Because pivotal opportunities sometimes present themselves only once—and often come from out of the blue—we can seize and accept the risk of unknown outcomes or watch them vanish. That’s the way it was for Jim and me—three opportunities that led to unimagined rewards that changed our lives. How could we have known in our twenties that what looked like hardship was actually the chance of a lifetime?
Henry Kissinger once said, “Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem.” I think he was right!
The Early Days
With little to lose, we were willing to give up most anything to put food on the table, pay our bills and gain our independence. It’s the attitude of “I’ll do whatever it takes,” that allowed us to gain all three—and more. Neither of us had any encouragement whatsoever to enroll in college; yet both of us had a fierce determination to “do whatever it takes” to earn our degrees. And so we achieved what many take for granted with the help of scholarships and student loans even though obstacles presented themselves at every turn. The perseverance, diligence, and endurance required during those lean years were simply practice rounds for the years that followed.
Our second life-changing decision was meeting and choosing each other for lifetime mates.
No one ever promised us an easy life. Yet as so many of us discover, life can be good, rewarding and fulfilling without being easy. Both Jim and I worked full-time during the early years of our marriage. For a year-and-a-half, we shared our one car and took city buses as required while both doing manual labor to earn “free rent” from our landlord. Three couples who were our closest friends told us how lucky we were to have free rent. As we prepared to move to another city, we offered our “luckiness” to each couple but they all said, “No thanks.” What this “double gig” did for us was to allow us to save money to invest in some future opportunity.
Our Third and Most Life-Changing Opportunity
This opportunity came while living in our fourth rented home with our three, soon-to-be-four children. There we planned numerous businesses on our kitchen table. We hoped any one of them might take our lives to a higher plateau. Then one morning as I was driving to school, I spotted a “For Sale—Zoned Commercial” sign on a run-down house and garage. It was on a corner lot where a half-block away 2000 students were enrolled in Benton Harbor High School. Twelve hours later, Jim and I wrote a down payment check to the astounded realtor to seal our offer on that dismal but promising $10,000 piece of property we financed on a land contract.
We lived in the house and converted the 20’ x 22’ garage with a dirt floor into a take-out pizzeria. What began as a seven-day-a-week “take-out” store with two employees transitioned in 13 years to a three-shifts-a-day frozen pizza wholesale business with nearly 300 employees and two production plants selling coast-to-coast in 18 states. The whole thing–God’s plan—was so much more than anything we had imagined!
For 13 years, right up until we signed documents merging our business with a Fortune 100 Company, the challenges and crises never stopped. Surely this was our biggest risk to date. With six companies pursuing us, we knew the time to sell had come even though we had no idea what—if anything—would come next. Once again, as with all of life, tradeoffs, perseverance, endurance and the grace of God carried us through.
The one statement we hear that still astounds us is “Boy, you guys sure were lucky!” If there was any luck involved, it was that we emerged from those 13 very stressful years with marriage and family intact. We remain solid today—21 of us now—not perfect but solid.
If you’re currently faced with obstacles and challenges, consider the possible rewards and consequences. Decide what risks and slice of life you’re willing to trade for it—then act!
©Judy DeLapa/High-Impact Coaching 2016