“Teresa, we’re calling the police and pressing charges.”
This was the moment that scared me more than anything I’d heard, ever! And I didn’t know it then, but it would become one of the defining moments in my entrepreneurial journey.
I thought I was too smart to get caught. But let’s back up…
I wasn’t always a liar and a thief. I started out like any other kid. But somewhere along the way, I had figured out that by lying and stealing I could get pretty much anything I wanted (or at least what I thought I wanted). The only problem is, I didn’t stop like most kids do.
And the sad part is, I got really good at it.
The lying and stealing eventually turned to conning. I didn’t know that the powerful (and yes, hard) lessons I was about to learn were paving the road to my entrepreneurial future….
I spent 8 years becoming exactly the kind of person I didn’t want to be. Eight years! Eight years of doing all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons and thinking it would help me get what I wanted. Makes sense doesn’t it? You want something… you take it. You want people to think a certain way, you lie and say whatever works in the moment. Eight years of getting away with it and thinking I was too smart to get caught.
Until one day I finally got hit hard enough. That hit didn’t fix everything overnight and it didn’t change me immediately, but it did start the process that led to a 180 (degree sign) turn in my life. But what happened that day wasn’t at all what I would have expected. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
I was still in school and all I really wanted was to be liked. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to have friends and I didn’t have a single one. I felt sorry for myself and focused on it all the time.
We had a big family and times were tough so my parents didn’t have the
money to buy me the shoes and clothes and ‘stuff’ that I thought would make me cool. I thought that was why I didn’t have friends.
I remember one time my birthday was coming up and my mom was going to let me have a birthday party. It was a big deal. I didn’t know who to invite so I did what any self-respecting kid in Junior High would do. I invited all the popular kids.
One by one they turned me down. Not a single kid came to my birthday party. I was devastated! And on top of that I felt like a fool.
I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. I spent a lot of time dwelling on the things in my life that weren’t going the way I wanted. I spent a lot of time scheming ways to get what I wanted.
Until one day, I figured out how to really go after something big. I worked for a large newspaper company delivering the daily paper. It was the largest newspaper in the state! They announced they were having a competition. There were lots of prizes, but the grand prize was the sweetest bike you ever saw. A bike that our family couldn’t afford. A bike I could never dream of having… unless I won it! I didn’t even consider winning it fair and square. I quickly figured out a way to manipulate the numbers and con the company into thinking I won. The competition went on for months and I was leading the competition. Even with all their computers and big wig executives, they didn’t catch on to what I was doing. I turned in my false numbers in a way that no one would figure out. The company sent me extra papers for the ‘fake’ enrollments I got and I would just throw them away. I was winning prizes weekly but because of the way I scammed the numbers, they still didn’t know.
Eventually I won the grand prize and my parents were so proud! Exactly what I wanted!
When it was time for the company to deliver the grand prize to my house, a man showed up at my house. I don’t remember his name but I remember he was a big deal. I think he was one of the owners. I’ll never forget standing at the door with my mom while he told her what they had discovered.
I remember acting like a total jerk! I had an attitude that any parent would be ashamed of. I literally acted like this guy was an idiot and I couldn’t care less! But I remember exactly how I felt that day! I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like the lowest scum and I felt like I was a bad, bad person. I felt worthless and I felt sorry and it made me sick. But I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. So I acted like a jerk.
The next several years were rough. In high school I was still playing my con games. My family couldn’t trust me and didn’t believe anything I said but I still thought this was the best way to get what I wanted and fulfill what I thought were my dreams.
I worked at burger king where all the tills were computerized to make sure the employees couldn’t steal. That never stopped me before. Why let it stop me now?
The computer tracked every dime, but I immediately figured out a way to con and steal from the customers and the company… I would manipulate the customers and the numbers throughout my shift to make sure I had extra money in my till at the end of my shift. I had to keep track of it all in my head the entire time, because if your till was off even a penny it was a big deal. They didn’t give very many chances before you were fired. You can bet I kept good track of the dollars and the change. At the end of my shift, I’d sneak the extra money out of the till I had collected and it would match up perfectly.
My lying and stealing went on and on and on. No one ever pressed charges. I knew I was invincible and I thought everyone around me was an idiot. No one was as smart as me and I knew I’d never get caught!
Until one day, I did get caught. I was stealing from a local market and they caught me red handed. They sat me on a stool and said words to me that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
“We’re calling the police and pressing charges!”
