The Sacrifices We Make

I’ll never forget the day my daughter was born. My wife woke me up at 3AM and said we needed to go to the hospital right away. She was 9 months pregnant and the time had finally come. My daughter was on her way into this world. 

 

We got to the hospital around 3:30AM. Shortly after arriving, I remembered that I was scheduled to be at work for my security guard job at 7AM.  A job that paid me by the hour and had no benefits.

 

I sent an email to my boss explaining that I was at the hospital with my wife and that she was in labor. That I would need to take tomorrow off. One day, that’s all I needed. I asked my boss if he could find someone from the on-call pool to cover for me and fill my shift. (the on-call pool was made up of other security guards who regularly picked up other people’s shifts, to earn extra money.)

 

About an hour later, I got a nasty reply from my boss that said it was unacceptable for me to take the day off and I couldn’t have any time off without giving 2 weeks advance notice. My boss went on to tell me that he would not ask to see if anyone wanted to take my shift and If I didn’t show up to my shift at 7AM, they would stop scheduling me hours to work. Essentially, if I didn’t show up to work at 7AM, I would be out of a job. Jobs like these pay you by the hour, so if you don’t have hours to work, then you don’t get paid.

 

So what did I do? Well, I had a wife and 2 kids to support. So I showed up to work at 7AM, just a few hours after my daughter had been born. Paternity leave? Paid time off? These were luxuries and privileges that people like me simply didn’t have. At the end of the day, as much as I wanted to at least be able to spend one day with my newborn daughter, unpaid bills didn’t care about my feelings.

 

Even though it might seem like a small sacrifice at the time, it’s not until you look back in hindsight, that you’re able to see some of those sacrifices were more significant than others. I will never get that day back. I will never have that moment or the chance to be with my daughter on her 1st day in this world, again.

 

Sacrifices are essential to growth and success but looking back now after 10 years, I am able to see more clearly which of those sacrifices actually turned out to be the most significant ones.

Going Dark

In 2008 I desperately needed to change my life and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I had to finally quit smoking, I had to lose almost 100 lbs, I had to get myself into a good career, I had to get myself out of debt, I had to start saving money, and I had to start repairing my credit score.

 

I needed to do all of these things just to get my life back on track. Do you want to know the first thing I did? My first step? I deleted all social media. There’s a few reasons why I knew I had to delete social media if I wanted my journey to be successful.

 

First and foremost, It is quite literally a distraction. The obvious elephant in the room when it comes to the negative effects of social media is the immense waste of time it can be. It’s a distraction from real life. There isn’t any time to focus on your own life and the things you need to do, when you are constantly distracted by checking, posting, and updating social media.

 

The second reason is the risk of social media diluting my self worth and my vision. Due to the innate nature of social media, it inherently leads to comparing your life to lives of other people when you see their posts. You see their lifestyle, where they are vacationing, what kind of car they just bought, all the delicious looking food they’re enjoying, etc. It also had the potential to not only dilute my self worth (by becoming discouraged if I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life yet) but it also had the potential to dilute the clarity of my vision.

 

For example, If I see that my friend is posting pictures of their Hawaiian vacation, that will take up some space in my head by giving it my attention and my brain power. When you have goals of your own to reach, you need to be obsessed with those goals until completion.

 

Lastly was the element of surprise. I wanted everyone to really feel the effect of my accomplishments. When I finally got in touch with them again, I wanted them to be surprised with everything that I had done.

 

It’s the same concept as when you see the same child daily, you tend to not notice that they are growing little by little everyday. But if you see that child once and don’t see them again for a couple of years, when you finally see them, you are amazed by how much they’ve grown. I wanted people to be amazed by how much I had grown.

 

There’s no way that could happen if they saw me and my status updates everyday on social media. I honestly didn’t want anyone to be a part of my journey. I only wanted them to see me at the starting line and then not again until the finish line.

 

When I look back after those 5 years at what I had done on my own, I realized that this transformational journey was actually quite a spiritual experience and that wouldn’t have happened if I’d had an audience.

Drowning In Debt

When I was only 20 years old I was already $10,000 in debt and my credit score was 400.

Debt collectors would call me at all hours of the day. I would get calls at 2am. They would bully, threaten, and harass me. They tormented me on a daily basis.

