In the Middle of Difficulty, Lies Opportunity —Albert Einstein
My name is Alex Shohet and I’m a recovering addict. And a serial entrepreneur.
I have not used drugs and alcohol since May 3, 2004; previously I had eight-and-a-half years and three-and-a-half years of recovery. Since 1987, I have lived in ten different treatment centers and sober livings. If I add up the time I’ve spent in rehab, it comes to over 2 years.
I dropped out of UCLA in my senior year. Over the last 33 years, my longest stretch of employment was nine months. I’ve been fired, quit or walked off numerous jobs. Would you hire me?
When the team at RenewEveryDay.com asked me to write this blog on entrepreneurship, I felt a warm rush and I have been smiling ever since.
Here’s why. Six-and-a-half years ago, I was doing a six-month stint in rehab. 42 years old, I was unemployed. The technology company I started eight years before didn’t want me back. I had a wife with 17 years of recovery and a young daughter.
In rehab, I was in tremendous fear. I was afraid no one would hire me. I hated working in the technology industry. Looking around at the rehab I saw a hundred other people without jobs. It was really depressing. I felt old, obsolete and hopeless. I was in the rehab six long months. I got to watch a lot of my friends leave rehab, relapse, return to rehab; leave rehab, return to rehab, leave rehab, disappear or die.
I asked myself why is this disease of addiction so deadly? Why do people doing so well while “in” rehab have such a difficult time leaving and staying in recovery?
When it is time to leave rehab and get a job, every treatment center I have been to uses the same line: “Get Humble”, take any job you can find. The career counselor told many of my fellow rehab inmates “get a job at Starbucks.” My friends in rehab, like myself, didn’t buy it. I had a mortgage, a family and bills. It seemed too overwhelming to me to work at a job well below my education, abilities or experience. (P.S. Nothing against Starbucks; I admire the company quite a bit.)
As I went to meeting after meeting, I started to notice a lot of entrepreneurs in meetings. I saw plumbers, contractors, public relations specialists, mortgage brokers, attorneys all running their own small businesses. At one morning meeting more than 80% of the 30 regulars ran their own business. This was so fascinating to me. I asked myself why. Why would so many people in recovery have their own business?
Wanna hear my theory? I call it “The Theory of Entrepreneurship in the Recovery Community.” The theory goes like this:
“When traditional forms of employment are not available to recovering individuals and it becomes apparent that the greatest opportunity to make a decent living is to do it on your own; we start our own businesses.”
Why aren’t jobs available to recovering individuals? Here are some observations:
Many of us have months or years of unemployment due to our addictions, which are difficult to hide on our resumes;
Many of us have drug or alcohol related criminal charges on our records;
Many of us have destroyed most, if not all, of our personal and professional relationships, which make it really difficult to find good work opportunities.
When the path to finding a good job is blocked, why do so many of us choose to start our own businesses?
Most addicts and alcoholics have developed astonishing survival skills. When I was out using heroin and cocaine on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, I believed I had the survival instincts of a cockroach.
In recovery, addicts and alcoholics develop persistence. We are encouraged to take one step at a time and continue to trudge the road to happy destiny. This is a vitally important skill in starting and building a business.
We learn to be honest and have integrity. This helps differentiate recovering entrepreneurs from regular business owners. Many small business owners rely on referrals to generate new business. Word travels fast when you “do what you say you are going to do”;
It is easier to print a business card that says “Alex the Plumber” than it would be to get a job at a large plumbing company. Most large plumbing companies perform background checks and call references. Many of us in recovery look horrible on our resumes and would fail a background check;
Many of us dealt drugs as a way to pay for our use. Some of us built drug dealing organizations, managing people, building distribution networks and thriving on an industry with very “high gross margins.”
In recovery we are told to be honest. Someday I hope I achieve the level of honesty to answer job interview questions honestly. My responses would go something like this:
Interviewer: How do explain being unemployed for the last 6 months?
Alex: I got fired from my last job for stealing money to buy heroin and cocaine. I just completed 6 months and my counselor says I’m ready to work.
As I was leaving rehab, I hadn’t achieved that level of honesty in recovery, so I chose the path of entrepreneurship. And I think it was the right choice.
I have founded five companies since 1989. Those five companies have employed hundreds of people. The combined revenue for the five companies is well $100 million. For a person who never made more than $50,000 a year working for someone else, entrepreneurship was the right path for me.
During the last 20 years, I have met some amazing "entrepreneurs in recovery." These men and women have built some awesome companies, created millions of jobs and have led our nation into new frontiers in business. Along the way our recovering entrepreneurs have made huge contributions to our society; this concept of giving back is one of the tenets of our recovery program. I believe our recovering entrepreneurs help repair the damage addiction does to our society.
Since this is my first blog on entrepreneurship for RenewEveryDay.com, I would love people to tell us about your “recovery” story of entrepreneurship in the comments section below.
From the statistics it looks like addiction is the largest healthcare problem in the nation. I believe entrepreneurship may be the secret weapon to defeat it!