Read an Excerpt
Live the Dream No More Excuses
By Winters, Larry
Center Street Copyright © 2012 Winters, Larry
All right reserved.
DROWNING IN A CAR WASH
Who has never tasted what is bitter does not know what is sweet.
There are some times in life you can never forget—even though you’d love to. For me, the year was 1985.
My wife, Pam, and I were happily married and raising a young family, yet I felt as though I was a complete failure as a provider. Nothing seemed to be working, and the world was crashing in.
We were living in a nine-hundred-square-foot wood frame house that was built on a tiny lot just after World War II—and we were three months behind on the $225 rent. The pressure we were under was painful.
You should have seen the place. It was painted light green and had a driveway that held one and a half compact cars and had practically no backyard. The dirt-floor basement was unusable. To put it mildly, it was a mess.
When my checks bounced, the landlord would warn me, “Larry, this isn’t working. You’ve got to get caught up. It can’t go on like this!”
In truth, we were one sentence away from being homeless. There were many times when he could have said, “That’s it. I am locking the doors and calling the sheriff.”
If this had happened, we would have had to move in with either Pam’s parents or mine. I shuddered at the very thought. What an embarrassment that would have been.
“Richer or Poorer”
While I was just getting started in my new business, I had tried selling cars to bring in some much-needed extra cash. But the car business was so bad in the mid-1980s that I decided to give it up and look for something else. Of course, the car dealership took back the Volkswagen Rabbit they had loaned me. Bingo! We had no transportation.
That January, my cousin and I decided to launch a lawn care business with a borrowed pickup truck. But the weather was too cold in North Carolina for the first couple of months, so we had very few customers. Finally, I started getting twenty or twenty-five dollars to mow a lawn or do odd jobs, but since we had to sink some cash into equipment, my bills were far outpacing my income.
Everything was financed—our furniture, even our television set. Before long I was as much as nine months behind on what I owed Visa, MasterCard, Household Finance, and bank loans. The pile of bills was growing higher and higher, and we owed everybody—including Pam’s relatives.
I’d write checks for my phone and electric bills and pray I could somehow cover them before they bounced.
I had no credit, no car. I was buried in debt, barely keeping my head above water.
In April 1984, our daughter, Tara, was born. She was our pride and joy, and we scraped together what little we could to buy her baby food and diapers. We would visit our parents’ home on the weekends—basically to get something to eat.
Pam and I often recited the vows that we made at our wedding: “For richer or poorer, for better or for worse.”
Truer words were never spoken. We were certainly poorer—and things were progressively getting worse!
Shake, Rattle, and Roll!
Pam’s parents were fully aware of the financial crisis we were going through, and they looked for ways to help. They told me, “We have this old car on our farm that isn’t working. If we can get it up and running, you can use it.”
What a sight it was! The 1977 Mustang II, a four-seat two door with over a hundred thousand miles on the speedometer, had been totaled twice and was sitting there with grass actually growing through the windows! It had no air-conditioning, and the seats were badly torn. I don’t know how we managed, but we straightened out the frame and somehow got it repaired and licensed.
It was painted primer-gray, and there wasn’t an ounce of gloss anywhere—just plenty of rust on the doors, the hood, and the fenders.
However, there was a much bigger problem. When I would reach fifty-five miles an hour, the car would begin to shimmy and shake so violently that I thought I’d lose control of the vehicle. It felt like the wheels were literally coming off! But, hey, at least it was transportation, so I just drove slower than I wanted to.
Our small rented house had a hundred-gallon kerosene heating tank. But at $1.50 a gallon, we could usually afford to feed it only about five gallons at a time. On cold nights, when the money ran out, so did the fuel.
This happened more than once. One evening when I arrived home, the water in the toilet was frozen solid and the dog’s water bowl was frozen over, too.
I vividly remember the time our dog, unbeknownst to us, bumped into the kerosene heater in the middle of the night. The flame went out, but the furnace kept blowing. We woke up the next morning, and the entire room was dusted black. I looked at Pam, and she had black soot smudged under her eyes and black in her nostrils. She glanced over at me, and I asked, “Do I look as funny as you do?”
“Yes,” she said, smiling.
The curtains were black; the walls were black. Then the dog jumped up on our bed—and even the spots around his eyes weren’t white anymore!
