Kristen Hadeed: How to Retire by 20

This is a list I made when I was 10. "How to Retire Before you're 20". Babysitting, yard sale, walk dogs, and you'll see I get to number 12, "buy stocks," and I stop. I figured, "That's it! I don't need to do anything else!". Must have thought the stock market was a sure thing ... And we can't ignore my starred note on the bottom left: "In every transaction, I have to have a calculator." (Laughter) As you can see, I wasn't the typical 10 year old. Most girls my age played with Barbies -- and yeah, I did that, too -- but when given the choice, I wanted to learn about the way things worked, about the people around me, and I was particularly interested in making money. I drew this when I was 5: "Kristen is a waitress." Well, it didn't take me long to realize I could just skip this step altogether and start a restaurant, "Steak and Shake." Where we didn't have steak or milkshakes, we did have pork chops, all-you-can-eat chicken and ribs, and our most popular dish: carrots and dip. (Laughter) When I was in first grade, I was fascinated with Elmer's Glue. I found that if I put a tiny drop in my desk at school, when I came back in the morning, I could peel it off and stick it on my nail. What do you know? Fake nails. I sold fake nails from my desk every morning. And I remember it like it was yesterday: walked into my classroom, early like usual, only to find that my teacher had completely rearranged all the seats. I watched my classmate walk right into my fortune. She sold everything that day. But don't feel bad for me, because after school, I went and bought glitter glue, which happened to be much more popular than the plain white kind, and it put her right out of business. (Laughter) When I was six, I always wanted to be a babysitter -- "Babysitter's Club." I don't know what about this flyer doesn't say: "Hi! You can trust me. I have a lot of experience, and I am definitely qualified to watch your child!" (Laughter) Or how about "The Girls' Club"? Not only did you have to pay to be in it, but you also had to follow my 13 rules. Yeah, I started out OK: keep your hands to yourself, don't say bad things to other people. I got a little bit bossier: be obedient, raise your hand if you need to say something. And then, I become a dictator. When you sign something with "Thanks, Your Leader, Kristen" ... (Laughter) the only person that's going to join your club is your little sister, and it's because she doesn't know how to read yet. (Laughter) I got bored the summer before third grade, so I started a lemonade stand. I made this sales web -- you know -- because lemonade is such a complicated business. And my favorite part is: "Have your customers pick the price, you'll get more money." Smart cookie! I realized early on that people buy "cute." So, I set my prices low, but told my customers if they wanted to pay a little extra that was certainly OK. And they did. People paid five dollars for a four-ounce drop of lemonade. "You pick the price" worked like a charm. But lemonade got boring, and I wanted to go into retail. So, I picked my little sister, Lauren, to be my victim, really, my partner, but ... poor Lauren. We called it "LK Variety Store," L for her name, K for mine. My dad built us a wooden stand, we painted it, and we sold various household items on our street corner every weekend. Actually, Lauren sold various household items, in the heat, while I sat in the A/C and collected the money. This got old after a while, so she resigned. You'll see my friend Ashley in this picture. Little did she know that when I invited her over to "play store," I was being serious. I also forgot to mention that these household items belonged to my parents, who didn't know that we were selling them. (Laughter) So, when my Mom eventually caught on, let's just say she was very quick to shut us down. As you can see, I had an insatiable curiosity as a kid. And as I got older, the projects continued, but they became more meaningful. When I was 15, a teacher of mine, who taught me for six consecutive years in the field of science, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had to get a double mastectomy, but even with that, the outcome did not look very good. Myself, along with 5 other friends, who were also her students, gathered together to start Project Pink. We decided to remain anonymous, but we worked behind the scenes to get our entire school to wear pink on Tuesdays -- the day that she went in for chemotherapy treatments after class. It was pretty incredible, but our pink initiative spread throughout the community. You'd go to the grocery store on a Tuesday and you'd see people wearing pink. We were only kids, but we thought that if we could show her that the entire community supported her, maybe it would keep her strong. Months passed by, and we learned that she'd beat her cancer. So, we decided it was time to show her that we were the ones behind Project Pink. We got our school band to come into her classroom, where we revealed our identity, and presented her with a quilt we made of all our memories throughout the years. The band trickled from her classroom into the courtyard, and the entire school watched as she told us that we saved her life. It was absolutely amazing. This was the first time in my life, where I felt a powerful -- and I mean powerful -- emotion overcome me. At 15, I didn't know what it was or where it came from, but man, was it incredible. And I made a promise to myself that I would only work on things in my life that gave me this feeling. And now, when I look back, I realize it was passion. When I came to college at the University of Florida, I wanted a pair of very expensive blue jeans. I asked my parents to buy them for me; they said, "No way, get a job," and instead of applying for one, I put an ad on Craigslist to clean houses for pocket money. I never minded cleaning as a kid because I thought I was getting paid well for it. But now when I look back, my parents ran a sweat shop! I worked on this day for four hours for $10! (Laughter) Anyway -- Mom and Dad -- I know -- I cleaned houses by myself for a while, and then I decided to turn it into a real business; hired some friends, and things slowly grew. When it came time for college graduation, I was offered a job in finance, in a company with a very well-known, popular brand. It was a dream job during a time in 2010 when they didn't exist. And I immediately turned it down. Because there was one thing missing: That feeling that I promised myself I would always follow. I didn't have it when I thought about finance. You see, I was passionate about my house-cleaning business -- as silly as