 

When you’re 20 years old, that is honestly scary. We now have laws that prevent debt collectors from this type of behavior but this was back in 2006. Before the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act became a law in 2010. Back in 2006, they could do and say almost anything they wanted to, and believe me, they did. 

 

The worst part of the whole experience is that I knew I couldn’t pay off these debts. It was too overwhelming just trying to survive on a $6 an hour job, not to mention pay off $10,000 in debt. I eventually lost hope and buried my head in the sand.

 

Until the day I made a plan to break down my massive debts into bite sized pieces. I saved a little bit of money whenever I could and once I had enough to pay off one in full, I would pay it off right away. Then I would start saving to pay off the next one, and so on, until I paid off every single one.

 

After being bullied, harassed, and tormented on a daily basis by these people, everytime I paid one off, it felt great. Each debt paid in full was like a weight being lifted off of my shoulders. It lightened the burden on my mind and soul. Because it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank. The foundation of your financial health is your credit history and score.

 

This is just one example of how success and accomplishments don’t happen overnight. They happen slowly, one step at a time.

Why I Turned down $250,000

A few years ago when I was around 30 years old,  I had a job offer with a total annual compensation of $250,000. To some of you, this might not seem like a lot of money but to me, a blue collar kid who grew up poor and never went to college, this was a lot.

 

I wasn’t looking for a new role and a startup company in the silicon valley called me one day, invited me to their office, took me out for dinner and drinks, and offered me nearly a quarter of a million dollars per year to help them lead and grow customer success for their company.

 

The position itself was awesome and it would have given me the chance to be one of the top people at a growing startup. The compensation, perks, and team were all great. The company also had strong growth numbers for a startup. It checked all the boxes, so to speak.

 

But I turned it down.

 

It wasn’t an easy decision but in the end, I turned it down. What I was doing at the time at my current company was more important than the money being offered to me. I was already at a startup that I joined fairly early and it was important to me to stay with that company and see it through to completion to an IPO or acquisition.

 

It was also my loyalty to my team at the time and what we were trying to build together that caused me to turn down the offer.  It was in that moment when I realized that I had reached a point in my life where I was searching for something more than money. I was searching for the ability to do something meaningful. Everyone has these moments, we just need to be mindful enough to recognize them for what they are.

 

Losing Millions

I remember being around 4 years old and often going to visit my grandparents at their mansion in the hills of Silicon Valley.  A few years later, when I was around 7 years old, I remember visiting them at the motel downtown where they were now living.

 

They lost everything. Their mansion, their cars, investment properties. Everything. Gone in the blink of an eye.

 

Before they lost it all, they lived in a mansion in Los Altos Hills, CA , where the median home price is around 8 million dollars. They had almost 2 dozen other properties spread out all over the Silicon Valley.  Los Altos, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. If I were to take a guess at their net worth in today’s terms, it would probably be near 100 million dollars.

 

It’s quite tragic really, from a mansion in the hills to a trailer park downtown, in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

 

The conclusion I came to was that it was actually not gone in the blink of an eye. Their wealth was slowly eroded by stagnation and complacency. By 40 years old, my grandfather retired. He stopped hustling and sat back on what he had built. However, they didn’t change their lifestyle.

 

As the money started to dwindle, they would default on payments. The bank would foreclose on one property, then the next, and the next. They slowly lost everything, bit by bit.

 

It’s easy to just say they weren’t smart with money or they should have been satisfied with less. But the truth is, this is not a story about what will happen if you don’t control your money. Instead, this is a story about what will happen when you let your money control you.

 

I know for a fact that witnessing this tragedy as a child and trying to understand what could possibly lead to this, helped to shape how I treat money now as an adult. The moral that I learned from living through this experience is that pride and complacency can slowly destroy everything you’ve built in your life.

 

Appreciate what you have but don’t lose the drive that made you get it in the first place. Always be willing to adjust if your circumstances change because if you dont, it could all be gone tomorrow.

 

Bridging The Gap

I am not special for having a hard life growing up. There are many people in this world who come from hard lives. I am not special for becoming what most would consider successful, at a young age. There are many young successful people. Especially here in the Silicon Valley.