They said they had called my parents and they were on their way over. It was the first time I remember being truly scared, My young life literally flashed before my eyes and I knew I was going to prison. My parents showed up and they were livid. They were sick and tired of dealing with my lying and stealing and conning. They were at their wits end and didn’t know what to do with me. The shop owners ended up letting me go because I was so young. And I still remember to this day the powerful emotion that came up in that moment when I realized I’d gotten away with it again; “You guys are sooo stupid. I got away with it again and I always will.”
Things didn’t change for me until I had a mentor that changed the direction my life was going. That mentor happened to be my older sister. I remember the very day something inside my head finally clicked.
I had gone to support her at one of her events at school. I watched as she circled the room talking with different groups of her peers. She talked with the group of kids that were considered the druggies, she joked with her group of Mexican friends, she laughed with the popular kids, she loved on the group everyone called gothic… And as I watched her ,I noticed something profound that I had never paid attention to before.
She made every person in that whole event… feel like it was all about them. Because guess what. To her It was about them. She was thinking more about them than she was about herself.
But that’s not even what hit me the hardest.
I watched the faces of those people that day. I watched how their eyes lit up just to see my sister coming toward them. Every single one of them. Not just the ones who could give her what she wanted. Not just the ones she could get something from. Every single one!
I saw how it wasn’t just the look of being excited to see her. It was much more than that. They had a look of joy come across their face like they were looking at someone they knew loved them.
I saw the look of utter love and loyalty in their eyes, and something inside me changed! Somehow my young brain knew I wanted to create that for other people too. I wanted to serve other people the way my sister had obviously served them.
For the first time in my life that I remember, I really wanted to do something that would serve other people and help them get what they wanted. For the first time it wasn’t all about me.
I decided right then and there that I was going to be like her. I was going to be the kind of person who helped created that in other people.
It was the first time in my life I ever remember having a plan that wasn’t self serving. Maybe I’d had them before but none that I remember.
I was so determined to create that for other people that it stopped being about me.
Well, we all know I had a long way to go but I’m nothing if not determined (as evidenced by my previous criminal ‘successes’). I made an almost 180 degree turn in my life that day for 1 reason. Because I had decided. I didn’t tell anyone what happened to me that day.
I didn’t realize what a drastic change it was and I didn’t think anyone else noticed, until years later my mom told me she had thought I was being phony. She said that one day, all of a sudden, I started keeping my side of the room extremely clean when I had been a chronic slob before. I became positive and happy where before I had been a whiner and complainer. I told the truth and stopped stealing. But over time my mom saw that the change stuck.
It was just like Zig Ziglar always said, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
I didn’t know anything about Zig Ziglar back then, but now that I do, Teresa Harding says, “Y0ou can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want… in the right way!”
What I didn’t understand until later was that I was trying to get what I wanted, just like everyone else, but the problem was I was going about it the wrong way!
The crazy thing is that when I stopped thinking at all about what I wanted or what was in it for me, I started getting everything I wanted and more, without even trying or thinking about it.
I was voted in by the student body as princess for the school court my Junior year. That was only 1 year later! I was literally shocked! I didn’t know my reputation had changed. Then voted in and crowned Queen of the court my Senior year.
I still didn’t realize this would affect my entrepreneurial journey.
I had been trying to get what I wanted by trying to get what I wanted. Yes, that’s what I said. Funny how that doesn’t work.
Over the next several years I tried my hand at sales and some of my own businesses. I sold ‘free’ insulation door to door for the electric company. (You’d be surprised how many people won’t take action on something that will benefit their lives, even when it’s free!)
Things were pretty busy, I had started college, got married and had a family. (This is my favorite part of the story but it’s not relevant to my entrepreneurial journey so you’ll just have to find out more by meeting me in person!)
We were poor college students with a young family and we ended up needing government assistance. I was embarrassed about it but grateful too. I kept looking for ways to bring in more money but stay home with my kids. I wanted to raise them myself and be the one who influenced them as they grew and discovered the world.
I bred dogs, I tried selling kitchen tools at classes, I even tried taking over houses that were going into foreclosure, and being the middle man to find a buyer and save the owner from the foreclosure.
Change your motive… changes your _______
She taught me the shocking truth! that all I had to do was make it about the other person instead of me.
We are all trying to figure out the direction we’re going… what we want to achieve… what goals we want to reach. I was always worried about getting what I wanted… I just tried to get it in the most selfish way….
TRANSFORMATION: I realized that caring more about them… focusing on serving other people… solving their problems… got me what I wanted… too… Jim rohn said… You can get everything you want… if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want...
I had no idea this would be the beginning of what started my entrepreneurial journey. It wasn’t until later when I was in my 20’s that I began to understand how much of a turning point that moment was.