that may sound -- and trust me, many people didn't understand why I turned down a dream job to stick with it. But it just felt right. Fast forward to today, two years after my college graduation. I own a company called Student Maid. We're the largest cleaning and concierge service in Gainesville. We employed 300 students last year. And I know what you're thinking: "Her parents must have owned several businesses for her to turn out this way." Not true. My dad is a lawyer, and my mom ran a preschool before she left her job to become a stay-at-home mom. I just lived in a home where my curiosity was nurtured. I remember, when I was this big, that when my parents would get a new appliance, my dad would take the big cardboard box it came in, and he would stick it right on our living room floor. He would leave it up for weeks at a time, my sister and I would play with it ... Yeah, it's just a box, but when you're 4, it's a castle, and you can be the princess. It teaches you to use your imagination. And they encouraged us to play pretend. You'll see here myself, my sister and our friend playing dentist with my dad. He wasn't flossing. (Laughter) And when it came to homework, forget about it, they never gave me the answers. But it gave me the confidence to solve any problem on my own, no matter how big or small. They weren't afraid to see me fail, like when I wanted to run for fourth-grade president, there was a lot of competition, a very big chance I might lose, but they encouraged me to run. And that's because in failure lies some of the most important lessons of all. Like, how to get back up and try again. So, when I did lose in fourth grade, I wasn't afraid to try again in fifth. And I won. But most importantly, my parents walked their talk. There wasn't one thing they told my sister and I to do that they didn't do themselves. They said to always follow our curiosity and passion. I watched my dad turn down cases because they didn't interest him. And I watched my mom leave her job when she wasn't passionate about it anymore. There is no doubt in my mind that the only reason I am standing where I am today is because I lived in a home where creativity and curiosity were valued more than anything else. So why is it, then, that curiosity has such a bad rep? We all know the story of Pandora's Box, right? It's given to this chick named Pandora, it contained all the evils in the world -- "Don't open it!" -- she did. I don't blame her though, because I wouldn't want it in my house either, would you? Or how about "curiosity killed the cat"? Awful quote. No wonder why we're trained to think that curiosity is a bad thing. People have mistakenly, for generations, only used a part of the quote. The full quote actually is: "Curiosity killed the cat, and satisfaction brought it back." So, curiosity isn't a bad thing, it actually brings us to life. And I'm not the only one that's jumping on this curiosity bandwagon. NASA recently launched a $2.5-billion rover to Mars, and what do you think they named it? Curiosity. Or how about "Curious George," the famous cartoon? "Curious George" also goes by "Very Rich George," right? (Laughter) And look at Columbus and Magellan -- sure, they were motivated by a more efficient trade route, blah, blah, blah -- I'm sure it was curiosity that was really, really, behind their voyage. I challenge you to ask yourself, are you curious? Do you allow yourself to pursue the things that make you excited? Do you allow yourself to dream? And I mean really, really dream? Or are you convinced that this is the best it's going to get? You're going to stay in a job that you're unhappy in because it's too late in your life to make a change, or because you're afraid of what others might think. You don't find yourself dreaming anymore, and you don't really know what your true passion is, and you don't care to find it. If you don't find yourself curious anymore, it's time to give your inner child a wake-up call. And here's why: I believe that the more curious you are, the more creative you will be. With greater curiosity come new experiences. Creative people don't invent something new, they just take what they've learned from two unrelated experiences, and they put them together. The more curiosity you have, the greater chance you have at connecting the unusual dots. That means the greater chance you have at creating an idea that could completely change the world. We were most human when we were kids. We worked on our art for hours without taking breaks because there was nothing getting in the way of our creative spirit. And the fact is, that same spirit is still there, it hasn't gone anywhere, you just might forget what it feels like. And whether you're 23 or you're 83, it's never, ever, ever, too late to wake it up. I challenge you to stop worrying about the past and the future, the two things that you absolutely can't change. And just focus on this very moment. Expose yourself to different people, places and things, and the easier it will become. Read more, ask more questions, be open to new experiences. But most importantly, follow your inner child. It's okay if you don't know what you're doing or where you're going. You just have to trust that feeling, because it knows where you're headed. And you'll start to see the pieces come together, but for now, you can just trust that there's always a bigger picture. I can see the pieces clearly for myself. Looking back, I now realize I was destined to own a business, and I can see a piece of each childhood enterprise incorporated into my company today. More importantly, I learned from Project Pink that my true passion is doing something good for other people, which is why we clean free for cancer patients, and why our employees have donated 4,000 hours of community service in the past 2 years. A meaningful life is never about the end result, it's always about the journey. If you can honestly surrender yourself to your inner child -- and I mean really surrender to it -- it will take you places beyond your wildest dreams. And that's my promise. And then, before you least expect it, you will find your passion, and you will be doing things that you never thought were possible. I want to close with the same list, "How to Retire Before You're 20," and I want you to look at number six, "house cleaning." When I wrote this at 10 years old, I had no idea I would be standing here, on this stage, 13 years later, saying that I own a cleaning service. And it's pretty incredible, but I think that my inner child has always known what's in store for me, and I think yours does, too. Thank you. (Applause)

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