 

However, what does make me different is that most of those successful people didn’t come from hard lives and most of the people who came from hard lives didn’t end up becoming successful. I sit right in the middle of those two worlds. I am one of the few who finally found a way to bridge that gap. And I learned a lot along the way.

 

I had no silver spoon, I had no family connections, and I came from a poor family. I had every right to be angry at the world and play the victim. I could have lived my life blaming society and the system for keeping the poor, working class people like my parents down.

 

I could have gone through the rest of my life as a victim, blaming everyone else for my problems or I could stand up, own it, and try to be successful so my kids wouldn’t have to repeat the same cycle. One thing I realized in my early twenties is that blame and excuses won’t pay the bills.

 

Here’s the thing about having a hard life, it doesn’t matter how much blame you place on whatever it was that brought you into that situation, it will never be able to get you out. It’s up to you to build the bridge to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. It’s up to you to bridge the gap.

 

No matter what your life is today, it doesn’t need to stay that way. Changing your future starts with one thought, one step, right now in the present moment. The decision to no longer be a victim of your circumstances. Remember one thing – victimhood can dig you a hole but it can’t build a ladder to get you out.

The Root Of My Drive

Since I grew up disadvantaged, I always put in extra effort at work so my kids never had to experience the things I did when I was growing up. Among other things, I was always ashamed of where I lived and our family car. So I made it a goal to have a nice house and car. When I was in my twenties, that’s what drove me. To me, a nice house and car equalled success and happiness. 

 

I never went to college, which meant that in order for me to achieve this goal, I would have to work harder than my more privileged peers. So I spent almost the entire decade of my twenties working tirelessly. I went to work all day long at low paying jobs and then went to school at night. Making incremental steps along the way. I sacrificed time with my family to put my career first. I told myself if I could just get these things then I would be happy.

 

By the time I was 30 years old, I had done it. I had a house in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the Silicon Valley, had a brand new luxury car in my garage, and my kids went to top schools.

 

But you know what? It didn’t bring me happiness.

 

At some point along the way, I realized that it wasn’t about having an expensive house. It was about my kids not having to go to bed worried if their parents had enough money to pay the rent, like I did. It wasn’t about having an expensive car. It was about having a car that wouldn’t break down on the side of the road like mine did.

 

 

What we think is driving our motivation is often driven by something else. Something deeper. It took me almost 10 years before I was able to recognize what the actual root of my drive was. What I was trying to acheive was that my kids were happy, healthy, and had a roof over their head.  What was really driving me was not material things for myself but peace of mind for my kids.

 

 

 

Work Ethic And Values Are Timeless

My Great Grandfather died at 103 years old. He was born into a poor family on a farm in Georgia. He couldn’t read or write and spent his days working on the family farm instead of in school. When he was 14 years old he ran away from home, lied about his age, and joined the U.S. Navy. He sent his paychecks back to his parents and siblings to support them.

 

After the Navy, he settled in Long beach California where he worked a blue collar job for the electric company, climbing telephone poles. He did this same job for over 30 years. At some point after the Navy, he joined the Masons and dedicated his life to being a Freemason. When he died, he had reached the highest achievable level in the organization.

 

When he was 98 years old, he was mugged walking down the street in Long Beach. He chased after the people who stole his wallet.

 

Growing up with no education and never learning to read or write until he was in the Navy, he understood and valued the importance of education. When he was 99 years old, he went back to school and took a class at Long Beach community college.

 

Family was the most important thing to him. He had over a dozen great grandchildren. He would handwrite a letter to each and every one of us every month. One time when I was around 10 years old, I typed a letter to him on my school computer. He asked me to please only handwrite letters to him because of the importance of penmanship.

 

Up until the age of 100 years old he would swim in the ocean everyday. In 2003, just before he died, he was admitted into the U.S. Navy hall of fame for being the oldest living survivor of his battleship. Today, there are 4 generations of Bowers living in California because of him. 

Pride Is An Obstacle

At one point or another, we all face some type of obstacle in our path. These are mostly from external sources and are often unavoidable. It’s just part of life. However, there’s an obstacle that most of us put in our own path without even realizing. That obstacle is pride.

