From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Debbie Fields Gets “Oriented”

If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbor, tho’ he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Debbie Fields is at a party with her husband, Randy Fields, a well-known economist and futurist. Debbie, just 19, has quit work to play the role of conventional wife, and her self-esteem is suffering. The guests fawn over Randy, soliciting his economic forecast. But when the same guests discover that Debbie is a housewife, they suddenly remember conversations they desperately need to have on the other side of the room. They treat Debbie like an absolute zero.

Finally, the host of the party besieges Debbie with questions. She tries hard to be what she really isn’t— sophisticated, urbane, clever. Finally, he asks in an exasperated tone, “What do you intend to do with your life?”

By now a nervous wreck, Debbie blurts, “Well, I’m mostly trying to get orientated.”

“The word is oriented,” snaps the host. “There is no such word as orientated. Learn to use the English language.”

Debbie is destroyed. On the way home, she cries nearly nonstop, but out of the hurt a resolve is born: She will never, never, never let such a thing happen again. She will no longer live in anyone else’s shadow. She will find something of her own.

But what?

One thing Debbie had always loved doing was making great chocolate chip cookies. She experimented with recipes since she was 13 years old—adding more butter, less flour, more and different kinds of chocolate until she hit on a combination that she felt was ideal: soft, butter-laden, and crammed with so many chocolate chips that if one more were added, the whole cookie would collapse.

So Debbie has this idea. She will open up a little store and sell her cookies.

“Bad idea,” Randy’s business friends say, their mouths full of cookies. “It’ll never work.” They shake their heads as they lick the last bits of chocolate from their fingers. “Forget it.” Randy felt the same way. So did the loan officers she approached for financing.

Notwithstanding, at 9 A.M. on August 18, 1977, when Debbie was 20 years old, she opened the doors to Mrs. Fields’ Chocolate Chippery in nearby Palo Alto, California. The only problem was, nobody came to buy cookies. By noon she was desperate. “I decided if I were going to go out of business,” she said, “at least I’d go out in style.” So she loaded up a tray and began walking around the shopping arcade where her store was located, trying to give away cookies. “Nobody would take them,” she said. Undaunted, she went out on the street and began begging, pleading and wheedling until people took her samples.

It worked. Once people tried the cookies, they loved them and came back to the shop for more. By the end of the day, she had sold $50 worth. On day two, she took in $75. The rest is cookie history.

“I owe my life to the word oriented,” said Debbie.

Today, Debbie Fields is chairwoman and chief cookie lover of Mrs. Fields, Inc., the market leader among fresh-baked cookie stores. With over 600 stores and 1,000 corporate employees, Mrs. Fields Cookies has sales in the multi-millions. A mother of five, Debbie continues to share her winning philosophy with entrepreneurs and business groups around the world.

Celeste Fremon

Moxie Magazine

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