It hit me the other day, as I drove home from my office, that I’m not wealthy but I have an awful lot.
It was the growing number of tent cities that have dotted our landscape. The people trying to survive and have come to Oregon for our temperate weather. It would be easier for me than most to say, “they should pick themselves up and get a job.”
It’s possible to pick yourself up, and make yourself more than you are; to improve your lot in life with stubbornness and perseverance. I know, I’ve done it. I wasn’t born wealthy or in the right neighborhood. I didn’t finish college or even go to a trade school. I just never accepted that failure was forever, and failure I’ve had many many times.
My Author Bio is accurate as far as it goes. I really did start my work life as a shoe salesman before graduating to a nuts and bolts stacker for a industrial supply company. It was a horrible job and the upgrade to television repair counter/delivery person was a serious upgrade. I only had to bust my back delivering thousand pound big-screen TVs (remember how big they used to be!) a couple of time a week instead of carrying hundred pound boxes of nuts from one spot to another all-day long.
The biggest advantage of the job came from learning how to deal with angry people in a kind and conciliatory way. They wanted their televisions back and I was the one that had it. Don’t ever let the older generation tell you, “You and your damn screens!”; they are just jealous their screen addiction wasn’t so portable.
With my skills of dealing with the “upset” members of the world, my next career was a natural fit. I went to work for the phone company. I was so good at working with frustrated people I went from being a temporary employee to account executive in charge of about a quarter of the State of Oregon n a little less than a year. It was also the scene of my first major failure.
The phone industry was undergoing many changes at the time and selling long distance for fifty cents a minute was no longer a legitimate business enterprise. Cell phones were just becoming the rage and rates were being cut to barebones across the country. I was no longer needed… none of us were and the division I was with went through massive layoffs.
Not knowing what to do, I started my own phone company hoping to compete regionally with the big boys. I could buy their service wholesale for around ten-cents a minute and sell it for fifty. It worked great until the world changed and long-distance service became essentially free. It’s difficult to make a living when your service is free.
My company was worthless and I was out of savings and options. I could have given up, but it wasn’t the way I was raised. I had always been fascinated with computers, the potential not the machines themselves and decided to create something that had never been created before. An integrated machine that incorporated every available form of media and allowed for teleconferencing on a large scale. I thought, “What if the best educators in the world could reach tens of thousands of students live, every day! Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
The system was called the Paradigm 2000 and was extremely well received by all that had the opportunity to use, and/or experience the wonders of what we now consider boring. Sadly, the product came out weeks before the massive technology crash of 2000. My investors pulled out, the company that was interested in buying the product, design and all, pulled out and left me with quite a bit of debt and expenses. I could have given up, filed bankruptcy and never tried to improve my life again, but it wasn’t the way I was raised.
I decided to go to work in the non-profit world helping people with disabilities find meaningful employment in a world that believed they were incapable. It started by getting employers to at least give them a shot on a temporary basis and if it didn’t work out, no harm done. By the time I was done, I was sitting in front of State and Local governments lobbying them to follow the law of the land and give people with disabilities first shot at any job they were equally qualified to accomplish.
It was a well-conceived argument and should have worked. Sadly, most of the people I was attempting to help had either been felons, were in recovery from drug-abuse, or were currently engaged in said drug-abuse. My good intentions had left out one major component, many of the people (certainly not all) didn’t want to improve their lives or didn’t believe it was possible.
What did I know? I was under thirty-five and life hadn’t beaten hope out of me yet. The people I was trying to help couldn’t see a better way, or a way out of their circumstances. They had, in many ways, given up hope and accepted their lives would always be difficult. At some level I had failed them by not understanding where they were at or who they really were, and once again I was out of money and out of options. I could have given up, but it wasn’t the way I was raised.
I could give example after example of times I have failed, had no plan and was on the edge of being homeless. Failed businesses; houses that burned down leaving me with nothing; living in a travel trailer or the back apartment of a closed-down thrift-store, but I won’t because it would bore you to death and you’d quit reading.
I’m not writing these things to make you think I’m something special or to garner sympathy. I’m writing this because I want you to understand that I can look at the homeless, in their tents under the bridge or sleeping under the bushes, and know that I have been one paycheck, or bad decision, away from sleeping next to them. The only difference between myself and that homeless person is that I never gave up hope, never settled, and never quit trying.
It is obvious, if you step back and look at any major city in America (San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, etc…) that the social services designed to help the humanity’s less fortunate have failed. We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, yet we have homeless, hungry and frustrated citizens wherever you look.
The top-down solutions to service those that are already in need will never solve the problem until the numbers of people in need quit growing.
I am going to ask you, my dear friends, fans and readers to do me a favor. It won’t be an easy favor, but it will be worth it, not only to me but to you and possibly the world. Here we go…
If you are an employer: Give someone a chance that might not meet your exact hiring standards. With the cost of training and hiring, it’s not always the best candidate but the one that is thankful for the opportunity that makes the best long-term employee.
If you are a youth coach: Give the kid that shows up without the right equipment, that has never played before, and never has a parent show up as much time on the field as possible. He/She may do something magical that gives them a boost of confidence and belief they can succeed that will stick with them for life. It might just push them in the right direction during a dark time in their future life or even help them avoid the darkness altogether.
If you are a parent: Spend an hour a week, or even a month, in your child’s classroom. If it’s a public school, I promise you there is a child sitting on the “outside of the circle” that doesn’t fit in. His/her clothes are wrong or don’t fit well and they have difficulty looking people and peers in the eye. Find them, sit with them, and just show them someone cares.
Skip one coffee this month, or smoothie or whatever your drug of choice might be. Find a homeless shelter or church food kitchen and drop off the $5.00. I promise they will take it and not ask for a penny more. Think about it, I have roughly 5000 twitter followers. If every one of them dropped off $5.00 per month into the hands of the people that are doing amazing work, it would be $300,000 per year. That’s just from the twitter followers of some random guy that wrote a book or two.
Ok… that’s my soapbox and I’m climbing down. It’s time for the preacher to walk the talk and drop my $5 bucks off and the little non-profit outreach program I drive past every day on the way home. I’m sure we will chat again in the future. Feel free to leave comments below, and for God’s sake… go buy one of my books. ?
Also published on Medium.