Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hell's Kitchen

I could hardly believe what I heard as Michael, the 18 year old ex-gang leader, told his story at the beginning of class…

“I got shot!  The kid shot me two times, once in the leg and once near my hip.  He wasn’t tryin’ to kill me, but he was sendin’ a message for sure.  Any other day, I woulda destroyed him.  I woulda sent him a message, and it woulda been final:  Ya don’t mess with Mike.  I will end you.  But not that day.  That day was different.  ‘Cause that day I decided I was leavin’ the gang.  No more runnin’ from cops.  No more lyin’ to my Mom about where the money comes from.  I’m out.  They’ll find a new leader.  The price to get outta the gang was bein’ shot by this crazy new kid who wanted to get in.  But so be it.  He wanted in, I wanted out, and these scars’ll be a reminder of my old life… one I’m done livin’.  Today’s the start of a new future.”    

He finished, then looked me in the eye and said, “So what are you gonna teach me today, Scotty?  I’m ready to learn.”

I met Michael when I was in my early twenties, teaching a youth entrepreneurship class in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen” neighborhood.  Michael was a tough kid sitting in the front row.  I asked if anyone knew how to spell entrepreneur and he raised his hand, then completely massacred the word on the chalk board.  But I immediately loved his willingness to take a risk.  Little did I know that he was the leader of one of the most ruthless gangs in Brooklyn, New York – The Decepticons.  Even so, Michael was eager to learn about business.  He had amazing street smarts, which translated perfectly to business.  Two months later, he decided to leave the gang… but leaving wasn’t easy.  In order to get himself out, he had to get shot.  Not fatally, but enough to deter other defectors, and to remind him to keep his mouth shut.

When I asked Mike what he was passionate about, he told me he’d always loved elevators.  He loved the mechanical system that ran them.  He also regularly complained that all the elevators in the housing project where he lived were broken.  No repair men would come onto the property because they expected to get mugged.  So Michael had the idea to become an elevator repairman. After all, who would dare to try and mug him?  He asked me how he could start his own elevator repair business.  I suggested he start by getting a job with a repair company in order to learn the trade and make sure he liked it.  Michael called for an interview, but was told there was a long waiting list, and that it could take months to even get an appointment.  He asked to speak with the president of the company, and the receptionist said that wasn’t possible.  None of this deterred him.

The next day, Michael put on a business suit and went to the parking lot of the Otis Elevator Company at 6am.  He had learned that the president arrived early each day, typically at about 6:30am.  When the president arrived, he was surprised to see a well-dressed teenager waiting at the door.  Michael explained that he had come early to meet him, even though he knew the business didn’t open until 8.  He described his passion for elevators, his ideas about expanding repair service to the toughest neighborhoods, and his burning desire to learn the business—even at an entry level position.  

The president took out one of his business cards, scribbled a note on the back, and handed it to Mike. He told Mike to come back when they opened and to give the card to the front desk manager.  With that, they shook hands and parted ways.  Mike’s heart was pounding as he looked at the business card and turned it over.  He was stunned to read what the president had written on the card:  “Hire him.”  

What’s your burning desire?  What old ways are you willing to part with because they don’t serve you anymore?  It takes courage to make a change in your life.  Sometimes it can even be painful.  But it’s not too late.  It will never be too late!

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

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