Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Own Your Future

We all have moments in our life when we discover what our purpose is.  Sometimes it’s apparent when we’re young, like when a child prodigy first picks up a musical instrument. Sometimes we discover our purpose when reflecting on pivotal moments from our past, like a unique job offer.  When people recognize the gift of their life, they don’t always know what to do with it.  But every now and then, magic happens, and a person’s passion aligns with their vocation.  This is one of those stories… 

Steve’s grandfather immigrated to the United States from Italy.  He found work as a laborer, but when he discovered the power of being a small business entrepreneur, it transformed his life. Steve’s father was an engineer and his mother a special education teacher.  She home-schooled Steve in his early years as he struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia.

At the age of seven, Steve’s father took him to hear a speech by John F. Kennedy, who was running for President.  Steve was too small to see over the crowd, but remembers Kennedy’s words as he described a program to inspire America’s youth to serve their country in what would become known as the Peace Corps.

After college, Steve worked at Ford Motor Company in their finance department.  In those days, Ford assigned numbers to every employee’s position with relation to their rank in the company hierarchy.  An assembly line worker might be a number 30, while the CEO was number 1.  After several years, Steve had earned quite a bit of responsibility and influence, but he was still 21 positions from the top.

Some years later, Steve moved to New York City and launched an import/export business.  It was small and a struggle to get off the ground, but as founder and top decision-maker, Steve was finally the number 1.  His life took an unexpected turn when he was mugged for a measly ten dollars while jogging in Central Park.

Steve met with a therapist who suggested a technique called flooding to help overcome the trauma of the experience.  In his case, it meant surrounding himself with inner-city teenagers, and so Steve became a special education teacher and asked to be assigned to one of the most dangerous schools in the city.

Steve quickly realized that he wasn’t a very good teacher.  One day, he asked a student who was acting out in class why he was being so unruly.  The response was simply, “You are a boring teacher.”  Steve asked if there was ever a time the student was interested in what he had to say.  The student said, “The time you talked about your import/export business.  I loved hearing how you bought and sold your products and made money doing that.”

Steve started talking more about business in class.  Then he made the leap that would change his life forever.  He started teaching his students how to start their own businesses.  He became certain he was on to something while teaching a class of at-risk students in the South Bronx.  This group was being kept out of school for various reasons, including selling drugs on school property and assaulting a teacher.  Steve was given permission to teach them entrepreneurship, and the results were amazing.  Not only did the majority end up back in school and graduate, but several started businesses that earned over $10,000.

Steve found his passion in empowering a generation of inner city youth to use entrepreneurship as a catalyst to live not only a better life, but the life of their dreams.  Twenty-five years later, the non-profit organization he founded, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), has reached over 500,000 students in 18 states and 9 countries.

I know this story well because I met Steve Mariotti in 1988, just when he was getting NFTE off the ground.  I was in my last year of college, and we were both speaking at an entrepreneurship conference.  Shortly thereafter, Steve made me an offer.  He asked me to give him one year of my life and help grow NFTE.  He said I wouldn’t make a lot of money, but promised that I’d never regret it.  His words inspired me, perhaps the way JFK’s words had inspired him, and I agreed, giving NFTE five years instead of just one.

Today is Steve’s 60th birthday, and I wrote this to wish him the very best.  But is it Steve’s story or mine?  Thanks to Steve’s and my time at NFTE, I went on to discover my own dream of empowering young people through what I call the mindset revolution.  Which means this can also be your story.  The two greatest days in your life are the day you’re born, and the day you discover why.  Seek out your why and take action.  When you do, you’ll live your dreams and make the world a better place!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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