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Against all odds

odds paul martinelli Oct 20, 2019

I have a story for you today. Honestly, this is one of the most incredible stories I have ever heard that illustrates the essence of the human spirit, seeking life and freedom and fullness and expression.

This story is about a good friend of mine, someone I have known now for a few years, and just this week, I asked him if I could share his story with you. Because I don’t think it’s possible for a single person to hear this story and imagine this story and not be impacted.

The other thing about this story is, it really puts an exclamation mark on the end of this statement: I have nothing to complain about!

Let me introduce you to Gerson Calderon!

I’m going to share with you the big picture of Gerson’s life. There are plenty of details that I could include, but for the sake of time, let me try and summarize for you what I believe are the most impactful pieces of his story.

If you have met Gerson since I’ve known him, in the last 3 years, you would never guess what he has gone through. But because of who he is, and how he has lived out what we teach in our Empowered Living community, how your spirit is always seeking fuller expression and fuller expansion, and fuller life, Gerson’s story epitomizes the definition of persistence, and he has created for himself a beautiful life, full of beautiful relationships, incredible business success, and that inner fulfillment that comes when you know you are doing a good work in the world.

So, let the story begin.

Gerson grew up in Nicaragua, during the war. When he was just 1 year old, his father left his mother, and shortly after that, his mom found herself a new husband. This new man in Gerson’s life, his stepfather, was a leader in the army, and he was actually responsible for torturing those who were in resistance to the government of Nicaragua. That’s enough detail to know who we’re dealing with here.

Suffice it to say, at the hands of his stepfather, Gerson and his mother both were severely abused, and their lives threatened repeatedly. It finally came to a head when Gerson told his mom the more horrific details of the abuse, and his stepfather found out. He threatened that if Gerson’s mother didn’t abandon Gerson, his stepfather would kill them both.

Picture this: a little 5-year-old boy, driven into one of the big cities, and just left on a street corner, completely abandoned.

Living as a street kid, Gerson had one goal and one goal only – to survive for one more day. That was it. That was where all of his energy was focused. Begging. Doing errands for pay. Washing cars. Anything just to get a little something to eat.

No shoes, no shirt, just a pair of shorts. Newspapers to cover him at night to keep him warm. This was his life until he was about 11 years old.

When he was 11, he met some people from Costa Rica, who were vacationing in Nicaragua, and because of Gerson’s friendly disposition (he told me, honestly, he was friendly because he was just looking for the next source of food), these people took a liking to him. And they invited him to come back to Costa Rica with them. Of course, Gerson jumped at the opportunity.

Keep this in perspective… we’re talking about an 11-year-old here.

So, Gerson went to Costa Rica, and there a family took him under their wing and adopted him (not officially, but they made him part of their family), and he started to live with them on the plantain farm that they owned. Now Gerson was too small and too weak to work on the farm – after all, he was severely malnourished and only 11 years old. But all Gerson knew to do was to work. All he knew to do was to hustle. All he knew to do was to survive. He didn’t know what it meant to be in a family. He didn’t know what it meant to live in a home. He didn’t know what it meant to have adults taking care of him.

And so, he ran away. Back to the streets. That was his zone of knowing, and as a young kid just trying to make it, he chose to go where he knew he could survive. And that was the streets.

Eventually, around the age of 15, one of the Costa Ricans he had met back in Nicaragua got in contact with him and invited him to live and work on his pig farm.

Here’s what I know about Gerson: when an opportunity presents itself, he automatically takes the next step, without hesitation. And when I learned of his story, I understood in a whole new way how Gerson developed this resilience, self-preservation and willingness to take action when others wouldn’t have dreamed of it.

So, he went and lived and worked on a pig farm. He made arrangements with some local restaurants to come and pick up their left-over food that they couldn’t sell, so that he could feed it to the pigs… and as he would walk from the restaurants back to the farm, he would eat the food himself. In fact, this was his main source of nourishment at this time. He was just doing whatever he could do to survive.

As the years passed by, and he turned 16, and then 17, and 18, he felt this emptiness, like there was no purpose and no meaning to his life. He felt lost and alone and worthless. And at the age of 18, he decided to take his own life. He told himself, “nobody loves me, I’m not good enough, I’m not even strong enough to do the work of a man…” and he blamed God for how miserable his life was. He was ready to give up.

As he was tying the knot in the rope to do the deed, he heard a voice, the voice of God, and this voice said to him, “What if there is something else? What if there is more for you to do? Don’t give up.” He stopped dead in his tracks. He had never God speak to him as he did in that moment. And all of a sudden, he shifted his focus and he made a promise to himself: “I will never stop fighting for what I want and I will prove to the people who have discriminated against me, because of how I grew up and who I am… I will prove to them that I am a good person. And I will never allow them to have power over me. I have the power to decide what kind of life I want to live.”

From that moment, things started to change. The conditions and circumstances of his life weren’t suddenly easy, but he latched onto a new drive for life. He became a street merchant and began to make enough money to pay for his own apartment. And he began to dream. He decided he wanted to go to the United States.

