I was surprised to read that many college graduates in the U.S. are disappointed in life because they think they should start out making $150,000. I’m all for having confidence in yourself, but too many young people are deluded about what it takes to really become an American success story.
I have four brothers and two sisters. We came from Italy and started with nothing — zero. Today, in our eighties, my brothers and I have done well and, in some cases, gotten very rich. I say that not to boast about my family but to say that hard work pays off — you can do it, too.
Our example was our beautiful mother, the kindest person I ever knew. She had hair so blonde that nobody could believe she was Sicilian. When she came to the U.S. after marrying in Italy, she had two children by the age of 17. She also helped her husband start a meat market in Chicago, and she learned to cut meat to sell to customers. They moved back to Italy, and her husband was killed, leaving my 22-year-old mother with two children and no livelihood.
Thank God, my grandfather stepped in to help run the 15-acre ranch Mom now owned. She married again and had four more children, myself included. But my father was drafted into Mussolini’s army to fight in World War II, leaving Mom and us to survive without him. We had no dishwasher, clothes washer or other modern conveniences, so Mom was up at dawn washing our clothes in the sink and preparing breakfast for the household before we went off to school.
One by one, we emigrated to the U.S., I in 1949 and Mom to Chicago again in 1954. Her goal was to help my four brothers immigrate to the new country, so she got a job in the Salerno cookie factory, taking the bus there on frigid winter mornings. Between her paycheck and mine, we had enough money to bring my brothers over after a year of working. My two sisters married and remained in Italy.
My brothers started earning their way in the world. Anthony took a job in a candy factory, Matteo became a meat cutter in San Francisco and invested in real estate, Peter worked as a bank supervisor, and Sam went into the U.S. Army, then became an electrician at a Naval shipyard in the Bay Area. After he retired from the Navy, he invested his money in real estate, and his wealth grew. Anthony opened up a neighborhood grocery store. I worked in insurance and invested in real estate in the San Fernando Valley.
Mom was happy to watch her hard work pay off. She and my father moved to California to be near their children and grandchildren. She never spoke a bad word about anybody. She loved everyone she met. She also liked to play cards so much that she actually carried a deck of cards in her purse, ready for impromptu games.
Everyone in my family worked hard to make a living. We didn’t look to an unemployment check or welfare benefits. We didn’t see the government as our safety net. The reason we did well is because of the things we learned by being self-reliant.
These days, employers can hardly fill open positions because so many working-age Americans would rather make a good “living” doing nothing but collecting government benefits. What kind of life is that? It bankrupts your soul and eventually your pocketbook, too.
We can only be as great as the choices we make and the struggles we overcome. Hard work is the key, along with investing wisely and spending frugally. Nobody starts on top — it’s just not the way things work — but I believe the American dream is still available to those who will work for it.