This past weekend was great. I put in a lot of time editing my second book. On Sunday evening my wife and I enjoyed catching up with some good friends over dinner. It’s always fun for me to sit down and catch up with Andrew and Frank. Both have similar backgrounds to me. They both also spent much of their lives in organized crime, and they also both made the choice to leave that life. Andrew, like me, operated in Brooklyn. We knew many of the same people and ran the same streets. Frank was born into a life of organized crime in Chicago.
We sat around the table and told stories from the old days. We laughed and talked about our struggles and the things we can never quite talk about in the same way with those who do not share the same experiences. It got me thinking about this question: what exactly separates us from everyone else?
I often get messages from people who say I took the easy way out. They are trying to make me feel bad that I walked away from the life I used to know. I used to get angry or try to defend myself. Now, I just feel sorry for them. They have their moral compass completely out of whack.
Frank, Andrew and I took the hard way. It would have been easy to continue on doing the things we knew how to do best, until we sat in some cell getting a bed and three squares a day. I say hard, not because I am complaining, but because in doing things this way, we all had to go back and work on the things that we skipped over in the past. We had to learn a different way of life.
The three of us faced similar incidents after making the decision to change our lives. Each of us had plans derailed by our past. We all know that we can only blame ourselves. Yes, it did not feel good, but that is life, so we just move on.
Andrew leaned back in his chair and said, “Bro I really like my job, if I’da known about this, I woulda been doin’ it all along.”
This made me think about my life and how much I enjoy it. In fact, it is so different now that the old me could not ever have imagined an outcome like my life today.
Frank was talking about the things he has recently accomplished and the many plans and goals he still has.
There was a brief silence when we mentioned some of those we knew who are still in the life or those that have passed on.
Each of us learned that if we expect a different outcome we not only have to change our actions, but we must change ourselves. Life is not fair or easy. Obstacles come up when you least expect them. Still, we have to keep driving forward even when we don’t feel like it. We can’t revert to our old ways.
I got a message over the weekend from a friend in Los Angeles. He had gotten a job he had been working toward for years. I have written about this friend in the past. He overcame drugs and gang life, focusing instead on his education and making a life for himself and his family. He kicked his drug habit on his own cold turkey. He walked away from life with the gang and has not looked back. He has been working and going to school for the past eight years.
Today he is married with a child and he is enjoying his first trip to Disneyland. He will be starting school in two weeks for his next step up the career ladder. Even when we reach a goal, it is not time to relax, its time to refocus and aim higher.
One thing is certain in life: you will fall, you will make mistakes. I made a lot of them. It is up to you to get up and keep going. When I left the life of organized crime in 2005, I had no real skills. I had never had a real job. All of my mentors in life had been criminals. I spent time searching my soul and trying to figure out what I would do. One thing I knew for sure: that was I was never going back to my old ways.
Since then, I have had both good times and bad. I have learned many lessons. I know now what is really important in life, and it has no bearing on how much money you put in your pocket.
I write a lot about my friends in this blog. That’s because my friends inspire me. They push me to be a better person, a better athlete, a better husband, a better Christian. I encourage you to surround yourself with people who work hard. People you admire. People who bring out the best in you. I am thankful every day for the many good friends and new mentors God has blessed me with.
Iron sharpens iron; so one man sharpens another.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.