Thursday, November 7, 2013

Think Like a Sicilian

You know the story. Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo has a dream. He wants to become the drug kingpin of post World War II New York. He has the connections necessary to bring the drugs into this country, but he lacks a distribution network, start up cash, and political and police protection for his new business. An alliance with the Tattaglia family provides him with a supply system through their prostitution network, but only one man in New York has all the judges and politicians in his pocket, Don Vito Corleone. The Turk sets up a face to face meeting with the Corleone family. In exchange for $1,000,000 in cash, as well as political protection for his racket, Sollozzo offers Don Corleone a 30% interest in his business, “Three or four million in the first year. More after that.”

Don Corleone declines, but as Tom Hagen, the family consigliere, observes Virgil Sollozzo is a Sicilian. He is not a man who will take no for an answer. Sollozzo, a new immigrant just off the boat, orders the murder of Don Vito Corleone, the most powerful mob boss in New York. The failure of this assassination attempt results in an all out bloody gang war involving all the Five Families. Sollozzo attempts a peace meeting with Michael Corleone, a man he seriously underestimates. It turns out that like the Turk, Michael Corleone is a Sicilian. Along with the key members of the family, Michael plans the murder Sollozzo. Michael is willing to murder the man who attempted to murder his father, no matter what the cost. If he dies, so be it. If he spends the rest of his life in exile, so be it. If he ends up in the state electric chair, so be it.

No matter how much it costs; no matter how long it takes; no matter how much effort is required; Sollozzo will die.

In the course my work in this ministry I am confronted by people with very serious problems. Some of them have lost a job. Some of them are heading towards bankruptcy. Young people are facing the option of no education or crippling student debts. When I consider these problems, I feel as though I am standing on holy ground. What I say may change the course of a life for good or evil. It is difficult, because while I can provide the basic tools necessary to help solve a particular life problem, I can not live another person’s life.

Many of these situations require something more than tools. They require a personal commitment that says, “This game isn’t over until I have won.”* There is a time for thinking like a Sicilian. I am not suggesting you tape a handgun to the back of a toilet to murder your former boss. I am suggesting that you make the decision: No matter how much it costs; no matter how long it takes; no matter how much effort is required I will achieve this goal. I will find a job. My family will be debt free. I will graduate from college without student loans if it takes me 10 years of night school.

In looking at my own life, there are only three times where I made this kind of commitment. Like Tom Hagen, I am German Irish, not a Sicilian. I am not a super competitive kind of guy, but there were three times that you simply did not want to get in the way of what I was trying to achieve. In each case the results were life changing.

In 1969 I decided that I was going to marry the woman who became my wife. I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. If plan A wasn’t working, I tried plan B, plan C, and plan D. I never gave up. It took over five years, but we have been married now for almost 39 years.

I decided I was going to engineering school so that I could leave the American factory forever. I didn’t have any money and I was told I would be a C+ student. That didn’t matter. School became my job. If 50 hours a week wasn’t enough, I would work 60. I learned how to get free tutoring from professors. I learned how to collect homework, class notes, and tests from previous semesters to bolster my own efforts. I got a scholarship and a work study grant. I even managed to obtain a key to the building so I could work on the computer network on weekends when the building was locked. I graduated with a 3.8. I found a job in Research & Development.

I started the final run to retirement when I was about 50 years old. Don’t make the mistake of starting that late. However, I went after that goal with a ferocity and passion that matched anything in my life. Losing 20%-25% of my money in 2008 only served as motivation to increase my efforts. I continued to invest all the way down. Then the market came back. In one year, through savings and capital gains, I increased my net worth by more than my total pretax income from my full time job. I was able to safely retire at age 62.

There are times in life when it is appropriate to think like a Sicilian. I can’t tell you when you are facing one of those situations. Ask God. Ask your heart. I think you will find the answer. If you are facing something that is threatening your family or the basic quality of your life, make the decision, “This game isn’t over until I have won.” No matter how much it costs; no matter how long it takes; no matter how much effort is required I will achieve this goal.

If you lost your job, do not say, “I am unemployed.” Instead tell yourself you have a new job looking for work. If you worked 40 hours a week at your old job work 50 hours a week at your new job.

Don’t limit yourself to personnel officers and financial aid counselors. While you should use their services, remember part of their job is keeping people like you from reaching your goal. If you want to work somewhere try and meet people who already work there. If you want to get a scholarship or a grant begin to cultivate relationship with your faculty. Somewhere there is a man who has powerful friends, a million dollars in cash, a man who carries around politicians in his pocket like so many nickels and dimes. Somewhere there is a man or a woman who could provide you with a job or a scholarship. It is part of your job to find out who has that kind of power. It is part of your job to convince them that they need to change your life.

It turns out in some companies about 50% of their new hires come from personal recommendations made by their existing employees. This is a growing trend that crosses many types of businesses. Companies are looking for quick efficient results. If a high quality ambitious employee is willing to put their reputation on the line by recommending someone in their network, there is a very high probability this person will be a very good employee. I don’t imagine finding scholarship and grant money is all that different.

*Thanks to Les Brown

No comments:

Post a Comment