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My fifteen-year-old sister has made thousands of dollars running a successful jewelry business. You’ll find her in searches on Etsy, Facebook, Instagram, Depop, eBay and more. None of her responsibilities require her to venture past our mailbox. 

I’ve always harbored the idea that entrepreneurship is for rich, ultra-smart and talented people. My insecurities around understanding and managing money once led me to a warped view of what the average person is capable of within business. Too many young people feel that they do not have the time or money for a side hustle, but it can absolutely be manageable within an average teen’s schedule. In my house, jewelry making takes up the equivalent amount of time as a few daily chores. My sister makes four to twelve sets of earrings that she bags and labels. On my mom’s lunch break, they drive to a convenient mailbox to drop off the packages. In seven months, this amounts to a few extra thousand dollars in our pockets. Why not make space in your schedule for a hobby that pays?

Watching my sister grow her business as a very young woman proved to me that finding success in small doses is worth infinitely more than fearing failure. Becoming a self-starter is not a born personality trait, but instead an invested effort. The idea that motivation should be organic and easy to come by is a complete fallacy. Motivation is inspiration followed by commitment. My sister’s craftiness is what initially inspired her product, but her commitment is what brought the product to market.

My sister began her business during COVID-19. She missed out on her freshman year of high school as she studied from a computer. Online high school classrooms were devoid of excitement, making it the perfect time to start a business. She began making jewelry as a craft until my mother convinced her to turn it into a commodity. My mother was crucial to helping my sister develop her business acumen, mentoring her on how to manage time and money. Despite the tragic setback COVID-19 posed, building a business provided more in-depth finance and entrepreneurship experience than an in-person classroom education could ever provide.  

This flourishing business brought me to reevaluate my relationship with money and entrepreneurship. Her simple business model is manageable and effective. Instead of choosing to spend six hours after school at a normal part-time job, she instead invests her time and creative capacity into her own enterprises. While this is a recognizable privilege, almost anyone can use a side hustle as a supplement to other forms of income. Time and initiative are all that are required. My sister is by no means a professional, but she understands what is trending and what parts to order online — all entirely self-teachable with YouTube and Reddit. The rest is up to luck. 

Running an online business teaches young people how to be responsible for something bigger than themselves. Managing resources, setting a schedule, legally and economically establishing a company, as well as creating, representing and amplifying a brand are all things that any young person ought to understand. Entrepreneurship sets itself apart from service industry jobs in that you are fully responsible for setting and regulating your own standards — and things will not get done without you there. My sister does not always have the stamina to stay motivated for day-to-day tasks, but with a little heat from my mother, she remembers the value of the work she puts in. It goes beyond the dollars she’s bringing in now. If she continues to nurture her work, she could watch her company grow up with her. 

There is not one high school class that can provide the experience of building wealth at a young age. While financial and entrepreneurial literacy in America is still considered a mere enhancement to traditional liberal arts and science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, I now see a future in gaining confidence around professional judgment. American schools would do well to establish more business-based organizations and maybe even offer class credit for hours put toward a student’s small business. We owe it to our clever Generation-Z kids to facilitate their craft. 

My sister’s phone makes a cash register noise every time she makes a sale. She rolls her eyes when she hears it, knowing it means more work for her. My mom offers smiles and claps because she knows that a sale is a celebration. My sister has not yet realized that her business’s potential makes each sale worth more than the price tag.

Alexis Hancz is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at ahancz@umich.edu.