My First Ten Years

I wrote this on December 17th 20011 in review of my first ten years as an adult.

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Ah, my life as a young college student. This is on a weekend back at home in the kitchen of the church. My brother took this picture.
2001 age 18 The Beginning of Living for Me

Ten years ago, I graduated high school. Prior to receiving my high school diploma, I enlisted in the Army National Guard, completed nine weeks of basic combat training, and completed an additional seven weeks of advance individual training. My purpose for joining these ranks was to use the Veteran’s Affairs Benefits program to pay for college. That summer prior to my first year of college, my family moved from Iowa to Illinois. Across the border in Indiana, not far away, I attended Hyles-Anderson College. This is the college that my father had graduated from sixteen years earlier.

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Taken at college for Halloween. The college chancellor and president visited every room handing out candy
2002 College: The Endless Frontier

My roommates were a disappointment. I had expected more refined behavior. Their grotesque shenanigans and careless incongruence to the Bible college spirit, along with one case of theft which involved delivered pizza and my debit card without my consent, prompted me to change rooms before the next semester. My new room mates were not quite angelic either, but we got along more harmoniously.

2003 Employing Myself

My first year of college came to a joyous end. The calm of summer was, for me, the precipice for opportunity. I would not let it idly pass me by. I bought a lawn mower, a weed eater, and a gas can and created an income for myself. My grandmother lived only five miles from the college. I spent a few days a week there. I had to fill out a pass each week to do so. My grandmother was a key aid to my business. I was able to keep my equipment in her garage and use her phone number as a contact. She let me use her copier to mass produce fliers, so I could go door to door and hand them out. I went to hundreds of houses. The hard work paid off. The calls came in. As I arrived for the week, having made the five mile trip from college via bicycle, she would happily inform me of my new clients. I pushed my lawn mower, trimmer, and gas can to each of my clientele. My modest flow of income paid for the equipment that I had bought, my dormitory bills, summer classes, and fall registration.

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I took this after a night shift as the sun was coming up.
2004 Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Freedom

By the end of the first semester of my second year, I realized that I could no longer rely solely upon the VA benefits and my one weekend a month training pay. At the beginning of the spring semester, I started working at a telemarketing job. I managed to sustain, in my budget, a four hundred dollar monthly surplus. Later, in that second semester, I received a call from the readiness non-commissioned officer from my unit. He informed me that I would be attached, along with a few others from my unit, to a battalion that was deploying to Afghanistan. I would ultimately find out, after an arduous tug of war between my battalion colonel and the college administration, that I would lose all the potential credits from that semester. I would also lose my clientele that I had worked so diligently to obtain. All was not lost, though. I wouldn’t mind the new adventure, the dramatic increase in pay, and the year and a half of time away from college.

During this time away, I was able to develop my writing skills; recording some of the more interesting events that happened during the deployment. I also discovered my ability to write poetry. Furthermore, the deployment gave me an opportunity to ponder, with significant deliberation, my direction in life. My ambition grew with intensity. While there, I was promoted from an average foot soldier to an acting motor pool sergeant. My responsibilities expanded from a standard issuance of battle gear to the maintenance and dispatching of the companies fleet of armored and unarmored Humvees. Along with five or so complimentary ribbons and medals that went to most on the deployment, I was one of fewer awarded with the accommodation medal. The end of the deployment brought the dawning of an apex in my life, but my list of accomplishments had only begun.

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2005 Living the Dream

The summer of 2005 met me with climactic euphoria, financial wealth, and a radiant future. My brother and I went on an unforgettable summer road trip and retraced most of our childhood neighborhoods and friends in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. We elegantly cruised in my newly purchased mustang convertible. Life was good and I knew it. I never took one moment for granted.

2006 The Boss Who Changed My Life

In the fall, I registered back into college. I put away a large sum of money in an investment account at my bank. I saw what I had left in the bank dwindle and began a job working for a carpenter. I was one of six or seven guys who were hired. On the day I was hired I was sick, for the second time since I had returned from Afghanistan. Despite feeling weak and miserable I labored intensely. I perceived that week to be an evaluation and I wanted to come out ahead despite my disadvantage. My toil paid off. Mr. Gomez Tarde made me the supervisor, and often introduced me as his “right hand man.” The summer came and the lawn business bug was making me antsy. I asked him if he was certain he would have plenty of work for me to do for the summer. He assured me that there would be plenty of work, so I discarded my temptation to begin a new lawn business.

I worked faithfully and I was rewarded with a raise. Jim Gomez seemed to know so much, yet he hadn’t any formal credentials. He talked about world events and intelligently expounded on a plethora of diverse topics. Over the summer, my curiosity was aroused as to how he came to know all that he seemed to know, without a college diploma. While roofing a house, I finally asked him, “How did you learn all the things you’ve learned?” He replied, “Anything you need to know is either in a book somewhere or on the internet.” He continued, “Anytime I wanted to learn about something, I simply went to the library, found a book, and read about it.” That simple disclosure changed my life! It put a map in the hands of my ambition. Now, whatever I wanted to know, I could know. It was such a simple and often overlooked concept in a world where you must submit yourself to an overpriced classroom and insult yourself by being subservient to the throne of academia. I realized that I didn’t need someone to sell me a book and then charge me hundreds of dollars to explain it to me. The simple, affordable, and ubiquitously accessible information in the age I lived in, coincidentally called, “the information age” made obsolete the preposterous, inefficient, and impractical method of acquiring knowledge that college offered. I would not, however, change my ways as of yet, until the practicality of this revelation was proven.