In my mind’s eye I can still see that modest house. One window had a broken pane for three years because we didn’t have the money to repair it. Our furniture probably wouldn’t have been welcome at a garage sale. It was nothing but junk.
I look back on those days and wonder how we ever survived. However, there was one possession I had that outweighed all the pressure, all the stress, and every negative. As unlikely as it may seem, down deep in my heart I had an overwhelming, all-consuming dream that could not be denied.
In this book I want to share the lessons I have learned that I believe will get you to where you want to be whether you’ve experienced some success or you’re newly struggling as I was. I am telling my story in this book because I have been out of work and in debt, and I understand all too well the feelings of despair and hopelessness.
I reached the point where I ran out of excuses, but I did have a choice. I decided to live my dream rather than remain in a rut.
Let me tell you what brought me to that point.
A Lesson from Dad
As a young teen growing up in west-central New Jersey, I remember a particular day when I was standing beside my dad while he was shaving. He paused for a moment, then looked at me in the reflection of the mirror and said, “Larry, you are smaller than most kids. But that just means you are going to have to try a little harder than the next guy. It doesn’t mean you are any less of a person—you’ll just have to work more.”
His words were etched in my mind from that day forward. After all, I was about five feet five, so I knew I could never dunk a basketball, and I couldn’t sing or dance—so there was no future in sports or as an entertainer.
My first exposure to self-employment was my father. He owned his own Atlantic Richfield gas station (now ARCO) at the corner of Baird Boulevard and Marlton Pike in Camden, New Jersey.
Growing up, I remember that practically everybody I knew and liked bought gas from my dad’s station. Ours was a family business—and people supported us as if we were their relatives. If you needed a tune-up or a new set of tires, there was only one place for our friends to go: Dad’s service station.
Unfortunately, today such loyalty has almost disappeared. Instead, people, feeling the economic crunch, look at the price of gas on the huge signs before deciding where to fill up.
In 1973, times were changing, and my dad sold his business (which had expanded into towing and auto salvage), and he announced, “We’re moving to North Carolina.” I was sixteen years old and wasn’t exactly excited about leaving everything I knew and loved. But this wasn’t my decision to make.
During my teen years, Dad was always telling me, “Son, you need to work for yourself and own your own business. It’s the only way to go.”
However, I couldn’t relate to his advice. At school I was being told just the opposite: “Get a good education so you can find a good job.” In other words, go to work for someone else, don’t quit, and maybe you can retire when you’re sixty-five.
Education wasn’t exactly my thing. In school, the only subjects I excelled in were recess and gym. I hated math and science. To me, homeroom was the place to close my eyes and take a nap.
I spent practically all my spare time playing baseball, and I even convinced myself I had enough talent to make the pros. I told my folks, “I’m going to be a millionaire someday”—and I honestly believed I would make it to the major leagues.
After we settled into our new life in North Carolina, one summer I worked at the Bonanza Sirloin Pit as a busboy. At least it kept me busy and put a few dollars in my pocket. But there were Saturday afternoons when, during a break after lunch, I would stand on the back porch and look up at that clear Carolina blue sky dotted with white, puffy clouds.
Drinking in the fresh air, I would think, If only I was waterskiing, out on the golf course, or riding dirt bikes with my buddies.
Reluctantly, I’d go back inside and be all smiles, trying to do a good job, but it was almost more than I could take. Why am I trapped in this restaurant? I wondered. Here I was, scraping food off of dirty dishes when all I wanted to do was to be outdoors enjoying a beautiful day. But my daydreaming was futile because I needed the money to pay for the used car I had bought.
Even at the age of sixteen, I longed to be free!
While in high school, to make a few extra bucks, I began working at the Constan Car Wash for $2.30 an hour. It was a brick structure on Old Wake Forest Road in Raleigh, North Carolina, that had a hundred-foot pull-through tunnel, five full-service bays, and a cashier’s booth.
You should have seen me in those high school days. I wore long hair down to my shoulders and was trying to grow a mustache—but my upper lip looked like a catfish!
The car wash was a valuable experience. I had to show up on time, work hard, and practice plenty of self-discipline.
After graduation, my only dream was to head for Florida the following spring and try out for a major league baseball team. That was exactly what I did.
