From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul


If you don’t hear opportunity knocking, find another door.

Source Unknown

Every fiber of my small, seven-year-old body was fearfully shaking as we walked through Customs and explained the purpose of our trip: “We’re vacationing in Miami,” I heard my pregnant mother say as I clung to her dress. Even though I heard those words, I knew we would never be going home again.

Communism was quickly tightening the noose around the free enterprise system in Cuba, and my father, a successful entrepreneur, decided it was time to take his family and flee to a land where freedom, promise and opportunity still thrived. Looking back now, it was the most courageous decision I’ve ever seen anybody make.

Castro’s regime was watching my father very carefully, making it necessary for my mother to bring my brother and me over first. My father met us a few weeks later. Miami International Airport overwhelmed me. Everybody was speaking in strange words that didn’t make sense to me. We had no money, no family—nothing but the clothes on our backs.

Within a few months, we were on a church-sponsored flight to Joliet, Illinois, via Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. A burst of cold air
greeted us as we walked out of the terminal into the still talked-about winter of 1961. It had snowed nearly four feet, and amidst the blowing drifts stood a young priest by a large International Suburban, waiting to take us to our new home. This was absolutely amazing for a Cuban boy who had never seen snow.

My father was an educated man and owned a chain of gas stations and a car dealership in Cuba. Unable to speak English, he adapted quickly by finding work as a mechanic; and thanks to St. Patrick’s Church, we were able to find a comfortable although small apartment in a middle-class neighborhood. We didn’t have a lot, but we had each other, a whole lot of love and my father’s burning desire to succeed.

It was during this time that my father, with his tattered Spanish copy of Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, taught me one of the greatest lessons in life. He told me over and over again: “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from or what color you are. You can do anything you put your mind to.” These words gave me comfort and inspiration as my brother and I mixed into the great Chicago melting pot.

My brother Ed and I struggled in school because we couldn’t speak English. It wasn’t uncommon to be called a “spic,” not to be chosen to be on a team or have our hand-me-down bikes stolen, but my father’s words continued to burn inside of me. We also met some truly wonderful people who helped us overcome the obstacles of adjusting to our new surroundings. Many of these people are still my best friends today.

When I was 14, my father was already teaching me about the great principle of free enterprise. He gave me $18 for every set of valves and engine heads I would clean and grind (what we called a valve job). Later he taught me how to hire other people to do the work for me, and I went out and found new customers and collected money—basically ran the business. Little did I know he was teaching me how to be an entrepreneur. America was truly a land of promise.

I was also fortunate to be born into a musically talented family, and I remember listening to my mother sing beautiful Spanish songs to me as I was growing up. These songs inspired me to sing in the church choir as a boy soprano, and because of this same influence, my brother Ed started a contemporary rock band. I attended every band rehearsal and at night harmonized with him and my mother. Later, through working as a laborer in a stone quarry and a scholarship, I studied opera and music at Southern Illinois University. After two years of college, I went back to work in the stone quarry and saved the money I earned for my move west to California.

My goal in moving to California was to break into the music business and cut my own records. It didn’t take very long for reality to set in. I had to take a job selling health club memberships to support myself. Depression set in. I was broke and didn’t know where to turn. Then I met Tom Murphy, one of the owners of the health club.

My father always told me that if you want to be wealthy, you have to do what wealthy people do, so I asked Mr. Murphy if we could talk over coffee to find out what made him so successful. It just so happened that Mr. Murphy was the business partner of Tom Hopkins, one of the country’s top sales trainers. So, of course, he recommended that I start attending sales training seminars, reading self-improvement books and listening to sales tapes. He also introduced me to many successful business men and women and their published materials. I was so hungry for success that it didn’t take long before I was the top salesperson in the company. But that wasn’t good enough. After saving every penny I could, I invested in my own health club. By the time I was finished, I owned nine of the most successful health clubs and sports medicine facilities in the United States, but I still hadn’t achieved my goal—to cut my own record.

Recording my first demo was exciting yet discouraging, as I presented it to record company after record company. Each time I heard the word “no.” Not to be defeated, I recorded the demo in Spanish and took it back to the same record companies—all with the same results. On the verge of giving up, I called my father to discuss what had happened. He said, “Omar, you’re doing very well financially, aren’t you?” I replied that I was. “Well, why don’t you just buy a record company and record your music!”

When I went back to the record company I intended to buy, hoping to save my ego, I asked the company executives one more time to record my music. They said, “Omar, we can’t help you. Go to Broadway. You’ll be great there.” You should have seen their faces when I told them I was going to be the new owner.

I then set out to finance, record and produce my first album in Spanish. From there I went on to be named “Best Latin Male Vocalist” and “Entertainer of the Year” in 1986, 1987 and 1988 “CHIN de PLATA” and “OTTO.”

Today I am enjoying success as a public speaker and trainer with Tom Hopkins International. It’s such a thrill for me now to help others learn how to find the right opportunities to achieve their career goals. Take it from me, my father was right: you can achieve anything you want in life when you set your mind to it.

Omar Periu

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