I always had a bit of an entrepreneurial mindset. I grew up in a really small town in Pennsylvania, and I played in band every year from 5th grade through graduation, and this means that we had to sell things to raise money for band trips.
Every year, we went door-to-door and sold cheese and sausage from a fundraiser catalog. And I’ll admit: I was never the TOP salesperson, but I was always near the top. Not to make excuses, but I had no family there (besides my immediate family), and the top salespeople were always ones who had lots of family in the immediate area that would always buy from them exclusively.
During the winters in those years, I would also shovel snow to earn money. When it snowed, I’d wake up early like normal and listen to the radio for school closures and delays, and when I’d hear that school was canceled, I’d get up, get dressed, grab a shovel, and go door-to-door. Sometime around lunchtime, I’d head home with a fistful of cash.
My earnings would vary, of course, but after a while, I had loyal customers who would turn other kids away so that I could shovel their sidewalks and driveways, and of course, it wasn’t tons of cash, but as a kid with no real bills, earning a bunch of $10s and $20s was amazing! I can’t recall specific amounts, but I remember going home with somewhere around $100-something bucks on a regular basis.
In the summer time, I’d work on farms and bale hay, and THAT was some hard work. And I’m not even kidding about this – I remember the specific amount I’d earn, and I’m not embarrassed to say that I’d make literally $10 bucks a day, which was $50 bucks a week.
You might think that’s a pathetic amount, and I may be inclined to agree, but there was competition and if I wasn’t willing to work, someone else would have gladly taken my spot, and there was really only so much room on those hay baling trailers.
The farmer guy would drive the tractor that had the hay baler that would shoot the bales back into the trailer, then we’d have to snatch them up and stack them neatly. When the trailer was full, we’d head back to the barns where we’d have to unload everything into the barns, and that was seriously some hard work (but it helped me to be in decent shape for football season, ha ha!).
It also got me out of the house and kept me from getting into the kind of trouble that most teenagers seem to get into, and from age 14 on, I was able to pay for all my own school clothes, which was a big help for my family considering how many kids there were (are).
I was the 2nd oldest of 5 children, and I’m not going to give the “my-family-was-so-poor” sob story, but it was nice to be able to help out with buying food and stuff like that. There were quite a few times when I would earn money shoveling snow or baling hay and then I’d walk down to the general store (yes, the town I grew up in had a general store), and purchase milk and bread and stuff like that for the family.
I also played sports in school, so that helped me to develop a bit of a competitive mindset. And also, like I mentioned, I had no immediate family in the area, and it was one of those rural, farming communities in the mountains where everyone seemed to be related somehow.
So, if you could only imagine, I always seemed to be a bit of an underdog, too, because in a lot of cases, the kids with the “names” who were related to the right people, typically got picked for certain positions. Regardless, I always made the teams and I always got plenty of playing time, but I take pride in knowing that nothing was ever handed to me because of my name.
I really had no college ambition as a kid. I didn’t even think about college during high school because I didn’t really see the value in it. It seemed like the only jobs where I grew up were either teachers or farmers with a few factories scattered here and there that people worked at, but none of that interested me.
Plus, it seemed like the only kids who were college-bound were the teachers’ kids, so I went to the Army. I enlisted during my senior year and left immediately upon graduation in 1997. I served from age 17 through 27 and served on Active Duty from July 1997 through December 2006.
I did really well during my time in, and it was very formative for me as I was very young and impressionable during that time. I rose through the ranks fairly quickly and found myself in a few different leadership positions, mainly as a squad leader with anywhere from two or three soldiers under me and times where there were up to ten to twelve or so.
I don’t really want to make this about that time of my life, so I promise to keep this part brief, but there is something very relevant that I would like to share, and no, it has nothing to do with my three overseas tours.