September 30th, 2021 - 7:45am in Dallas, TX - personal journal
Inviting Uber drivers to share their life stories during a 10-15 minute ride across town is one of my favorite activities. I'd say the success rate is around 75%.
Today - Thursday, September 30th - is Juan's story.
Our chat began with pleasantries.
"Good Morning! Thank you for sharing your time with me this morning," I began as I hopped in Juan's car. He acknowledged and returned the gesture in kind. We were off.
All of my best Uber conversations begin with the driver. 100 yards down the road Juan lobbed an inviting question in my direction. Through experience, I've learned that my response to that first question is critical and sets the tone for the entire ride.
Juan's question was simple. "How was your training session?"
In the immediate aftermath of a 6:30am CrossFit class, damp gym clothes and all, I flashed a wide smile. I liked Juan already - he was speaking my language.
"Great!" I cheerfully responded. "My favorite way to start the day."
Now, it was my turn to invite Juan to the conversation. "You look like someone who trains regularly yourself."
J: "Training is very special to me because I train with my two sons every night. We practice Jiu-Jitsu, Krav Maga, and other martial arts. They began when they were 5 years old and the oldest is going to college next year."
W: "That's amazing! Congratulations to your son. That sounds like a very special ritual you have together."
J: "Yes, it is very special. I crush them every night because that is how I grew up training. We had very little rules where I'm from in Venezuela."
W: "Training hard makes everything easier. I'm sure you've taught them many valuable life lessons."
J: "Oh yes. The martial arts saved my life and sharing the practice with others is a great feeling for me."
W: "They saved your life?"
J: "Yes sir. When I was 9 years old, I weighed almost 200 pounds. I was bullied and would lock myself in the bathroom to hide from my life. I tried to eat a handful of pills one night to stop it all. Thankfully, I failed and soon after I discovered the martial arts and lost all of the weight in less than a year. 42 years later, I still practice every day."
W: "That's powerful. I'm so sorry you went through that at such a young age, but it speaks volumes about your character that you were able to take control of your life and turn it around so quickly."
J: "Thank you, sir. It has taught me many lessons."
W: "I can imagine. I've never practiced the martial arts, but I have heard others talk about the practice in similar ways. You said you trained in Venezuela where you grew up?"
J: "Yes, we moved to the U.S. as political refugees 7 years ago, but growing up the martial arts were a very big part of my life in Venezuela. We trained very hard, there were no rules. (Juan proceeds to show me his hands, which have clearly experienced numerous fractured bones, as well as his elbow, which is the size of a tennis ball from "numerous dislocations").
W: "No kidding. Looks like you trained to your breaking point."
J: "Oh yes, that's how it was in Venezuela."
W: "And you train this way here, in the States?"
J: "Yes, with my sons and with a group of Venezuelans every weekend. We have about 25 people now."
W: "Amazing. Now you're changing other people's lives like you changed your own."
J: "It is very special. My sons now have college scholarships and my daughter has a good job. We are very blessed and thankful to be in the U.S."
W: "You said you were a political refugee. I know very little about Venezuela, but I do know the political situation has been horrible for quite some time."
J: "Yes, it was difficult. We are thankful to be in the U.S. In Venezuela, I was an oil engineer making $65,000 per year. Then, one day I suddenly made the equivalent of $0.65 per day due to the political changes. I have a university degree and two masters degrees, but I could only afford to eat one meal per day, four days per week in order to feed my family."
W: "How did you get through that? That's hard to wrap my head around. I cannot imagine what you must have been dealing with internally."
J: "Sir, I've learned to appreciate every moment as a blessing. Take one day at a time and make the most of every moment. I worked very hard. We moved here 7 years ago and I lived on the street, picking through trash for food. I remember receiving my first few hundred dollars and I felt like Donald Trump. Now, we have a great life, I'm so thankful. I have a job, my kids have full scholarships and are all healthy. We are fortunate."
W: "That's powerful, Juan. You have been through a lot. More than anyone should ever have to handle. I'm thrilled you are in a great place now. God knows you deserve it and I sincerely hope everything continues to improve beyond your hopes and expectations. You have an amazing story."
J: "Thank you, sir. My grandfather told me there are two types of people in this world. Those who cry and those who sell handkerchiefs to those who cry. We work hard and never give up. You can never give up. We all fail, but we must not fall backward, we have to fall forward."
W: "Fail forward. I love that. It certainly sounds like you've taken advantage of opportunities, not matter how small."
J: "Yes, always. Now we send money back to friends I've known since I was young. We can support 40 families in Venezuela. We are very fortunate."
W: "We all have something we could learn from you, Juan. Thank you for all that you do. You're making a real impact in the world."
J: "We can all make an impact. Everyone who is lucky enough to live in the U.S. can do this. If you work hard and never give up, you will be successful and live a great life here. This is an amazing place. I wish people would understand this and appreciate it more."
W: "Amen. We can all do a better job there."
Before I left the car, Juan showed me pictures of his two boys and their respective physical transformations due to martial arts. They are jacked and look confident, ready to impart their Dad's wisdom on the world.
Juan's story is an incredible reminder that everyone has a story, we just have to pay attention and give them the opportunity to share. Everyone has something valuable to teach us. Juan certainly taught me a lot in 15 minutes.
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