I grew up in the South Bronx of New York City during the 1980s. It was a very tough neighborhood; crime, drugs, and violence. I spent a lot of time indoors; reading, studying, and watching movies and sitcoms.
I loved how all of the movies and the books I read would transport me to different cities around the world. I wanted to be in Paris. I wanted to be in London. I wanted to be in Istanbul. I wanted to be in Asia.
The thing about living in a tough neighborhood is that there is a lot of negativity. I believe that the main reason why people do not move out of a tough neighborhood isn’t that they aren’t given the opportunities, it is that they’re not given the support emotionally or psychologically that a community with a positive outlook can give them.
More often than not, you’ll hear someone say “come on, you won’t be able to do that!” and, when you think about it, you start to think that they are right. Here I am a poor kid living in the South Bronx and I want to go to Istanbul? How the hell is that ever going to happen? Where will I get the money? And when you think about the fact that none of your family has ever traveled outside of their home city, then you have no basis on which to go on. It’s not like you can say well my grandfather lived here or my father traveled there. In fact…..no one went anywhere.
That mentality changed for me when I went to Europe for the first time at the age of 14. I had gotten into a prestigious private high school a couple of months before and, overnight, the people that I hung out with were different. They were positive, funny and intellectual people. People who saw only possibilities instead of obstacles when they looked at life. As part of my studies, I had to choose a foreign language to study.
I chose French because I saw Spanish as being too easy because I was surrounded by it at home.
After the first semester of French class, the teacher announced that there was going to be a trip to France during the Easter vacation. That meant nine days on a bus driving throughout France looking at cathedrals. I ran home that day and I begged my parents to lend me the money in order to go on this trip. I told them that it was required for all French students to go but, in fact, only a few upperclassman actually went on the trip.
They agreed and a few months later I was on the plane leaving JFK to Reykjavík Iceland. I was in Reykjavík for just a few hours and then we flew to Paris. As soon as I landed in Reykjavík, I felt an amazing sensation in my body. I loved being in a foreign airport. I loved seeing different people, different cultures gathering in a spot and preparing to go somewhere else. Then, when I landed in Charles De Gaulle and I stepped out onto the streets of Paris, I knew that I had to position my life in a way that I could travel endlessly. I started to realize that, within a few months, I went from being someone who was stuck in my neighborhood in the South Bronx to someone who was attending a high school with people who were much smarter than me and traveling to a city wish I had only seen in movies. The possibilities were endless.
Three years later, I find myself in the guidance counselor’s office answering that famous question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
In those days I was very shy, especially around adults. I said in a low voice “I think I’d like to travel the world.”
ME: I think I’d like to travel the world so that means I want to do………
In my head, I quickly thought:
International……..because that means travel……Business…….because that means money!
I then responded out loud: “Yes! That is what I want to do. I want to do….International Business!”
COUNSELOR: Well, what kind of business do you want to do?
ME: “The kind of business that will take me around the world.”
COUNSELOR: Listen, son, I think you should go into Accounting.
COUNSELOR: Yes. There are always jobs in accounting.
ME: And I will get to travel?
COUNSELOR: Yeah….sure….of course…
I hated every accounting course that I took.
To be continued……