It was tough, but I was given a chance. I played in the International League for twenty-five dollars a game. I kept saying to myself, I’ve got the talent, and I’m going to make it. I just know it!
But as the days and weeks passed, there weren’t any solid offers. Well, maybe next year, I consoled myself.
At home, my car wash job was waiting for me—yet my heart was still in baseball.
That fall, however, I damaged my knee while having fun at one of my other passions, motocross bike racing. When the accident happened, I knew in an instant: There goes my knee. There goes my speed. There goes my baseball.
Instead of another spring training on those fields of dreams in Florida, my future seemed tied with a rope to the car wash. Where else was I to go? At that point I was a young man without much of a future.
“Obnoxious and a Real Jerk!”
The woman who would eventually become my wife had enrolled in a local college, but because of an illness missed so many classes she decided to drop out.
That’s when a friend asked her if she would like to take a job as a cashier at a local car wash. Needing an income, she quickly jumped at the opportunity.
So this is how Pam and I met. She was a good-looker and brightened up the day—not just for me, but for all the employees.
Her view of me, though, was somewhat different. As she describes it, “I thought Larry was obnoxious and a real jerk! In fact, I didn’t want anything to do with him.”
Let’s face it: I was far from being a great catch. At that time in my life, I used foul language, drank too much, and was definitely rough around the edges.
But as the Good Book says, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
In those days I was dating some other girls, but none had the exceptional qualities of Pam. She was a supernice, sweet girl, and I wasn’t used to that.
When we first started hanging out, there was a fellow who was interested in her, but I’m not sure if she trusted the guy. So on Friday and Saturday nights she would ask if I would tag along with the group. After a while, since we were spending so much time together, we realized that maybe we were meant for each other.
Pam and I dated for five years before getting married—we were both still working at the car wash. As she tells it, “I finally realized that deep down inside, Larry had a heart of gold and truly loved people.”
I don’t know how I deserved her, but I thank God every day that Pam fell in love with me.
When I was promoted to assistant manager, then manager, I thought I had it made. It was all I knew, and I felt I was on my way. But the pay was small, and the future was not much on which to pin my hopes. But what were my options? This seemed to be my lot in life, and I was going to make the best of it.
I tried to look important, wearing a huge key ring on my belt. Security became crucial when we joined a corrections department program and had convicted felons working for us at the car wash. A van would drop the men off at 7:30 a.m., and I was responsible for those guys for the rest of the day.
By now I was making $320 a week take-home pay, but I was risking my life! One day, I walked into my assistant manager’s office to find him on the floor being choked by a disgruntled prisoner who thought he wasn’t being treated fairly.
I thought, This is nuts! Surely there must have been a better way to make a living.
I hung out with people who drank beer, burped, and played softball. After a game the guys would send their wives and girlfriends home, and we’d head to a bar where we sat around and bragged how great we were in high school or American Legion ball. Of course I would tell exaggerated stories of my spring training escapades in Florida. We thought they were the “glory days.” The weeks and months drifted by, and I had no real direction in my life. I was on a path going nowhere.
At my job, I had been promoted to district manager of the car wash chain over four locations, and I was resigned to the fact that this would probably be my career. Between my income and Pam’s take-home pay of $280 a week we were getting by.
What Did I Have to Lose?
In August 1980, just three months after we were married, a friend asked if we would like to take a look at a business opportunity. I didn’t even think twice.
“Why not?” I responded. I knew deep down that no matter how long and hard I worked at the car wash, I had to face the fact that it would eventually lead to a dead-end street—even if I stayed there my whole life.
The presentation I was shown that night was simple. I could become an independent business owner, selling exclusive and national-brand products—items people use every day, such as vitamins and household supplies. There was a compensation plan that would reward my efforts and plenty of support to guide and encourage me along the way. Plus, if I built an organization of men and women working with me, it could produce a stream of income with effort.
I wasn’t sure about having others join me, but when my friend said, “All a person can say is yes or no,” that somehow clicked with me.
However, almost immediately, a tug of war began playing in my mind. It was as if I was hearing two voices: one cheering, You can do this, the other warning, Stay where you are. But I knew in my heart I could work for the car wash until they dragged me out feet first and still never own the business.
“Sign me up,” I responded. What did I have to lose?