 

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My business card
2007 Employing Myself and Others

I acquired Jim’s old vehicle, a Nissan Pathfinder 95 SE. He put it up for sale for $1200. I negotiated him down to $950. It needed some work, but I eared back every dollar that I had initially put into the car by renting it out to college students. Work with Jim thinned out at the end of that year. Renting my additional vehicle, Drill pay, and VA benefits, and a decent bank statement would keep me going jobless until the summer.

In the spring of 2007, I would contemplate starting a lawn business all over again. I calculated that forty customers would be a satisfactory base. I set my goal at sixty. I again went door to door; handing out flyers as I did four years prior. I quickly built up a base equal to the size I had ended with the last time. I also made business cards. I met a property manager at church one evening and mentioned that I cut grass. He liked the price and asked me for a card. He had over a dozen properties that he wanted me to cut for him, nearly doubling my base overnight. He contacted me a few weeks later and told me that he knew someone who had even more properties, but he wanted to make sure I could handle them. I assured him, and he gave me the number to call. My base doubled again! By the end of the summer I had surpassed my goal of sixty with a final base of eighty-five. By the time school was about to end, I was well on my way to the lawns I needed. If this trend continued I would not be able to cut all the lawns myself. I talked to one of the guys who had worked under me the summer prior with Mr. Gomez. Steve happily took the work, and became my most valuable employee.

In July, I turned in all of my army equipment and walked away from the armory completing six years of service in the Army National Guard. In that time I had achieved sharpshooter (34/40) and the physical fitness award (297/300). I walked away having gained everything I went in for and much more. It was a good six years, and I wanted to leave it that way.

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My Yellow Page add which brought me calls nearly every day and saved my business.
2008 Affordable Lawn Services Inc.

As the summer of 2008 approached, Steve and I made preparations for the upcoming year. Over the course of the summer prior, Steve had taken on the responsibility of keeping records of his work and billing. He made my job much easier. I wanted him to take over the office work and be involved in my decision making for the business. He consented to the promotion. We talked to the bank and negotiated a loan for the necessities of expansion. The bank helped me incorporate, set up business checking and savings accounts, and loan accounts. The official name of the business was Affordable Lawn Services Inc. Steve would become the secretary of the company, and I would become the chief executive officer. I gave Steve veto power over my decisions. We would deliberate over business decisions over a series of meetings. I also recruited the insight of another friend, who had experience in tree trimming and removal. Kyle helped me pick out good quality equipment for that part of the business. Steve and I had hoped he would take over the operation of that part, but Kyle had a different idea. He wanted only to be a free consultant and wasn’t interested in the job despite my lining up a hand full of estimations for him with the promise of plenty of more business. Though the equipment proved useful on occasion, the tools never paid for their purchase as I was consumed with keeping up on cutting grass.

Steve and I talked about my hiring more help. We didn’t quite have enough lawns at that point in April, but I was certain we would have more in time. I admitted to him that for now, it would be a luxury for me as I was not eager to trim after cutting the grass. He consented to my proposition. John would be my trimmer guy. His presents would add to the security of the equipment as well. Most of our lawns were in the former murder capital of the world; Gary, Indiana. While I was cutting the back, John would cut the front and visa versa. It proved to be effective. Not one tool was stolen.

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By August the company had more work than it could process. We were only able to do six thousand dollars worth of business despite having a base for around eight thousand. Regardless, I wasn’t about to hire anyone at the end of the summer.  With our expanded base of over two hundred lawns, Affordable Lawn Services was poised to reign in around fifty thousand dollars of business for the year of 2009. This was not counting the prospect of adding any new lawns. Steve and I met with a Yellow Pages’ representative. We looked over our options of advertising. Despite the high price tag, I thought it would be worth it if we made the add just right. My business plan of expansion was to target real estate and property managers for 2008, which we had done successfully, then target residential clientele for 2009, then after catching up financially we could look into entering the commercial business market. I wanted to diversify within our specialty as the many business books, I had read, endorsed. After all the options were presented and the most favorable was highlighted, I turned to Steve for the final answer. After a few seconds of thought he responded, “Let’s do it”. I was prepared to except the veto if it was no, but was delighted that he was on board. Even with the later downturns of the business, the add proved to be a lifesaver, and paid for itself generously.

