At 12 years old, there's not much you're qualified for if you want to get a summer job. While classmates of mine were going to camp or the beach, I decided it was time to set about building my solo enterprise.

The nuns at my school were familiar with my work — I had already built a letterbox for the school office. So when the principal, Sister Joseph Patrick, approached me about the poor condition of the library tables, I heard opportunity knocking. I detailed how I would approach the refinishing project and before I knew it, she asked me to strip a small section of a table to prove I knew what I was doing. This sampling of my work was all she needed — the job was mine. Next, I put together a "crew" of four friends and our long, hard work began.

We spent that whole summer behind the school stripping the white paint and antiquing glaze off the seven enormous oak tables. We sanded them down with a Rockwell Orbital sander — the only power tool I was allowed to use at that age — and applied several coats of varnish to each one. At the end of the summer, we put the tables back in the library and gladly lined up to collect our hard-earned pay. When the smiling nun gently placed five sets of Rosary Beads and a $25 U.S. Savings Bond (purchased by the school for $12.50) in my cupped hands, it was all I could do not to swear in front of her.

Not only had I paid for the materials myself — varnish, paint brushes, sandpaper — now I had to figure out how to distribute a savings bond among my boyhood crew. In the end, I was forced to break open my piggy bank and dole out $4 of my own money to each of my friends. Yes, it was official. I actually took a loss on my very first job. But, to this day, I still have those rosary beads.