It’s not finite, it’s infinite. There may be an end, but the journey will live on forever – your journey – especially if you are willing to share. People need to know you came this way, for when they do, they take a piece of you with them.
It’s your story, my story, our story which define our lives, and especially this time of year, stories interwoven through family get-togethers, friendly encounters and even the occasional stranger who is ready and willing to lend an ear.
After all, everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (133): Never Lose Sight
If anyone knows where Dave Cameron is, tell him he owes Jamie Blumberg 40-bucks! But also tell him thanks for the story, because it might have just changed Jamie’s life.
At 12-years-old and growing up on Long Island, why wouldn’t you take part in a rock fight outside school? I mean what else are early teens growing up in the 70’s to do? No phones, no internet, just physical activity. But for Jamie the rock fight led to some stone-cold reality, since he was the one who took the heat when suddenly things went south. “One of my friends threw a rock through a window at the school”, says Jamie. “We all took off, but one of the neighbors recognized me. When the phone rang at home, it was my mother telling me to get in here, the principal is on the phone. I took the rap for it, and didn’t rat on the kid who did it, even though I know his name to this day.”
It was Dave, but Jamie wasn’t giving him up. Instead Jamie gave up his summer because it was the $40 the window cost that affected his season and eventually set him on the right path. “My Dad was a construction worker, and he decided it was time for met to go to work with him to pay for the window”, says Jamie. “I worked the whole summer to pay for that window. But what I got to see first-hand was that my dad was a real hard worker. I learned my work ethic from watching and working with him.”
Jamie’s dad, Marvin, worked on greenhouses, taught himself to repair them, to build them, to tear them down. Jamie describes his dad as a self-made man, having been forced to go to work at age 18, to help provide for his family. From Marvin, Jamie learned about being self-employed, and how to make a buck.
“I definitely came from a working class family” Jamie says. “My dad left the house at five in the morning, was home by 4pm and in bed by 7pm. We had great summers living on Long Island. We used to go to Jones Beach, probably about 25 minutes from the house, my friends and I used to hitch there, back then it wasn’t a bad thing”, laughs Jamie. “We’d fill up coolers with soda, ice and other stuff and walk along the beach and sell it, we were always entrepreneurial. One summer we bought a clamming boat, caught clams and sold the clams to some of the restaurants. It was a ton of fun and I made life-long friends.”
At least most of it was fun. As life tends to do to you, it’s not always a joy ride. In his mid-teens the joy for Jamie and his family nearly came to an end. “At age 16, I almost died”, says Jamie. “I got mono, hepatitis, encephalitis and rye’s syndrome. The docs didn’t know how I got it. I spent two months, basically my whole summer, in the hospital. I threw up for 39 days straight. I lost 50 pounds. The day before they were going to fly in a liver specialist for liver and bone scans was the first day I didn’t get sick, and then as fast as I got sick, I got better. To this day no one understands how it all happened.”
While health presented a challenge in life, so did gaining an education. Although he watched his dad work hard and worked hard himself helping him out, Jamie says school was more play than work: “School was a challenge, I was bored in school. I was a goof ball, I graduated but I was not a good student, it was more about having fun and having a good time. After high school I just wanted to go to work and get into construction, but my parents pushed me to go to college. I’m thankful my parents did what they did for me. I’m grateful they pushed me in that direction.”
College got Jamie into the field of communications and once he got out, it was all about communicating on the streets, in offices – and enjoying the wonder of cold-calling – since he went right into sales. And as Jamie had learned from his dad, it was all about hard work and dedication. “I went into Manhattan selling copiers and then fax machines”, says Jamie. “I made the phone calls and I did the cold-calls. I started on the top floor of a high-rise office building and worked my way down, floor-by-floor, knocking on doors, until I got a sale.”
Success fuels more success and by the late 90’s Jamie was making a nice living in the telecom world, until that world suddenly collapsed. From flying high to as Jamie describes it, “the crash and burn”. “We lost everything”, he says. “When the industry imploded no one was hiring anybody making the kind of money I had been making. I picked up a consulting job, but the money ran out. We had just moved into our dream home two months before the crash. My marriage took a turn. My wife and I ended up getting divorced. I had to walk away from my dream home and my dream life. I had three young boys. I had to find another way.”
One good thing about his youth was Jamie maintained several close friendships from as far back as elementary school. His buddy Carl had found an opportunity he thought Jamie should investigate. “I knew Carl since I was 7-years-old”, says Jamie. “Carl had started with this company called UGA, and told me I gotta check this out. I told him the last thing I wanted to do with my life was sell health insurance. I did my due diligence, and met with Steve Koncurat in 2001. He offered me an opportunity. I told him, ‘you don’t know me yet, but I guarantee you I will raise the bar.'”
“I was going through my dark time. We lost everything, the house, filed bankruptcy, got divorced. The business was my savior. I put blinders on to everything going on in the outside world, then steamrolled through it.”
But even doing well and on the comeback trail, life has a way of keeping you in check. The man who got Jamie into the business, his life-long friend Carl, got sick. Carl was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and given only six-months to live. “I remember Carl met with the doctors”, says Jamie. “They told him OK, you’ve got six-months. Carl said no way, my daughter Jennifer is graduating next year from high school and I need to see it. He did. Carl lived for another year.”
Through it all – his hard work as a teen, a near-death experience and coming back from the bottom in business and financial hardship, it’s all about tackling what obstacles life lays at your feet. Jamie has learned plenty about comebacks. Now a successful Division Manager with USHEALTH Advisors he wants to share his story and his passion.
“I still remember seeing Troy McQuagge, (current Preisdent and CEO for USHEALTH,) speak for the first time in 2001. When I first heard Troy talk about HOPE it sounded strange. Most times in corporate America it’s all about the profits, not the people. But once I grasped the philosophy it made me better in my career and as a person. My whole philosophy – is how do we put people, our clients and our agents, in a better position than yesterday? How do we give them hope?”
But hope can only go so far, it’s also about recognizing what’s inside you, what you’ve got to give, where you’ve been, then reflecting and remembering to use all these parts to drive you forward.
“I think there are definitely highs and lows throughout life”, says Jamie. “The most important things is not to lose sight of where you come from. I’ve had the highs and lows and ups and downs and I don’t forget what I went through with bankruptcy, or divorce or tough times. I keep them in the back of my mind to inspire me, I don’t ever want to go back there. Family is the most important thing. My kids are the world. They mean more to me than anything else out there and I want them to have a relationship with me, to look at me and be proud, to want to hang out with their dad and to instill work ethics in them and have them strive to be all they can be. Not losing sight of where you came from is so, so important. Friends come and go, but family is forever. Got to take care of your family.”
And Jamie’s family has now expanded to included Dana, his wife of 7-years and her three children as well. “The kids are all close in age”, says Jamie. “Five boys and one girl, they all hit it off right away and everyone gets along really, really well. I’m grateful and thankful to have them all in my life.”
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
(Merry Christmas & Happy Chanukah)
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