dscn05162009 The Irony of Comfort

A storm was brewing unbeknownst to me. I thought to myself, “Even if we don’t get one new customer next year, we have a base for nearly fifty thousand dollars!” It was the, “Nothing can stop me now” famous last thoughts. The summer of 2009 was a cool constant 70’s temperature. One major client filed bankruptcy. Another real estate client moved to Valparaiso, too far from where I was cutting. The final blow to the mass of lists was when I lost my client of two years. I wasn’t cutting the lawns personally, by now. I had choices and I wasn’t about to cut grass in the slums of Gary when new and richer clients were calling me in million dollar neighborhoods (ok one client in a million dollar neighborhood). Before I could correct the problem effectively, I had lost my last client with a list extending to nearly forty properties. I had to sit down my one last employee and regretfully tell him that he had un-worked himself out of a job. “How can you screw up lawns in Gary?” I thought. He was suppose to cut and trim, and he claimed he was doing so. In all, I not only lost my biggest client, I lost several dozen other residential clients as well. In all my latest hire would destroy over $1500 a month in corporate revenue. Perhaps I hadn’t trained him properly, and assumed that because he worked in a lawn business before, that he knew what he was doing. I was left to myself, with a comfortable yet doomed, one man operation. Our foresight and gutsy decision to expand into the residential market proved to be my lifesaver for that year. Though I still had a job when others were losing theirs, the corporate debt was not getting any smaller and I needed to bail it out.

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This picture captures my life at the time
2010 The Year of Darkness

After looking around at my options, I decided to take advantage of the “try a year” program in the Army Reserves. The “career counselor” assured me that I would get deployed. Getting deployed was my objective. I knew the business would not go on. Too much money was going to large minimum payments. Furthermore, the equipment and my truck were doomed to need repair or replacement. My plan was to sell the customer base, take on the corporate debt, and pay it off while deployed overseas.

I joined in the fall of 2009. By April 2010, I had taken every measure to get deployed without success. I had no choice but to jump back into the condemned scenario and cross my fingers. Luck would not have me, and everything fell apart in a dramatic all inclusive implosion. It became the darkest year of my life. I knew with my mind that things would turn around in time, but when you lose everything, and stand with nothing; logic seems to become mute within the vibes of pain and despair. My eighty-five year old landlady with a foreign accent didn’t seem to care about a recession or my success in finding some temporary work. I was only two weeks behind, waiting for my check six weeks after starting temporary work. It was too late; however, the eviction papers were served days before I got the money. I had plenty of time to move, for which I was grateful, though it wasn’t out of the kindness of my landladies’ heart, but simply the law of the land. I thought, “If I could move anywhere I might as well move where I wish.” Texas was a distant land brewing fondly in my heart. I researched the state extensively. Texas had hot summers, and very mild winters. I hated the cold, and didn’t mind the heat. Texas was a politically conservative state too, concurring with my own convictions. Texas was friendly to business, and had no state income tax. Lastly, but certainly not least in my evaluation, Texas added as many (or close to as many) jobs to its economy as all the other 49 states combined. I had narrowed my destination to the Dallas area. In the end, however, it would not be possible for me to move there for some time. Instead, I moved near Detroit, Michigan, where my sister and her husband lived.

After more applications than I had ever wished to fill, I was hired at a gym called Planet Fitness. Day two didn’t go so well for me. After dusting off all the open equipment, I was tasked to fold T-shirts. I sat there fighting with great resolve to keep tears from pouring down my face. How utterly humiliated I was to be folding T-shirts and carrying around a hand duster like a maid. It was awful. My countenance must have mirrored, too well, my inner crippled spirit. At the end of my shift, without any warning at all, I was let go. I was canned on the second day! I left in utter shock. The drive home was long, dreary, and unforgettable. I thought I had hit a low point before, but this felt much lower. After a week back in Hillsdale where my parents lived; doing some odd jobs that some generous people had for me, I got a phone call for work at a factory. The pay was to be better, the hours were to be better, and I could in time join the same shift that my sister worked and share transportation. For once in many years, I had steady and growing income.

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Taken on a trip to Chicago 2011
2011 The Glistening Dawn of Personal Recovery and Prosperity 

Having a job was OK, but, for me it was only a start. I looked into the Army National Guard as a substitute for income. No matter what happened with the Guard, I would benefit. Since January and as of last month, my income has more than doubled. This is due from a raise at  work and some extensive army training each month. This year I’ve  added expert shot (37/40) to my credentials in the army. No matter what, a soldier ought to be physically fit and know how to shoot well. Though I pass handsomely, I have some improvement to go on my physical fitness. My goal is to break past the 300 (100% in 3 categories) that I came so close to breaking last time. Extra sit ups and push-ups only count if you max or exceed in the other areas as well.

So far this year I’ve listened to six and a half audiobooks (four of which twice through) and read through at least three. These include “The Ascent of Money”, “Basic Economics”, “From Colony to Superpower”, “Decision Points”, “The Power of Body Language”, “The Future for Investors”, “Getting Started in Stocks,” “Macro Economics”, and “Business at the Speed of Thought”.

While others mill about at the factory listening only to music or nothing at all, I expand my knowledge. While others sit idly at the bus station or on the bus; peering aimlessly out the window, I’m reading a book. While others go home and waste their evening and weekend, I have goals and things to accomplish.

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