In 1998, I was stationed in Kodiak Island, Alaska, where I was serving as a telecommunications specialist in the United States Coast Guard, working in several top-secret communication facilities. My military training taught me a lot about teamwork, leadership, and work ethic, but my time in the service was coming to and end and I wanted to start a career in the private sector. I had to decide what I wanted to do next and where I wanted to live. I decided to move back to Los Angeles, where I was first stationed after basic training, mostly because I knew people there and the city fascinated me in so many ways.
The first couple of months were amazing in every way. LA, it’s beauty, and the people were a novelty to me. From the beaches of Santa Monica to the hills of Hollywood, I loved every minute of it, but then reality set in – it was time to start that career I had moved out for – but doing what? Like a lot of former military members, transferring your service skills to the private sector can be a challenge and it was for me too.
I was determined to succeed – even though I had fallen on hard times. Here’s a secret that I’ve never shared: during my time of transition, I went from being a well taken care of government employee to living in my car. Yes, I lived in my car for about a month in Los Angeles until I saved enough money to get a place. I probably didn’t have to, but I was too proud to call home or ask friends for help. I was essentially homeless, but I was determined to make it out of what was one of the darkest and loneliest times in my life. There are three things that kept me going: my military training, my determination, and my Mom. I never told my Mom how low I had it, so this is news to her too, but I kept remembering one thing she told me when I was about 10 years old. We were driving on the freeway in Seattle on a cold rainy day, and I looked up at one of those tall skyscraper office buildings. I pointed at it, turned to her, and said
Mom, one day I’m going to be a businessman and work in one of those buildings,” and she turned to me and said “David, you can do anything you want to do, don’t ever forget that, and if that’s what you want to do, you will.
I used that memory to motivate me in my “mobile office” – what I imagined my car was at the time – I just happened to sleep in it, too. I eventually started my career and have had the privilege to work in many of those tall buildings that I admired as a kid. I’ve also been fortunate to work for several inspirational leaders and work on many industry first initiatives. Today, I have the pleasure of working at Marriott International, where success is never final and one of our core values is “putting people first” – something we focus on every day.
I hope that in sharing my secret and story with you, you are motivated to fight the good fight whenever you are having a rough time.
Don’t forget that we’re all going through something, but believe in who you are, what you want to do and never give up.
Lastly, in everything we do, I think it’s really important to remember the power of words and the impact they can have.
People will remember what you said and how it made them feel. Say the right things, and it may empower them through tough times.
It’s all about the power of perspective.
As we celebrate our Mothers this month, I urge you to not make it just about one day, but all the time. I want to let my mother know that she got me through those rough times, by saying something years ago that she had no idea would have an impact on me years later. I love you Mom. You inspire me daily.
Mom, our motto in the Coast Guard is “Semper Paratus” which translates to “Always Ready” and your love made me ready for anything life throws my way. Thank you.”
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Mom’s out there, cheers to other Women in our life that empower us, and to the business leaders who inspire us all.