On May 20th of 2004, I was kidnapped and held hostage by gang members. One of the "captains" was angry with me because I was working to help his girlfriend find a safe haven from his extreme abuse. For years my mother worked as a gang violence interventionist, mediating closely with the Latin Kings, the Bloods, and the Crips. She provided safe havens to people looking to escape violence. I grew up listening at the dinner table to my mom's tales, accumulated from the 20 years of conflict management and violence prevention work. Before her, my grandparents went toe-to-toe with both the mafia and the government in their quest to create better conditions in factories for hard working Americans like themselves, during the 40s, 50s and early 60s. They were no strangers to dangerous situations and their bravery inspires me to this day.
In a way, I was born to be a crisis worker. My life was the training ground. I knew there were risks, but some things you just don't see coming. After being chased across an open field for sport, forced into a car at gunpoint, and questioned for hours, I was left in the pitch black to wonder how many more minutes I had left to live. Much to my surprise, I survived. After being threatened with death, castration, and exposed to violent force, the time I spent with those men influenced the past 12 years of my life. Training from the Alternatives to Violence Project (originally developed in prisons by inmates serving life sentences) that I received at the age of 13 helped me to be set free. I convinced the people holding me that I was no threat, and to let me go. I would walk away from that experience as a different man, and in some ways, a much better person. From then on, I wanted to help others survive life-threatening situations, and to rebound from extreme stress. When I was 22, I helped found a company for that purpose.
Traumatic Stress, PTSD, and professional trauma exposure are said to often leave its survivors with what is known as the 4 F's (fight, flight, freeze, and fold.) These four F's describe the common automatic responses that people fall into when they are triggered or feel threatened. The brain releases these survival chemicals that are designed to keep us alive when we are overwhelmed.
Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle that can be overwhelming, traumatizing, scary, and also wonderful and joyous. Learning to manage extreme stress, to understand how to respond to feelings of overwhelm and march forward in the face of uncertainty are attributes that helped me become successful as a small business owner. That's why I am thankful for May 20th, the 48 hours with those men, and every day that came after it.
Bruce Lee had a famous quote, "Be like water." These words were the key to my survival. In business, following that mantra can also help you thrive. When it comes to the integrity of our company, Red Kite Project, we are like stone. However, one must know when to adapt and flow rather than stand still or become rigid. Your business will not survive if you can't learn to pivot and flow with sudden changes or threats from the market, internally from your own team, or even yourself.
- People who aren't in your shoes will question your choices, motivations, and your sanity. It's always good to reflect and there is nothing wrong with entertaining wise counsel. However, unless they live the life of an entrepreneur, many are ill-equipped to guide you or second-guess your decisions. That does not mean that we should ignore them! Only recognize that they may not understand our vision and the sacrifices it requires to actualize it.
I am thankful every day for the things I have endured, as much as I am thankful for my joyful experiences. Without struggle, I never would have been prepared to be an entrepreneur and navigate the emotional, mental, and physical battlefield that is called "small business ownership." As a professional resiliency builder, I know that the obstacles that I have faced help me to be more authentic with the soldiers, nurses, crisis workers, EMTs, doctors, bus drivers, and law enforcement workers with whom I facilitate. I wear my scars proudly and this is the first time I have publicly told this story. I hope that it serves as a beacon of light to those who have endured so much, but dream even more.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.