could take your broccoli steamer apart, I wouldn’t have to go buy one.”
“You’re making ray guns.”
“Yeah. Ray guns.”
So I let him have my broccoli steamer, not knowing what in the world to expect, but knowing that I now have no efficient way to warm broccoli while keeping most of the nutrients inside the stalk.
I forgot about the broccoli steamer and, a month later, learn that my brother's insistence on keeping his dreadlocks in community with 13 Starbucks locations and five uppity grocery stores has prevented him from acquiring gainful employment.
But the story isn’t over.
A few weeks later, my mother tells me he’s been approached by a grown woman who thinks his ray guns are amazing. In fact, she wants to buy one as a collector's item.
For hundreds of dollars.
Yes, the picture at the top of this post is one of the ray guns my 16 year old brother made in his bedroom out of trash that sold for $200.
Yes, this is one of them as well:
So, one afternoon I think to myself - he could have a soaring resume going into college if he passed on a job at the grocery store or the movie theater and really pushed forward with this ray gun thing. What if he built a little business at age 16? He’s already sold two and has a film maker on the west coast who's interested.
I call him up and we do some visioning for a while. He's stoked about the idea of 1). not having to cut his hair and 2). making ray guns for a living.
We get back on the phone in a few weeks:
“Hey, Gavin, how’s it going?”
“Good, but I haven’t sold any more. The money from the first one’s almost gone and I need cash for gas.”
“So what can you do to get money in the mean time?”
“Mow the lawn I guess, but I hate mowing the lawn.”
Enter: the real world.
Right now I don’t know if my brother is going to sell any more ray guns. I don’t know if he’s going to become a young entrepreneur or if he’s just a kid with a creative itch. But I do know this: if he wants to continue building his ray guns, he’s going to have to mow some lawns in between sales or cut those dreadlocks and get a job.
The things we're passionate about just don't work out right away. In between the excitement of shipping a product and the joy of making one comes the work and sacrifice required to support something new.
I phrased it to my brother this way:
“Gavin, you know in movies when the character is between starting something difficult and finally succeeding – there’s generally a montage?”
“What happens during those montages?”
“Studying, working out, training. Hard work. Sweat. Change.”
Enjoy your montage, my ray gun-making little brother.
Now, go mow some lawns.