And so, he worked harder and harder and harder, focusing on this desire, focusing on his vision for a brighter future. Eventually, he had saved up enough money to pay the smugglers who would get him into the US. He traveled to Canada, and then in Toronto, he was told to get under the car of the train, and to hold on to the bottom of the train as it traveled from Canada into the United States.

For hours, he hung on. There was nothing else he could do, or else he would die. Finally, after what felt like ages, the train came to a stop. It was nighttime, in the middle of winter, and Gerson got out from the under the train. He had no idea where he was, but he saw a light in the distance, and he started walking towards it. After 30 minutes of walking in the snow, nearly freezing to death, Gerson found himself outside a Ford Motor company office. Some people saw him and called the police. The police picked him up, got him warm, and let him sleep in the station for a night. He told the officers that he had been robbed and was trying to get back to Canada. So, the next day, they took him to the train station to get on a train back to Toronto and left him there. Gerson quickly switched platforms and got himself heading towards New Jersey, where he knew a friend was living.

Living in the US was harder than he had thought it would be. After a year of struggling to get a job, he finally got hired as a roofer, making a decent wage. But he couldn’t open a bank account or hold the money in the US as he was there illegally, so he contacted his mother and asked her if he could send his extra money back to her so she could save it for him. He worked for about 5 years and over that time, he sent about $200k back to Costa Rica. And then in 2010, the US government caught up with him and he was deported back to Costa Rica. Even though he had to leave the country, he held onto some hope that he had money stocked up in Costa Rica which he could use to start his life over again.

He called his mother, and in no uncertain terms, she told him she didn’t have any money for him. It had already been spent. He was devastated, his trust in his family completely obliterated.

Again, through the struggle and the despair, he just took the next step. He opened up a cellphone repair and accessory shop in the capital city, and he got to work. He taught himself how to repair phones. All he needed was a few tools that cost little, and he could start making money again. It was hard. It was tough. It seemed like the world was working against him.

And then in 2013, he had one of his biggest turning points of all. He was dating a girl at the time, and he found out she had been unfaithful. Again, he was devastated. He confronted her on it, and what she said to him shook him to his core and also gave him a totally new perspective on who he wanted to be and how he wanted to live his life.

She told him, “You are nobody. You’re comfortable just getting by, doing nothing significant, nothing to improve your life. You’re not the kind of man I want to be with. I want somebody who wants to be somebody in their life.”

 And he realized that after he was deported back to Costa Rica, he just kind of settled in life. He just figured he was never going to be anybody; he was never going to be able to do anything significant. He told himself, “some people are born to have more, but I’m not one of those people.”

This conversation with his girlfriend spun him around and set him on a new path. He said to himself, “This isn’t the person I want to be. This isn’t the life I want to have.” And he started to set some goals, just to prove that he could do something bigger. He also started searching on the internet for more ideas and more help to move him forward, and he came across the book, Think & Grow Rich.

He had his doubts, for sure, but in the end, he said to himself, “What do I have to lose? I have tried everything else and nothing has really worked, so why not give this book a try.”

His first goal was to end the year with $5k in his bank account. He ended with $10k. His second goal was for $50k, and he got that too. And it kept growing from there. His business expanded and his income expanded with it.

In 2015, he joined the John Maxwell Team in order to share with other people what he was learning and applying in his life, and to look for a mentor. By this time, he was making $50k a month, and he didn’t even know what it was that he was doing to create this success. He was unconsciously competent. All of that struggle in his life up until this moment had set the foundation for him to access the resources and skills and talents and abilities that he had all along, to create what he desired in his life.

His first call that he listened to after joining the John Maxwell Team was with me, and I was teaching a lesson on Think & Grow Rich that day. I had no idea Gerson was on the line, or who he was, but just a month later, I got an email from Gerson asking me how he could work with me one-on-one, for me to mentor him and help him grow. And in November of 2016, we started our work together.

Gerson had already achieved a significant level of financial success by this time, but since then, I have seen him grow in more ways than I can even describe. He is an incredible leader, an incredible speaker and communicator, an incredible father and husband, and an incredible business partner for Roddy and I in Empowered Living.

I asked him to share with me what he believes to be one of the critical elements to building an empowered life for yourself and your loved ones. And he said this: “Paul, I have done so many things, not believing in myself… But to have somebody who believes in you speaking into your life, is priceless. I needed someone with a higher level of awareness who could open my eyes and who would say to me, ‘Gerson, I believe in you, I see it in you.’… Somebody who knows what they’re talking about and who has lived it in their own lives.”

And I want to close off this message by saying this. I am so proud to have Gerson as our Spanish Empowered Living business and teaching partner. Gerson’s story and his message really sums up what we are all about here in the Empowered Living tribe. We are here to lift each other up, to believe in each other, and to see and declare each other’s potential even when we can’t see it in ourselves.

I believe in you and I believe in your dream!!

Hold Your Image!!

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