I happened to talk to my cousin, Matt, on Christmas. I think this was the first words we said to each other in a decade. He is a few years older than I am and we have never lived near each other so we were never close. He mentioned that he was preparing to run his 20th LA Marathon this Spring which will be his 120th marathon overall! So now let me tell you why this is so impressive.
Matt is smart. No, that doesn’t cover it. Matt is probably genius-level when it comes to math and computers. I remember back in the 80s him being so good that his teachers would have him teach the class because they couldn’t challenge him in any other ways. He was bored in everything else and got average grades. He would spend his free time programming games for his computer and learned the various computer languages he needed on his own. No teacher, he would just get the book from the library and learn.
He went to college (I think to major in Mathematics) and that is when addiction found him. It didn’t take long for him to drop out of college and that is when the real problems started. His drug addiction was so bad his father had to kick him out because he was stealing from him to pay for what he needed. He was homeless and an addict by his early 20s. I don’t remember how long he was living on the streets for, but his family found him, brought him home, and nursed him back to health. And his dad demanded he get a job.
Matt is not a person who could work in an office or behind a checkout counter. He is just too much of a free spirit. So, living near LA, he finds a job at the beach riding one of those bicycles with the cart behind it that takes people up and down the boardwalk. Matt was always athletic. He was a fantastic runner in HS and it probably would have earned him a scholarship in college (he used to run a 4 min mile!!!). So riding a bike for a living was perfect. He could set his own hours, be on the beach, and get exercise at the same time.
Matt noticed immediately that very few people got in his cart just for the ride; they usually were heading somewhere specific. So Matt decided to talk to a few of the businesses along the boardwalk about sponsorship for the vehicle. He told them that if they paid him a flat fee each month, he would put their name on his cart, and any time someone asked for a recommendation for a [restaurant, bar, swim shop, etc.] he would ride them right to door to the business. The owner of the cart (she owned several carts on that boardwalk) loved what Matt was doing and put him in charge of the riders of the other carts. Within a year, Matt had made enough money to buy the carts from the owner and buy 7 more to have a total of 10 carts working for him. He also hired people who were down on their luck (especially the homeless) because they could work any time of the day and the work was entirely cash based. He gave them pagers and later cell phones, all paid for by the business, so that customers could reach them directly at the end of the night to get them back to their hotels or cars.
In just a few years, Matt went from being a homeless drug addict to an entrepreneur. He was now making steady money, enough that he was able to replace the teeth that had rotted out from being on the streets (a several thousand dollar job!).
Matt no longer needs to work. He expanded his business to other beaches in California and makes enough to cover all of his expenses. He is currently living in Florida taking care of our 98 year old aunt. He is by no means rich, but he doesn’t need to worry about his expenses either.
Ok, so what’s the moral of the story? I guess that depends on where you are in your journey. Maybe the lesson is to be patient; personal success takes time.
If you are a parent who is frustrated that your child isn’t living up to their potential, maybe time and support is what they will need to eventually find themselves.
If you are that kid who isn’t finding success in school, don’t measure your success by your peers. I graduated with who kids who wanted to be doctors/lawyers/engineers and very few ever made it there. Some dropped out; some changed majors; some became that thing and hate every day they are at work.
No matter what path life takes you down, live with passion, find your moments of joy, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.