 

When I was 14, I worked everyday after school bussing tables and washing dishes at a restaurant so I could have lunch money at school. All of my coworkers were immigrants from Mexico. They taught me Spanish and I taught them English. I wasn’t too proud to do it.

 

When I was 21, I worked as a janitor at a motel. I had two coworkers. One was a paranoid schizophrenic and we all  had to make sure never to end a conversation just as he entered the room because he would think we were talking about him. We learned that the hard way. My other coworker was an ex-convict, just out of prison. I mopped floors, emptied garbage cans, cleaned up spills, and cleaned toilets for $6 an hour. I wasn’t too proud to do it.

 

When I was 23, I worked graveyard shift as a security guard because that was the only shift that allowed me to get my foot in the door.  I regularly worked 60 hours a week because I not only worked my shift but I also took every extra shift I could get. I wasn’t too proud.

 

When I was 24, I had a newborn baby at home. I left every morning at 7AM to go to work  and returned at 11PM every night. I worked all day and then went to school at night to become certified in software QA. I ate dinner alone in my car every night.  I wasn’t too proud to do it.

 

After getting certified in software QA, I took an unpaid internship at a software company. I wasn’t too proud to do it.

 

That was 10 years ago and I’ve been in tech ever since. Never underestimate the people that don’t have the obstacle of pride in their path. The ones who aren’t too proud to do whatever it takes.

 

Being Humble In The Silicon Valley

When I was growing up, I tended to gravitate towards the kids who were less affluent, or had problems at home like I did because I could relate to them more. I didn’t have to hide my true life from them because we had that in common and we wouldn’t judge each other.

 

Now that I’m older, I’m starting to think that maybe what made me gravitate towards them was that they were humble and that is what we actually had in common. A good friend of mine who is not from the Silicon Valley but lives here now, recently gave me his thoughts on the people here.

 

Since I was born and raised in the Silicon Valley, I was interested in an outside perspective. His view was essentially that nobody here has common courtesy. They won’t wave for you to go ahead of them at stop sign, they cut in line, they push and shove, and they act like they are trying to get everything they can for themselves. Whether that’s a faster commute home, more food at a buffet, or a better parking spot. They act entitled and don’t seem to care about strangers. People don’t even know their next door neighbors here.

 

One of the things like a lot about this friend and his family is that they are down to earth and humble. I’m sure they make good money even by Silicon Valley standards but they don’t get caught up in the race to act affluent or keep up with the Joneses. They are just down to earth, good people.

 

Again, just like my childhood, them being humble is what attracted me to them. I’ve never lived anywhere other than the west coast, so when he tells me about the way people act and treat each other where he’s from, I always listen admiringly, like listening to a story about a fantasy land.

 

Now, I have to admit it’s certainly not the case with everyone and while I am sure he is generalizing, he definitely touched on a nerve that I myself, as a Silicon Valley native, had been feeling.

 

Of course there are some humble and down to earth people here but there’s also some creedence to thinking that think the vast majority are trying to give off the impression of wealth and get so caught up in their quest for wealth, it comes at the expense of how they treat others. Since I was born and raised here, I am used to people treating each other that way. And that is sad.

 

There is a never ending cycle here of comparing themselves to others, consuming just enough to one up their neighbors, and making just the minimum payments in order to keep up and barely stay afloat. Perhaps the reason people don’t take the time to get to know eachother or treat strangers with courtesy is because they are so wrapped up in their own lives.

 

There was a recent study that found people in Silicon Valley making up to $400,000 per year consider themselves to be middle class.  I would be curious to see a study that asked these same people how many of them felt that they deserved to be middle class and not upper class.

 

This sentiment could be partly because anywhere else in the country or world, they would actually be upper class. It could also be because many of them have Ivy league degrees and because of those factors, they feel they are entitled to something. But in reality, that’s the type of arrogance and entitlement that is rampant in the Silicon Valley.

 

Titles, salary, and wealth does not entitle anyone to anything. Being humble and having courtesy for others is worth more than all of those things.

 

I am a minority in Silicon Valley because I was born and raised here. Most of the people here are transplants from all over the world. So the larger question I am left with is does the Silicon Valley attract these kinds of people? Or are these kinds of people created as a byproduct, when searching for wealth and success, after they’ve moved to the Silicon Valley?