“Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way.” ~Les Brown, World Renowned Motivational Speaker who was born out of wedlock, delivered on a front porch of an abandoned home and put up for adoption with his twin brother.
Have you ever experienced a setback, faced adversity or a challenge that you could not overcome or at least thought you couldn’t overcome? We have all experienced that at some point in our lives.
As I look back on my life, in particular my childhood, growing up in a blue collar town of Bridgeport, Pennsylvania located 30 minutes west of Philadelphia nothing ever came easy to me.
I wasn’t the smartest, the best looking, and the most athletic kid out there. I struggled my way through or shall I say fought my way through. I was a timid kid. Always picked on by bullies. Totally opposite of who I am today.
I grew up poor. I lived in a row home with my father, mother and three sisters up until I was 10 yrs. old. My parents received food stamps and we had a welfare medical card for our health insurance. The only real vivid memory I have of my childhood was playing on the sidewalk in front of our house with my younger sister, Kelly. My sister and I were best friends growing up. We didn’t have much but we did have fun with what we had.
At the age of 10, my mother moved us in with our Aunt Jane who lived 3 blocks down the street. My mother had decided to leave my father to get away from the physical abuse and alcoholism. Needless to say, I had to grow up fast.
Growing Up Fast
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
I lived with my Aunt Jane for 2 years before being kicked out of the house for drinking the last of the orange juice. Literally, I was kicked out of her house at the age of 10 for drinking the last of the orange juice. Her reasoning was because she had important medication that she had to take and could only take with her orange juice. My mother was at work so I had to take matters into my own hands.
I filled a trash bag full of my clothes and walked 2 miles to my friend Harry’s house. Harry lived with his mother, 2 brothers, sister, grandmother and uncle in a 3 bedroom home.
I had to negotiate with his grandmother if I could stay there for a while. I agreed to sleep on a cot in a bedroom with Harry and his two brothers. We negotiated $10 a week in rent and I had to buy my own food. Sounded good to me. What did I know being 12yrs old?
One day, I was playing football in the street out in front of Harry’s house with some friends when this rich man, who I’ll call John, driving a brand new black Lincoln Continental stopped to say hello. I knew him because my mother waited tables at his bar. Nice man. Seemed to be pretty wealthy to me. He told me to stop up and see him. He had something he wanted to talk about. I got on my bike and peddled to his home just minutes up the road.
I arrived at his home to find him and his wife sitting at their kitchen table. I sat down and they began to tell me what they were hearing about the living conditions I was experiencing. He had heard that the house was infested with mice and roaches. He then asks me, “Is this true?” I said yes but it was fine. He explained to me what diseases these rodents and insects carry. What did I know, I was 14.
He asked me if I would consider moving in with his family. I agreed immediately. Nice home, in-ground swimming pool. No brainer right? Home cooked meals instead of macaroni and cheese, canned raviolis, hotdogs, frozen pizza etc. Life was looking good.
My Life Got Easier or So I Thought
“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
From the age of 14 to 18 should be the time of your life, right? School, girls, dances. For me, these 4yrs was living as a slave. Which meant missing out on my high school years? Missing out on proms, dances, school trips. Years I would never get back. I found out real fast that in order to have home cooked meals, a clean house, in-ground swimming pool, washed clothes; I had to work my ass off. I wasn’t afraid to work for my keep but it went to extremes beyond anything I could have imagined.
I worked year round for John. Not at his place of business but at his home. I did everything from cutting the grass, pulling weeds, cleaning the pool, taking out the trash, cleaning off the dinner table, running errand after errand, planting trees, building retaining walls, digging up the garden, putting up fences, washing the cars. Not just his car but his entire family and neighbors cars. I was a modern day slave.
I was an unhappy teenager. I hated those years of my life. I look back and get pissed off because I should have been doing what other teenagers were doing. Instead, I was at the mercy of another human being so I could have food and shelter. I thought, never ever again, would I ever have to depend on another human being for anything in my life time.
Even though I hated my teenage years, I truly believe that the adversity and challenges I faced sculpted me into the man I am today. The adversity I faced in my teenage years gave me the hunger and edge to want a better life, to be self-reliant, to accomplish more than the average person, to be my own boss, to be a leader.
I’m John R. Salkowski, Founder of AchieveSuccessAcademy.com, Retired Police Officer, Survivor of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Author, Speaker on Leadership, Success and Overcoming Adversity.
I can be reached via email at John@JohnSalkowski.com.
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