I met two middle school students.

We've had a lot of snow in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs over the last week.  As a property owner, I've had to do a lot of shoveling, and I hate shoveling.

I have a bad shoulder, remember?  That actually has nothing to do with it.

Snow is heavy, man.  It's real heavy.  So when two young men showed up with shovels in hand, I would have paid them many dollars to shovel for me.  They wanted 20.

I used to do this when I was in high school, and for my dad in middle school.  It was a great way to make money.  I was nowhere near as professional as these dudes were.  They had pet-friendly salt for my stairs, they had weightlifting belts on to protect their backs, and they gave me a receipt.  What I would possibly do with a handwritten receipt from a 7th grader, I couldn't tell you, but I have it.

When they were finished I doubled their money and gave them $40.  It was worth it.  They got through it quick, but they were working hard.  It was about 20 degrees but they were hauling so much ass they were just working in t-shirts.  I respected that.

So we started chatting.  I told them they need to upcharge for the salt, and to get it in bulk at home depot.  They had a 2 pound container they paid $8.99 for, at home depot you can get 40 pounds for 15 bucks.  I told them to get a sled to haul that salt around and charge at least $5 for stairs, $10 for the whole front walk.

I also told them to come back any time it snowed more than 4 inches, and within 24 hours.  That's the rule in Evanston, and they didn't know it.

This is the kind of thing that can shape a kid's outlook on life.  Seriously.  If you hand every pre-teen boy a shovel, and tell them they can go make $100 an hour by shoveling, it can have an eye-opening effect.  Give them a rake in the fall, a lawnmower in the summer.  Same thing.

Kids are pulled in two directions.  There's the academic route, where studying hard and perfect attendance can launch you into the stratosphere of corporate America, and improve your life in ways you can't imagine.

Then there's crime.  There's enough opinions on crime, I'm not going to get into it.

But there's almost no middle ground.  Academics aren't for everybody, and that doesn't necessarily mean you have to live a life of crime, or menial jobs.  There are plenty of "alternative" avenues to success that weren't all that alternative a generation ago.

HVAC repair.  Auto repair.  Entrepreneurship.  The trades.  Things that kids can start working on now, that won't cost them 200 grand in tuition.  Ways to earn a good living outside the two paths presented in school.

It's not a failure to "only" earn a high school education.  If you do nothing with it, then maybe you've failed.  But if you go from high school into a job you like, that pays you a livable wage, with room for advancement, that's success.  Hopefully those two young men have realized that, and are aware of just how many opportunities are available to them.