Sacrifice May Be Required
I had a conversation with a local business owner a couple of days ago and his story will not leave my mind.
Jose Marino’s story reminded me that we’re all on a journey but some of us don’t even realize it. I think the reason I can’t get his story out of my mind is because it serves as such a contrast to what I see in most men in western society.
Let me describe what I see in western men first, and then I’ll get back to Jose’s story.
Most of us are too comfortable and too satisfied with our average lives.
Think about this for a moment – you have the resources to sit comfortably and read this article on a computer or mobile device. You can pretty much go anywhere you like today, say whatever you want, and do whatever you want to make a living.
Stop what you’re doing for a moment and consider this…
Much of the world does not have the same luxuries you and I do. In many parts of the world, if a person were to say what they really thought the local would police haul them away that same day. Their travel is limited by the force of law and their work opportunities are restricted by the lack of a marketplace as well as their government.
Most westerners (Americans in particular) have known only peace, comfort and ease for their whole lives.
We’ve never had to sacrifice for anything we want.
Because of this, we’ve come to a point where we crave comfort more than sacrifice and the benefit that sacrifice brings.
Comfort is a much easier sell than sacrifice.
Comfort is easy because you don’t have to do anything to enjoy it.
Comfort requires no effort and no work.
When I refer to sacrifice, I’m speaking of making choices to do the hard things in life which lead to a better outcome for yourself or your family.
Even if you aren’t living in a country with restrictive laws you still deal with internal struggles. Finding success for your life takes effort. It requires being proactive, confronting your fears, facing difficult situations and making difficult choices sometimes.
Back to Jose’s story:
I have known Jose Marino for about 15 years. He’s a very friendly and gracious man who owns a Mexican restaurant in a neighboring town. The food there is always top notch, the restaurant is the cleanest in town and the service even better. It is obvious that he takes pride in his business.
During my latest visit there, as I ate with my family Jose came by to speak as he always does.
We have always had friendly but short conversations.
But this time our conversation was different.
I asked some questions about his recent remodeling project at the restaurant because I was just finishing remodeling an income property. He expressed interest in buying the home for some relatives he was in the process of helping come from his native country.
That conversation led me to ask him how he happened to come to America and the story he shared with me was absolutely captivating.
He spoke of the mental depression he suffered in Cuba and how food, medicine and other resources were in short supply. I was surprised to hear how little access they had to basic necessities such as toilet paper. This was the early 90’s so I don’t know how much would still be true today.
In spite of these conditions, Jose had become a medical doctor while still in Cuba, so his condition was not nearly as dire as the majority of the population there.
Even though he was a respected member of the community and enjoyed a higher social status than the majority of his friends and neighbors, Jose knew that he could have a better life outside of Cuba.
He weighed the pros and cons of leaving his family behind, and he said that the prospect of raising his future children there led him to the conclusion that he had to leave.
He looked into every legal avenue he could find to leave the country but there were none available to him.
So, at the age of 26, Jose decided that his only opportunity to make his dreams come true was to take a swim to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.
This was well before the “War on Terror” began so I don’t know if this is still possible. Also, I’m not advocating for or against illegal immigration – that’s a discussion for another time – so don’t waste your time commenting on these two topics.
Back to the swim – This would not be a leisurely swim. At the time, escaping Cubans were being shot or blown up for attempting to escape to Guantanamo.
I recall reading stories in the newspapers at that time about Cuban civilians being killed for attempting escape.
Here’s a snippet from an article in 1993:
Jose didn’t tell anyone outside of his mom or dad, for fear of being found out. He had to tell them because they would be keeping his seven year old son from his first marriage.
His journey was not to be an easy one either. He slipped out under cover of darkness and made his way to the coast by riding in the back of a delivery truck.
When he made it to the coast he realized that the only way into the water was to jump from a 30 foot cliff, so, without any other options, he closed his eyes and jumped into the darkness.
After hitting the water and realizing he was still alive, he looked up at the full moon directly above him in the sky. It had been cloudy when he left home earlier but now the clouds had passed and it was a bright night. He feared that he would be easily seen by the Cuban soldiers but he knew it was too late to turn back now. There was no way he could climb back up the cliffs he had just jumped from.
A current began pulling him out and he thought for sure that he would be swept out to sea, never to be seen again. He decided not to fight it though, because he didn’t want to tire himself out before his swim began. The current weakened after a while and he began swimming in the direction of the Navy base, unable to see evidence that anything was there.
The one thing he did see was a patrol boat sailing back and forth, but fortunately, it did not come close enough to spot him. The current had pulled him out beyond the boat’s patrol route. He thanked God for the current.
Jose was constantly worried that he would bump into a shark, and prayed the whole time as he swam. He swam all night until he neared Guantanamo Bay. As he got nearer, he swam around barriers and through wire fencing, into Guantanamo Bay. It was around 6 am when he was plucked out of the water by U.S. servicemen, completely exhausted.
He was put into what he called a caged area. He found a corner and fell fast asleep not waking until later that same day when he heard someone yelling and then saw several people fighting.
This would be just the midpoint of his journey, as he did not actually make it to the U.S. for another seven months after being tied up with red tape. He said he feared being sent back to Cuba a number of times during that seven months.
