I used to teach adults how to get out of debt and live on less income through Community Education classes. My students included mothers who wanted to raise their own children; people who wanted to start their own business; early retirees and others who couldn’t make ends meet. Many were mired in heavy consumer debt. Our society’s “buy now, pay later” philosophy had paralyzed their attempts to reach financial and lifestyle goals.
The students paid a modest sum for the class, but I spent numerous follow-up hours helping some of them fine-tune budgets, contact creditors or start a home-based business. My biggest challenge was inspiring them to believe that they could turn their financial picture around. Many were in despair of ever being anything other than broke.
Then I met Robert.
While I was visiting a friend in Duluth, Minnesota, we were invited to a party hosted by Mickey Palucci, owner of Grandma’s Restaurants, at his fabulous home on Lake Superior. Guests came from all over the world. Even the chef flew in from Switzerland. Huge yellow and white striped awnings were set up on the vast green lawn. Long dinner tables covered with crisp white linen cloths were set for three hundred dinner guests. Here was the world of wealth and prosperity my students aspired to but believed they could never attain.
Robert, the young man who sat across from me at dinner was obviously wealthy. His rings glittered and a wide gold chain around his neck shone richly against his shiny black skin. He was so personable that I felt comfortable asking about his life. He graciously told me his story.
He was born into a large family in Jamaica. Like many families in that country, they were extremely poor. Robert’s parents insisted their children go to school every day, do their homework every night and attend Sunday school every Sunday. As they walked barefoot to Sunday school each child carried two bags. One bag held their shoes and stockings and the other a wet cloth. When they neared the church, they stopped at some bushes, washed their dusty feet with the wet cloth and put on their shoes and stockings. They tucked the bags under bushes; then walked into church clean and properly dressed. After church they reversed the process and walked home barefoot again. They did this, so the shoes and stockings would not wear out too quickly. They had to be passed down from child to child as they grew.
Robert wanted his own business some day. He knew that America is the land of opportunity, so he planned to come to the U.S. when he finished high school. He worked and saved money and one day he was ready to leave Jamaica. Before he left his mother said, “Robert, I know you will be successful in America because you have everything it takes to become successful. “
Robert thought about what little money he had in his pocket and asked, “What do I have?”
“You have ambition,” she said. “You have determination. And you have good manners because your father and I taught you good manners. You have a God who loves you. That is all you need. You will be very successful.”
Robert came to Miami with his mother’s words written on his heart. He bought an old used Ford automobile that took all the money had had saved. Then he found a job as a doorman at a large hotel.
His mother was right. Good manners earned him good tips. Each day when his shift at the hotel was over, he changed out of the regal red uniform, got into his car and went to a local pub where he had become acquainted with several other young men. They would have a couple beers, eat dinner and shoot a few games of pool. When they all left to go home, Robert got into his car and began looking for a place to park for the night. You see – Robert slept in his car.
Robert didn’t want to spend his money on rent, utilities and furniture. He was determined to own his own business as soon as possible so he ate most of his meals at the hotel. He washed his few clothes at a Laundromat, and he put every dollar he didn’t spend into the bank.
The day finally came when Robert was able to walk into a car dealership and pay cash for a long, white, stretch limousine. He quit his job at the hotel and started a limo service. Then he moved to the high-rent district. He now slept in a limousine.
Robert earned good money with his limousine business. His manners continued to serve him well as they brought repeat customers and good tips. He was able to save even faster than before. This time it didn’t take as long before he was able pay cash for another limousine.
Robert hired a driver for his second limousine. Then he rented an apartment and moved in. Now he had a street address and all the collateral he needed to go to the bank and borrow money for more limousines.
Robert handed me his business card. It read Transportation Fleet. “Oh,” I said. “You have a whole fleet of limos now!”
“Yes,” he said. “And trucks. And buses.”
“You really have been successful,” I said.
“God has blessed me abundantly.” His brilliant, but humble, smile told me a lot more about him as he continued, “In fact, my business was recently featured in Entrepreneur magazine as one of the best young companies. We netted a profit of ten million dollars this past year.”
“Congratulations. How old are you Robert?” I was amazed at him.
He smiled. “I just turned thirty-five.”
Robert said he has never forgotten where he came from. He regularly goes into the inner city and tries to show minority children that they can escape the ghetto and make something of themselves. What an inspiring young man!
After meeting Robert, I always concluded my classes by telling Robert’s story. Occasionally I heard “Wow!” But mostly the students just got up from their seats and silently filed out of the room, lost in thought. Later, I heard how Robert’s story had inspired many of them to make changes in their spending and savings plans.
I believe God puts the right people in our path at the right time. That evening in Duluth Robert was the right person to be seated across from me at dinner. He not only inspired my students; he inspired me. I began prioritizing and saving my time as Robert had prioritized and saved his money. That afforded me the time I needed to write the book I wanted to write. That book, Reaching Past the Wire, a Nurse at Abu Ghraib, was released by Borealis Books on September 1, 2007. Since that time, I have published several others, having learned the importance of passing the marshmallow test.
Thank you, Robert. Thank you, Lord.
Have you found a way to organize your money or time to reach your important goals? If so, please share them with us. My blog website is found at www.connielounsbury.com. And if you don’t know what the marshmallow test is, ask me on my blog site and I’ll tell you. Also, if you sign up to receive my blog in your email box each week, you will receive a blessing in the form of a story, advice, or other information. www.connielounsbury.com.
Blessings for a simpler life,
- BLESSINGS FOR A SIMPLER LIFE
- Hobos of the Great Depression