A guy named Vince gave me his old skateboard when I showed him that I knew how to use it. I had learned back in college, when it was how I got from the dorm to my classes. Almost two years after graduating, I found myself at 23 years old with a new reason to skateboard two miles a day. I was wearing black pants and no-slip shoes, a black polo shirt and an apron. Thanks to my new friend Mark, I had become a waitress. Long after a bachelor’s degree and a successful marketing career, I was skateboarding to a job where I served people beer and buffalo wings. Sometimes we have to adjust our standards.
My third day of training at the restaurant, they let me have my own section of tables. I made $40 in tips, and I felt like a millionaire. For weeks, I had been living off of Chris and Mark. I didn’t have any money of my own, and I detested asking for help. I spent many days going hungry, lying to Mark about when I had eaten last. Chris would help snag some cigarettes when I was stressed out, but I felt like I was about to be given the “biggest mooch” award. The night when I had $40 in my apron, I was on top of the world.
As I skateboarded to Mark’s house that night, I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face. The best part was that it wasn’t just $40 — it was a JOB. It was going to be a consistent cash income. I stopped at the store to see Chris and tell him. I had money! I gave him $5, bought a pack of cigarettes, an energy drink and a bag of chips. It felt so good to purchase something.
By the time I got to the back porch and was smothered in Zuzu kisses, the energy drink was gone and the chips had been eaten. I sat on the porch swing and pulled out another cigarette. Then I pulled out my money and counted it. As I unfolded each dollar bill, I realized that I had left the restaurant with $40, but I had only come back with 25. This was still a lot of money, but I was struck by how quickly $15 had disappeared, after nearly four weeks of having no more than 35 cents at a time. In that moment, I realized that this is part of the vicious cycle of poverty. I hadn’t had money in my pocket in so long, that when I got it, I spent it. I wanted to have all those things that I hadn’t been able to have in so long. If this continued, I would be full of energy drinks and cigarettes while I slept on the couches of complete strangers for eternity.
Someone very wise told me once that I should “begin with the end in mind”, meaning to visualize the end result and then work backwards. All I knew at the time was that my desired ‘end’ was to get out of Mississippi. I realized that I needed to make daily choices that would reflect that thinking, and I made a decision sitting on the porch swing that night. For the next couple of months, I lived off of only one or two dollars a day. I ate lunch at the restaurant, and if I wanted cigarettes, I had to stack up my two dollars for a couple days to afford them. I worked as many shifts as possible, and I put all of my tip money in a really great hiding place. Eventually this amounted to a new “house”, (my Bubba), my independence, and this project. Goals are what get us through the moments in life where circumstances don’t seem to make sense. Start there, and work backwards.