How Robert and I came back from being broke and homeless through the entrepreneurial spirit
In December 1984, Robert and I sold all we had and left Honolulu to begin building our business in Southern California. It didn’t take long—two months to be exact—before we had gone through the money we had. We were broke and without jobs or work. We had a long way to go before we were ready to launch our business. At times we were even homeless, sleeping in a beat-up Toyota Celica. I can honestly say 1985 was the worst year of our lives. But when you have an unbreakable entrepreneurial spirit — a deep desire to seek out something different rather than follow the traditional path laid out for you — it’s amazing how much adversity you’ll endure to make your dreams come true.
Hitting rock bottom
When Robert and I had nothing, we argued with each other and blamed one another. Resentment built up. We were definitely not at our best. We were stressed beyond belief.
The worst part of it all for me was that my self-esteem took a nose dive. Before 1985, I was always a very optimistic, happy, decisive, and confident woman. But when we went through this taxing period, I began to question and doubt everything I knew and believed in, including my ability to accomplish anything. I’d ask myself, “Do I know anything at all?” What started as a few self-doubts quickly spiraled into what at the time seemed like a huge, dark hole that was impossible to climb out of. It was the lowest point of my life.
A night of refuge
When things were at their worst, Robert and I would actually knock on doors of people we sort of knew — when you have an entrepreneurial mindset, you can’t worry about being humble —and ask if we could stay at their house for the night. There was one particular night during this period of time the two of us will never forget.
Our credit cards were completely maxed out. One afternoon I walked into the lobby of a cheap motel and put my credit card down on the counter, keeping my fingers crossed that the man behind the desk wouldn’t check my card. In those days, not all businesses had the automatic credit card machines that were able to check on the status of the credit card being used. He manually took an imprint of my card and handed me a room key. I stopped myself from jumping up and down for joy right there in the lobby. I was almost running as I went out the door toward the car. “We got a room! We got a room!” I squealed to Robert as loud as I could without being overheard by the hotel clerk — there was no reason to tip him off to our dirty little secret.
To many, this was just a cheap motel. To us, that night, it was absolute heaven. We had turned our failure to success, even if just for the next 12 hours. We walked across the street to Kentucky Fried Chicken and bought a bucket of chicken and then headed next door to the grocery store and got a six-pack of beer. We went back to our room, finally, just the two of us. For that moment everything was all right. We had some shelter from the elements, a warm bed, and food. That night we just held each other, not knowing what tomorrow would bring, but at least for that one night we were OK.
Ignoring the naysayers
I’m certain neither Robert nor I would have come through that year as we did, had we not had each other (even though we weren’t always as nice to each other as we should have been). All along we both had friends and family saying to us, “Why don’t you just get a job? Take the paycheck for a while until your business is up and running.” But we knew differently.
We knew that getting jobs would be a step backward. We had come so far and couldn’t quit at that moment. We also knew that, if we went for the comfort of the paycheck, then we might never build our business. Looking back, it was actually being in this horrible situation that was our driving force. It drove us to find a way out of the mess we were in. The way out wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t through getting a job. We were determined to build our business and honor our driving force: an entrepreneurial spirit.
Finally taking control
Eventually, we came to the point where we simply had had enough of this chaos that we created. Robert came to the conclusion that no one was going to make his life better except him and that it was time for bold measures. I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I stopped blaming everyone else for my circumstances. And the two of us simply made the decision to take control of our future and to get to work. So we pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps and moved forward.
Through it all, we built an education company focused on success in entrepreneurship. While Robert built several businesses in Honolulu before our move to California, he was studying for years how people learn, and new and innovative methods for teaching. Our business grew to 11 offices in seven countries throughout the world. We were constantly on the road, mostly overseas.
In 1994, after nine years of running the company, we sold it and retired. I was 37 years old. Robert was 47. The best part about it was that we were free—we were finally experiencing financial freedom. We no longer had to work for money. We didn’t have to wonder how we’d pay our bills or where we’d sleep that night. It was such an empowering feeling to dump all that stress out of our lives.
What are you working for?
The thing that ultimately kept Robert and I going was that we knew what we were working for—financial freedom. We knew this wouldn’t come from getting a “good job” and relying on a paycheck. We had to know how money worked and how to make it work for us. We had to build a business that would support us and invest in assets that would provide passive cash flow. And so we embraced our individual and collective entrepreneurial spirit and didn’t stop until we’d accomplished our goal.
Today, when I talk with people who want to give up on their dreams, I simply ask, “What are you working for?” As they describe their dreams, they light up. Their energy levels spike. I remind them that they must always hold onto their dreams, even when the world wants to push them down. It’s the only way to keep going.
Another way to look at this is to determine “your why” — the reason, deep down in your heart and soul, that you want to reach the goal. Once you understand why your why is so important, you’ll stay focused and motivated on getting there. And when you get to the end, all the hard work and heartache is so worth it.
So, today, ask yourself, “What am I working for?” “What is my why?” Hold onto those answers and keep going no matter how many obstacles stand in your way. If you truly embody an entrepreneurial spirit and know that the status quo is not for you, you’ll never be satisfied with anything but achieving your goals. There will be stumbles and failures along the way, just like Robert and I experienced, so remember: it’s how you turn failure to success that truly creates success in entrepreneurship.