Financially, I knew that even with an opportunity to be my own boss, it wouldn’t happen overnight, and I needed to keep working at my day job.
Nothing Else Mattered
During the next few weeks and months, because of what I was learning about this new enterprise, I became so excited for the future that nothing else seemed to matter.
I went to work every day and put in my hours, but my mind was spinning like a top.
Before long, every possible moment I was sharing the business opportunity with those I knew—and even those I didn’t. From the beginning, my belief in the products and the strength of the organization gave me a determination to build a business that would change my future.
I was totally unfamiliar with the techniques of qualifying potential associates; mine was a shotgun approach, and I targeted anything that moved. What I lacked in strategy I made up for in enthusiasm!
For Pam, however, it was different. She saw a spark in my eyes but was personally too shy to get involved. To say she had a poor self-image is an understatement. Pam had been abused as a young teen and was living with shame. Her deep-seated problems were linked and layered—so much so that her confidence was shattered.
She would make excuses about why she couldn’t go with me to share this new business. “I’m too tired.” Or, “I’ve really got to stay home and do some cleaning.” One excuse was as good as the next.
The truth was that Pam was absolutely terrified of speaking—not just in public, but sometimes one-on-one. The very thought would make her break out in hives!
I can still remember the nights I would whisper in her ear, “Pam, you are a winner. You can do anything.”
Little by little, I was raising her self-esteem. Her belief was growing, and we were becoming a team.
As the days rolled by, I found myself reading self-help books, attending business events, and applying the principles I was learning to my daily life. Principles dealing with goal setting, personal development, team building, and more that we will discuss later in this book.
My optimism knew no bounds, and I threw myself headlong into building what I believed was our answer.
Nights, weekends, it didn’t matter. My calendar was full, and the dream for my future became a burning fire. Then came a moment of decision.
I Had a Choice
I had been building my new sales and marketing enterprise for about two years when my boss at the car wash called me into his office. What he said caused me to stop dead in my tracks. “Larry, we need to put you on a new schedule, and it means you will be working every other night and every other weekend.”
My heart sank. How could I build my dream if all my spare time was suddenly being yanked away from me? It was as if everything I had worked toward was coming to a halt.
He told me about a car wash location with problems that needed to be straightened out, and he let me know that would be part of my assignment. “I think you are the one to handle this situation.”
Instantly, I responded, “I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
My words fell on deaf ears.
“I have already talked with upper management, and you don’t have a choice. Either take the new schedule or we’ll have to fire you,” he bluntly told me.
“Sir,” I replied, “I do have a choice!”
He smiled. “I know you have a little business going on the side, but I also know you’re not making enough at that to pay your bills.” He thought he had me over a barrel. Looking him straight in the eyes, I said, “If I have to work every other night and every other weekend, I’ll never be able to build my business. And anyway, my future is not in washing cars.”
My answer seemed to startle him, and immediately he shot back, “Larry, don’t you know I have to fire you?”
“I’ll save you the time,” I quickly responded. “I quit!”
He was shocked when I reached down, unlocked the ring of keys from my belt, handed them over to him, and repeated, “You heard it. I quit! I’m out of here!”
My decision was absolutely final. There was no turning back.
Logically, it made no sense. Here I was, a husband and father with serious financial obligations, yet I was walking away from my only steady source of income. My new business was just getting off the ground—but was far from producing the kind of money I needed to survive. I learned in a hurry that there was no “get rich quick” scheme.
In my heart and mind, however, it all made perfect sense. My dream for success as an independent business owner was growing by the day—and I wasn’t about to spend my life drowning in a car wash!
A Little Chilly
If I was going to be successful, I had to put things in high gear and share my opportunity with as many people as possible. There was no time to waste.
In starting a venture of any kind, momentum is essential. But I had the extra pressure of creating enough income to replace the paycheck I had left behind.
One evening, shortly after I began my new enterprise, the phone rang at about 7:30. A friend in the business asked, “Do you think you can show the plan tonight?”
Without hesitation, I told him, “Just tell me the time. I’m ready.”
“Well, the fellow gets off work at 11:30. How about 11:45 tonight at your place?”
