From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

Counting My Blessings

I cofounded John Paul Mitchell Systems, a professional hair care company, with Paul Mitchell. We started the company with just $700, which was a lot of money for me at that time. I had usually lived hand-to-mouth, waiting for each paycheck to cover my lengthy list of bills.

Finally, in 1981, almost two years after forming our company (and coming close to financial bankruptcy too many times to count), we were officially running in the black. Personally, for the first time in my adult life, I had all my bills paid; my mortgage, credit cards and utilities were current. To top it off, I still had more than $2,000 left over at the end of the month! That had never happened to me before, and I was ready to celebrate.

I chose to have lunch in a Mexican restaurant in Marina del Rey. It was the first time I ordered off the left side of the menu; I decided what kind of food I wanted instead of running my finger down the right side of the menu to find the price I could afford.

During lunch, I saw a group of a dozen kids and two moms come into the restaurant. They sat down at a table directly in front of me. I noticed one of the moms talking with the waiter, looking at the menu and running her finger down the menu’s right side. I could tell she was trying to figure out what they could get for the $3.95 special. The kids didn’t seem too worried about what was for lunch; they weren’t wearing the “I’ve-been-here-a-hundred-times” bored expressions and appeared very excited about being there. I guessed that being at a restaurant wasn’t an everyday occasion for them. One little boy, who was wearing a ragged T-shirt and jeans, reminded me of myself when I was his age. You wouldn’t have seen me in a restaurant when I was little. We didn’t have the money. My parents were immigrants, and we lived with our mom in Echo Park in East Los Angeles. My mom worked hard to support us. She couldn’t afford childcare for my brother and me, so with too much unsupervised free time, I joined a street gang.

Things didn’t change or become easier for me once I became an adult. I worked and held many jobs, but the money never seemed to be enough. Eking out a salary big enough to handle rent and food was my foremost goal, and the threat of living on the streets was not just a distant fear. “Homeless” was often a real part of my vocabulary—a cold and lonely word. It had mercilessly pounded my thoughts as more than once I tossed and turned at night, trying to find a comfortable sleeping position in the back seat of my car. But I had dreams, and being down and out wasn’t the result I was going to settle for. I kept working and kept looking.

And here I was enjoying lunch with the knowledge that I had money to spare. To spare. I got up from my table and followed the group’s waiter toward the back of the restaurant, explaining my situation and telling him that I wanted the kids and their moms to be able to order absolutely anything they wanted. Most important, I told him, “Please don’t tell them who did this.”

After a few moments, the waiter went back to the table and shared the news. One of the women immediately stood up and started looking around the restaurant. She looked to her immediate left, straight at me. Wearing casual clothes, I didn’t keep her attention but for a second. She quickly looked to the next person, then the next. When no one acknowledged her, she announced in a loud voice, “Whoever you are, thank you and God bless you. You have no idea what you have done for me and these children.”

I was blessed; I felt on top of the world! Being able to give in such a way was something new for me. It was then that I decided that for me not to share my success would be to fail, and failure wasn’t acceptable. That day, I decided it didn’t matter how much success I had, whether I had two or two thousand extra dollars or even two extra hours. I began to look for ways to help others. I had discovered how much joy true success could bring. For me, success unshared is failure.

John Paul DeJoria

[EDITORS’ NOTE: John Paul DeJoria cofounded John Paul Mitchell Systems with the late Paul Mitchell in 1980 to manufacture Paul Mitchell Professional Salon Products. As CEO, DeJoria has seen the company’s salon retail sales increase to $700 million.

DeJoria contributes to many organizations including the Sovereign Diné Nation Weaving Collective, the AIDS Relief Fund for Beauty Professionals, Rescue Missions and the Rainforest Foundation, the Sea Shepherd Foundation and Waterkeepers. He received the Horatio Alger Award in 2004, as well as the Spirit of Life Award from the City of Hope National Medical Center.]

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