Success Stair

My Fixer-Upper Life: A Personal & Professional Story

It’s easy to look at someone who’s successful and assume their life has always been perfect. I’m guilty of jumping to the conclusion myself when I meet some people. But then I remind myself of a kid who started with nothing, fought through some really tough years, and then worked his way to a comfortable, successful life. That kid was me.

My own grandchildren were shocked to learn that I didn’t grow up wealthy with a picture-perfect family. They were adolescents when I informed them that I’d started drinking in seventh grade, that I’ve been in recovery for years, that I’ve been incarcerated and flat broke, and that my own family is, to put it mildly, dysfunctional. It’s not that I’d hidden my past from my grandkids — it’s just that they’d never asked, assuming the successful grandfather they knew had always been that way. Opening up to them felt cathartic, and it inspired me to write a book about my fixer-upper life.

Alcohol addiction goes way back in my family. My father was a violent alcoholic, and my mother often joined him, resulting in a childhood marked by alcohol-fueled domestic chaos. They were good people when they were sober, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from falling into my own struggles with alcohol from an early age. Before long, I was getting in trouble with the law, shoplifting and getting info fights. I started using drugs at 16, then dropped out of high school in 11th grade. I spent the next few years doing drugs, drinking, and racking up DWIs while bouncing between jobs. Life was not easy, and it wasn’t good, though sometimes I managed to convince myself that it was.

An arrest followed by a stint in jail and a treatment center finally started a shift in my life. I stopped hanging around the wrong people. Gradually I became more confident in my sobriety, and I realized how liberating that could feel. I started going to therapy, and got on antidepressants to help me fight the depression that was at the root of many of my issues.

And somewhere in all of that change, I found my purpose. First I got a job working for a community action agency, helping low-income people and senior citizens fix up their homes. Then I bought my own first house to rehab, and then another. By the time I was 30, I’d found my way into the real estate industry — and I loved it. Today, I’m proud to say that I own one of the biggest brokerages at the largest real estate company in the world.

Would I have imagined myself here when I was a kid hiding from his drunk father, or hitchhiking across California high on LSD? Not a chance. But there’s a reason I got here — and it wasn’t luck. My worst years were the years I didn’t believe in myself, when I didn’t think I could do better. My life changed when I recognized that I could control my destiny, if I was willing to put in the work.