I didn’t lead a normal life as a child. My parents moved a lot when I was growing up because of my dad’s job. I think I ended up in 11 schools in 11 years. When I was in third grade, my parents decided that they wanted to make a total life change.
They decided to sell everything we owned and join a mission group called Youth With A Mission. Little did I realize, the next 2½ years would drastically change the direction of my life.
My parents, two siblings and I trained for our mission work in Hawaii and then traveled to Southeast Asia. That’s really where the roots of who I am today developed. We lived in Hong Kong for a year and then moved back to the United States. I loved the adventure and thrived in all the new places and cultures we discovered. We worked with refugee camps, fed the homeless and dedicated our time to helping people.
My eyes were opened wide in the refugee camps, where a family of 10 would share a bunkbed to sleep. They slept in shifts—two to three people at a time would cram into a bed to sleep and then rotate out five hours later to let the next set of family members sleep.
Our family didn’t have much money either though. I remember my parents gave me a dollar as a treat. This had never happened before, so it was huge. I couldn’t decide if I would buy milk or a candy bar. I was craving milk because we could only get powdered milk during the past year, but I still felt like we were rich.
When I returned to the United States in sixth grade, I had culture shock. I can still remember the first grocery store I walked into with my mom. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I looked at all the rows of food stacked to the ceiling. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, I am an American, and I can do anything I want. I have the opportunity to set my own destiny.” Inside, I grew very passionate about being an American and having access to things people in other countries couldn’t dream of. From that point on, I thought, “I’m going to make the most of my life.”
After we were back in the States, my parents worked to start a new church in our community. I had siblings, so money was always tight. I got my first job at 12 years old, washing puppies in a pet store. When the owner of the pet store handed me my first paycheck—$2.50 an hour—I fell in love with the ability to make money and set my own destiny. By the time I was 14, I was hiring and firing employees, I had keys to the store to close and cash out the register and I led our marketing. I loved working and always had two or three jobs.
From then on, I had this drive and passion that was unmatched among other teenagers. Somewhere deep inside, I had a burning desire to change the world.
There’s a lesson to be learned from every journey, and mine is no different. What parts of your childhood had the most influence on how you approach life today? What are you doing to create those moments for the children in your life?