Wouldn’t you know it: just before they arrived, our heater ran out of kerosene and I didn’t even have five dollars to run out and buy some more. I wasn’t about to cancel the meeting just because I didn’t have enough cash. No more excuses!
Pam was in the bedroom with an electric blanket, so I brought our little electric heater into the living room—but it was far too small to adequately do the job.
I prepared the best I could, even putting on a second layer of underwear beneath my three-piece suit. Plus, I drank a few cups of hot chocolate to warm up.
When my associate and his friend arrived, I apologetically said, “I know it’s a little chilly in here, but we’ll be fine.”
I set up a small whiteboard and began to diagram how the business worked. Then I began to explain how people would be interested because everybody needs some extra money. Plus, it’s a great way to form new friendships and prepare for long-term financial security.
At first, the men were sitting a few feet apart on the couch. But it seemed that every time I turned around, they had moved closer together. Finally, they pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and wrapped themselves together.
At the end of my presentation I bravely asked the fellow, “If you decide to become an independent business owner making $60,000 a year and could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?”
“Someplace warm!” he answered.
“Have You Been Drinking?”
Fulfilling my dream often meant driving long distances to present the plan and attend conventions.
One night I was returning to Raleigh at about two o’clock in the morning. It had been a long day, and I was really tired. Then, coming down a hill, my Mustang must have hit fifty-five miles an hour because it began shaking and swerving all over the road. It was like wheeling a shopping cart filled with bowling balls!
Suddenly, I saw a flashing blue light in my rearview mirror, and a patrolman pulled me over.
Shining a flashlight in my face, he asked, “Mister, have you been drinking?”
“No, sir,” I told him truthfully, “I haven’t had a drink in years.”
He was puzzled. “I thought you were the worst drunk driver I had seen in weeks.”
Once he spoke with me, he realized I had not been drinking.
I finally convinced the officer that the car had a mechanical problem and could not go over fifty-five miles per hour without uncontrollable vibrations. He let me go.
The challenges seemed almost overwhelming, but nothing was going to dampen my spirit or slow me down.
Our Only Answer
One of my darkest days was when Pam and I had made a commitment to attend a business rally in the organization, and we were doing everything in our power to scrape up enough money for the event.
From our landscaping business we had put together about $600 in cash that Pam was to deposit in the bank the next day. That evening we spent time writing out checks to several companies we owed and put them in the mail.
However, when my wife made it to the bank, the $600 was nowhere to be found. She absolutely panicked. The sympathetic teller went out to the car with her to search for the cash because she understood the dire situation we were in. But the money was never found.
To us, this was like losing $1 million, because every one of those checks bounced.
To this day, I don’t know how we managed to keep our word and attend that event, but even through our tears we knew we had to be there. We scrounged up every dollar and dime we could find. In the long run it was the only answer we could see to learn how to correct our desperate financial situation, and I was totally committed to doing whatever it took to reach our objective.
Pam wondered, “Will success ever happen for us? Will our circumstances ever change? Is it always going to be this way?”
Day after day, month after month, I reassured her: “Trust me. I know in my heart we are on the right path. What we have found is bigger than you can ever imagine. I won’t let you down—I promise.”
There were no more excuses for failure. We were going to live our dream. The question wasn’t if, but when.
THE AMAZING POWER OF A DREAM
You see things; and you say, “Why?”
But I dream things that never were;
and I say, “Why not?”
—George Bernard Shaw
If money was not an obstacle, how would your life be different? What would you provide for your family that you’re unable to do now? What kind of car would you drive? Where would you vacation? Who would you help? How would you spend your time?
To be honest, when I first grasped the concept that I could be an independent business owner, I was over the moon! But I still had a difficult time with the idea of having a dream for my future.
In those days, I could see only a week or a month ahead. I was like an immature kid—wanting to play ball after work, caring far more about my batting average than my checkbook. More concerned with what my friends thought of my slalom technique on water skis than how I was going to pay for the stereo I had just financed. I was preoccupied with how fast I could ride a dirt bike instead of how to be the best possible husband that I could be for Pam. I had priorities, but they were way off base.
The business wasn’t my real challenge. It was something far more personal. I had to work on and build a new me! I was twenty-four going on seventeen!
Excerpted from Live the Dream by Winters, Larry Copyright © 2012 by Winters, Larry. Excerpted by permission.
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