When kids with ideas and passion get empowered — meet Jason O’Neill
Jason O’Neill is the first of the kids that will be featured in the series of interviews of inspiring kids for World4Children.org. At age 14, he owns a business offering multiple products under the name Pencil Bugs and he recently also published his first book Bitten by the Business Bug.
This is what Jason has to say about himself in this interview:
Who is your personal hero (could be a historical figure or even a fictional character)? What do you like about them?
Too much emphasis is placed on heroes so I don’t really have anyone I consider that. However, I do have people I look up to because of what they’ve done or how they’ve helped me. The two most important people are my parents. I’m the first one to admit that I couldn’t have gotten this far with my business or even in general if it wasn’t for them. Thankfully, they are my biggest supporters so I’m very lucky.
My grandparents have also given me a lot of good common sense advice which was a factor in choosing the subtitle for my new book. Then of course, there are people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Not because of the money they have but because of what they do with it to help other people. I donate a portion of my proceeds to help kids but it’s obviously on a much smaller scale but I would like to be able to do what they do some day.
Who or what motivated you to become entrepreneur & writer? Who helped you the most?
My mom has been writing children’s stories since I was born and before that, she used to write poetry. She is also a very creative person and grew up making crafts and other things. I probably just inherited some of that because I have always liked creating things whether it was a craft project or putting together some gadget from my toys. Mom helps me with my writing and as I’ve learned, every good writer, no matter how famous, still has someone edit and proofread it because there is always something to improve.
What is the worse response you’ve got from your friends by engaging with adults? The best?
If I understand your question correctly, a lot of kids don’t really understand what I do and everything it takes to get where I am today. So sometimes kids make stupid comments but none important enough to remember. Then there are those who are obviously jealous but I guess that is expected. But then there are other kids who look up to me and are trying to start businesses or get their ideas off the ground and are very supportive and appreciate my advice.
The first question you get from adults when presenting yourself for the first time as entrepreneur/writer is? Besides age, of course! 😉
There hasn’t been any one question that most adults ask first. It ranges all over the board. But one question most ask eventually is how I keep balanced between school, my business, and still having time to be a kid. The answer to that is my parents. School and homework comes first. Then my business responsibilities and then I still have time to play. Since my mom deals with most of the day-to-day things, much like an assistant or manager would do, I have lots of time to still be a kid. We are also very selective of what events I participate in and how often. Even though I’m an A-student in school, it’s not easy to miss too many days. If the right opportunity comes up though, I definitely just work harder so I can take time off from school.
You must have hit the wall few times when trying to engage or get support?! Lessons learned?
Surprisingly, no. Since my parents are very supportive, especially my mom because she doesn’t have another job like my dad does, I have constant support. I’ve been asked many times if I do this business alone and just have to laugh because there aren’t many people, including adults, who could run their business all by themselves. Everyone, no matter what age, needs support and help.
It’s a cliché question to ask people what would the one thing they want to change in this world be! Instead of that, we’re interested if you have a wish list of couple items to change in your community?
I wish more people would think of entrepreneurship as a real option. Especially in schools, administrators and teachers will be supportive of young entrepreneurs but most don’t have an idea of what it really takes or are willing to include topics like that in school or give opportunities to other kids. Not everyone needs to have the 8-5 type job and work for someone else
Do you still have time to play with your friends and simply be a kid? Favorite activities/games?
Yes, as I said, my life is pretty balanced and the key to that is not to get overscheduled. I probably have more time to play than some kids who are doing team sports or are musicians or any other extracurricular activity. I have friends that spend several hours every day with other commitments and I always wonder when they get time to just be a kid. Many say they don’t which is pretty sad. I like to play video games and my favorite one is Runescape which is an online multi-player game. Depending on how you play, you can actually learn a lot about economy, finances, etc. I can get pretty wrapped up playing it so I have a limit for most electronics as how to long I can play every day and I don’t get to play until my homework is done.
What do you want to say to other kids that those using clichés like “follow your dreams” usually forget to say?
I don’t even say that to people because how many people actually stick to what they want to do, especially when they are young? What I do say is to have a plan, something that you like to do, but DO NOT get so stuck on one goal or your “dream” that you forget to open your eyes and see other possibilities along the way that might be even better than your original goal. Many people make that mistake because all they hear is “you have to set a goal.” What happens is people get so narrow focused, they can get discouraged if they don’t reach their goal, or miss better opportunities. And even if they reach their goal, a lot of times they find out that it wasn’t what they thought. Just like kids going to college for some degree. How many of them switch majors during college or get that degree only to find out that they don’t like their job? I did my first TEDx talk on goals. It was called, “Take Off Those Blinders.” You have to experience the world around you to make the most of it.
Your message to the adults? Clichés allowed 😉
Remember that learning has no restrictions or age requirements and that kids do have a lot to offer if given the chance. There are many kids doing positive things for themselves, their communities, and the world. Give them the support and opportunities to inspire and encourage other kids AND adults.
We also interviewed Nancy O’Neill, Jason’s mom, who has given us the parent perspective of living with a kid who wants to engage with the world now, instead of waiting for him to grow up and stick to the system in the meantime.
Nancy is fully engaged in supporting her son dreams and is acting as full-time a PR manager, edited his new book, etc.
When did you realize you’ll need to fight to let your son follow his dream as opposed to rely on the “system” to recognize the talent and do it?
Like Jason said, it wasn’t really his dream or goal to become an entrepreneur. After all, he was only nine years old. By encouraging his creativity and willingness to do something, his journey started. However, when he did turn his idea into a real business and started getting recognition from the media as well as winning awards, his schools weren’t as supportive or encouraging as we would have expected. At that point, we realized we were going to be doing this alone until we met other kids and parents who were in the same boat. Thank goodness for social networking because we have been able to connect with like-minded entrepreneurial people. We don’t try to fight the system. If some people don’t quite get him or understand what he’s doing, there are plenty of others who do. Life’s too short to fight or worry about things like that.
Most frustrating experience you’d like to share?
Jason is a normal kid. He has his moments and is challenging just like any other teenager. Since his business started, there have been times when he has wanted to quit or not wanted to prepare for an event. Even though he knew the opportunities and result of putting in the effort, it still was hard for him at times. Consequently, we’ve had to do a lot of coaching, motivating, and encouraging him from time to time. Kids can’t always see as far down the road as adults can but Jason has a level head so when he analyzes a situation, he makes good decisions.
How about positive surprises?
Just going into the third year of his business, we were at a point when he had decided he wanted to move on from it. We agreed but then in January 2008, we got an email from a writer at Forbes saying they wanted to include Jason on a Top 10 List of Role Models 18 & Under. What a surprise that was! Well, needless to say, we took that as a sign that the business should continue and realized the positive impact that Jason was having on other kids and adults. There have been many of those surprises in the past five years. It’s like karma. Doing good things return good things.
You hope the world in 2025 offers your son to….?
Let’s see. Jason will be thirty years old then. I don’t really look at what the world will have to offer him but what he will have to offer the world. I think if we look at anything in terms of what someone or something can do for us, it’s backward. That is society’s mindset today. People of all ages have the mentality of “what’s in it for me?” instead of “what can I do because it’s the right thing to do or because I can help someone else?” Whatever Jason is doing in his life at that point, I know it will be something that has a positive impact on other people because he has the right framework.