Michael Alden

Author and CEO

Realizing Goals Is My Passion

I was born into poverty and I thank god every day for that. I would not have wanted it any other way. Growing up poor was actually a gift; a gift that is very difficult to see when you are growing up. How can living in constant fear of being homeless, having your electricity shut off, and eating from food pantry shelves be considered a gift? How can standing in the special free food lunch line or going to school early to get state sponsored breakfast for twelve years be a gift? How can growing up in a neighborhood that was surrounded by crime, violence, and drugs be a gift?

Growing up poor taught me the value of money and hard work. Growing up poor taught me how to save, share and be generous. Growing up poor caused me to yearn for more. The way I grew up may have been tough, but there are a lot worse situations than mine. I was never homeless, but often had the fear of being evicted. I never went hungry, but we had to improvise, adapt and find ways to eat. I never had a Christmas without gifts or a special treat, but many of our holidays were subsidized by a charitable organization or completely funded by Salvation Army. As a young child, I watched my mother struggle and cry trying to figure out how to get by. I used to listen to my mother negotiate and beg the Housing Authority not to evict us. I remember once when my mother’s old beat up Dodge Colt was repossessed and she had to negotiate more money than it was worth to get the car back. Growing up poor forced me to learn how to use what I had within me to make more out of life.

mike and book sitting.jpg

I turned a five cent can deposit into a multi-million dollar company.

Yeah sure, I’ll explain. I should start by saying I consider myself lucky because I was forced at a very young age to find honest ways to earn the things I wanted in life. Seems like a simple enough concept right? Work for what you want. Those five words were seared into my psyche from as earlier as I can remember because often what I “wanted” were things that I “needed.” Most kids don’t need to work in order to contribute to the basic necessities of their family’s lives. While other kids had paper routes to save up for the newest video game, I had one to help with family finances.

At the age of 10, I finally decided I wanted something for myself. What I wanted was a bike. However, I didn’t want that bike from a materialistic perspective. I wanted that bike because with it, I knew I could use it to make more money. With that bike, I could expand my paper route and take on more customers. However, my paper route income was not going to cover such an investment. I needed to subsidize that somehow and I needed to do it quick before fall turned into winter.

The answer came to me the day my uncle Buddy, who worked as a janitor at a car dealership in Danvers, Massachusetts brought me a giant bag full of aluminum soda cans worth five cents each. It was a virtual goldmine to a 10 year old kid from the housing projects! All I had to do was bring them to the redemption center and put the money in my pocket. Thus began my scouring of the city for every redeemable container that I could find. I picked bottles out of barrels. I dredged back allies for cans. I climbed into dumpsters. I did this all on a daily basis until I had saved up enough for that bike.

On one of my very first hunting days, I was faced with a scenario that I believe set me on the course that I followed to this day. It was the day I decided to stop caring about what others think and took my first steps to real personal growth. I remember the moment like it was yesterday.

It was a hot summer day and I was down at the local beach rummaging through garbage cans. I remember the smell of trash and rotting food, and the sound of bees swarming around. All this was bad enough but as I climbed out of one can I came face to face with a group of kids I went to school with. I stood there, embarrassed beyond belief as they looked at me like I had three heads.  I had just been busted picking through the garbage directly in front of the one group of peers at my school who I knew had the power to make or break the infancy of my school reputation. Then it dawned on me; who the hell cares? I was earning money for my bike in the most honest way a boy my age could. I could have taken the easier way out like the more criminally minded of my peers and simply stolen one. But I was going to earn it and earn it I did. With all eyes cast upon the large black garbage bag in my hand, I moved on to the next trash barrel in plain sight of that group. Without a word I dove in head first and emptied every last bottle and can out of it. Disregarding the few audible gasps that came from my audience, I simply turned and walked onto my next barrel. All I cared about was that the contents of my black garbage bag were now worth five dollars and that meant I was five dollars closer to my bike. I still know those same kids and they are all doing nothing with their lives today. They were from upper middle class families and never really got an opportunity to understand the struggle. I feel sorry for them.

In the end, it took me a year of diligent rummaging to save up for that bike and with it, my course was set. I was able to expand my paper route and gain more customers. Twice as many as in fact. More customers meant more revenue. More revenue meant more opportunity as I invested the extra money into other endeavors. I turned my paper route money into a mini landscaping business. I roamed the neighborhoods on that bike looking for old lawn mowers that I could buy and fix. As I began to gain more clients, I invested most of that money back into new equipment. At fourteen, I had two or three lawn mowers, some hedge clippers and a couple weed whackers and every summer I hit up my regular customers for more work. The more tools I collected, the more services I could offer.

Now I was beginning to learn about running my own business. I was learning that efficiency and customer service lead to new clients. New clients obviously yielded more revenue. Eventually, as I came of age, I replaced that bike with a car. Nothing fancy of course but it got me from point A to B and allowed me to travel greater distances to pick up more jobs. These are the jobs that kept me on the straight and narrow in my personal life. Without them, I would have strayed off course like most of my friends (I even had to testify in a murder trial against one of them). Staying the course allowed me to put myself through college. Excelling in college allowed me to put myself through law school. My law degree lead to job with as general counsel for a large marketing firm. That job is where I cultivated the skills needed to start my own Direct Marketing company. That company grew to be the full-service multi-million dollar firm that it is today and which has been included for three consecutive years by Inc. Magazine on its annual 500/5000 list of America’s fastest growing private companies.

My idea goal is to share this story with as many people as possible as a way to inspire them to develop their own course in life.  I’m an average guy who learned the power of a strong work ethic from an early age. It helped me overcome crime, family drug and alcohol abuse and poverty and allowed me to make millions. Each stage along the way accrued wealth and knowledge and incrementally boosted my baseline net worth. I have shared these stories and techniques in my books and my previous speaking engagements and relish every chance to do so. I would be honored to be chosen to share the idea that, no matter what your goal, no matter what your baseline, you can build upon your net worth with incremental steps which will ultimately set you up for success. You may not turn 5 cents into 5 million dollars, but it may set you onto a course for a better job, a new house, or to master a new skill.