Even after he did make it to the U.S., he still had obstacles to overcome.
When he arrived in the U.S. he barely understood any English. Still, he was able to find a community of people who spoke his native language and eventually got a job at a Mexican restaurant as a dishwasher. Each night after work he studied English and eventually found out about a government sponsored program at the local university. The English Language Institute had been setup to help non-native English speakers learn English and Jose took full advantage.
As his English improved, he was able to move from dishwasher to waiting tables. His humble, self-effacing demeanor went over well with customers and his boss took notice, promoting him to restaurant manager in his second year there.
But Jose wasn’t content just to work in someone else’s restaurant. He could have remained in Cuba and been a doctor, making a livable wage, but still having the respect of his community.
As he worked, he watched and made mental notes. He learned the business inside and out, picking the brain of the owner the whole time, and saving every dime. He moved into a mobile home with his coworkers, splitting the rent and sharing a small room with a friend in order to save money.
In spite of the tough living conditions, Jose said that as he reflected on what he’d been through up until that point and the difficulties he had experienced in reaching the U.S., the possibilities in front of him seemed limitless.
Jose was very conscientious about not harming his employer, so he went to him and told him of his plans to open his own restaurant in a neighboring town. He told his boss and mentor that he didn’t want to be in competition or do anything to hurt his mentor. By this point, his employer thought of Jose as a son, and wholeheartedly supported him by offering a no-interest loan to help him start his own restaurant.
After three years of working at his first job, he was able to open his own restaurant in a neighboring town.
Jose got to work and remodeled the old Pizza Inn building himself to save money. Jose couldn’t believe how happy the local city government was to see him remodeling the building, as this was the opposite of what he experienced in Cuba. The building had sat vacant for more than five years and the city was glad to see a new business moving in. The city made him aware of several tax incentives that were available for opening a new business and for renovating an existing building. Again, he couldn’t believe that the government was going to help him get his business going. He couldn’t imagine why every American didn’t already have their own businesses too.
After getting the business going, he moved from the crowded mobile home to a slightly larger mobile home but continued to live frugally, saving as much as possible.
Doing so allowed him to pay off his mentor ahead of schedule and to raise the money necessary to bring his son to the U.S. legally. Then he put his son to work and taught him how to run the business. Once trained, his son took over running the restaurant on a day to day basis. He met and married a young lady during that time and began having more kids. Mind you, this took place over about 8 years.
During the time he was growing and perfecting his business, Jose began learning martial arts. After his son took over the day-to-day operations of the restaurant, Jose was able to move on to pursuing his true passion, which was teaching karate. Now, less than 15 years after arriving on our shores, barely speaking the language, he has two thriving businesses, both in line with his passions. He owns a large piece of land and just completed building a large home.
I asked him what lessons he’s teaching his son and younger children. We talked for a moment about business lessons but I inquired further about life lessons and what he said next was profound.
“Be willing to make the choices in life that are most beneficial, even if they aren’t very comfortable at the moment.”
Was Jose’s risk and sacrifice he endured worth it?
Would he do it again?
What would you have done in his situation?
“Sometimes you cannot see beyond the first step, but you must take that first step before any others become visible to you.”
When he left Cuba, he didn’t know exactly what he would encounter along the way. Some of his obstacles turned out to life-threatening but he kept going.
Fortunately, you probably won’t face life-threatening obstacles in your quest.
What I took from his advice is that you have to start wherever you are. There will be no perfect time to start working toward the life you really want. Start now and more opportunities will become evident to you.
Jose is now seen as a leader in his adopted community. He makes enough money to be financially independent, and he’s providing jobs for several other people in the community. More importantly, he lives the way he wants, pursuing his passions.
When he left Cuba there’s no way he could have foreseen exactly where he is today.
The same is true of almost all success stories. The same could be true of you.
Jose is admired in his new country, and he’s admired in his old country, where his former peers look up to him and wish they’d been the ones who ventured out and made the sacrifices Jose made.
So, what’s holding you back?
Think about this for a moment – there is no real comparison that can be made between the things that held Jose back and the things that hold you back.
I mean, come on – a foreigner took great risk to leave his homeland and come to America, overcoming life-threatening obstacles, and after just a few short years he’s now more successful than probably 90 percent of native born citizens who have been here their whole lives. We should be embarrassed.
Is your life in immediate danger by taking a chance? Do you have to swim for 6 hours risking your life to drowning, being eaten by sharks, being shot at or blown up with grenades?
Do you have to learn a new language, find a job, and assimilate into a culture you don’t understand in order to provide for life’s necessities?
What’s your excuse? Don’t you realize that excuses are the nails used to build your coffin? If you’re not living life to the fullest, you’re dying.
Fear is a very powerful force. It creates a force of its own in your mind. It’s what keeps you working in an unfulfilling job for people you don’t like and in boring, institutional places you hate going to.
So many of you have a voice deep inside that tells you that you need to make a change.
Out there where the risks are – that’s also where you’ll find a fulfilling life.
All the risks and obstacles are in your mind.
The next time you find yourself pondering where you are today and distressed about your future, remember this –
Opportunity is available to you and it is more plentiful and easier to realize than for most of the people in the rest of the world.
You just need to get up off your tail and go for it!