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The American Dream, pt. 2

“When it stopped being about how much I could make, and instead it became about how much I could give, that’s when things really took off.” 

About this time last year, I wrote a post about the American Dream and how even though we live in a blessed society during the most advanced time in human history, we have a lot of work to do to ensure that all of our brothers and sisters get a fair shake.

The main line of that column was this:

“The American Dream is not something that has already happened, it is what is to come. It is up to us to define the American Dream. We have to visualize it, together. It isn’t going to happen in a vacuum, and it won’t happen without action.”

This year, I want to tell you my own American Dream story – and how my dream isn’t about me.

That’s the most important part. You see, when it stopped being about how much I could make, and instead it became about how much I could give, that’s when things really took off.

I didn’t grow up privileged. That’s not to say that my family didn’t give me an amazing childhood, or that I somehow had it worse than anyone else.

My parents always made sure my needs were met and there was never any question that I grew up in a home full of love. What I am saying, though, is that growing up a preacher’s kid meant making ends meet sometimes took a whole lot of faith, and a little hard work.

When I graduated from the University of Houston and started out on my own, I was starting at zero. I had a few strokes of luck early. I convinced a beautiful woman to become my bride, our house became a home to eight wonderful children, and I landed a professional engineering job at John D. Mercer & Associates to begin my career.

I don’t know what you know about entry-level engineering roles in the early 2000s, but that salary providing for my wife and me, plus eight kids, could sometimes be a challenge. I often tell people that it was about this time in my life that I realized I was broke as a joke.

There were times when it got so rough that I had to borrow from my parents to pay the light bill, and even had to let them take care of Christmas for the kids one time.

But, before things got better, they got worse.

It was around this time that our home burnt down. We lost everything. My family was starting over from scratch, and to be frank we were in the hole.

I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, that’s for sure. I started doing some research about ways to make big changes in my life, to take back control, and to build something that would outlive me and benefit my children’s children.

In the process of rebuilding, I was searching for every possible opportunity to save money. When it came time to have the new home construction inspected and windstorm certified I happened upon a stroke of luck – or Providence as I like to think of it.

While in the process of rebuilding the house, I was on the phone with a lady at the Texas Department of Insurance, speaking about windstorm certification so that I could obtain insurance on the new home.

That’s when she said, “You’re an engineer aren’t you? Just fill out this paper and submit it to the state, and you can do your own windstorm certification and not have to hire someone to do the engineering and inspections.”

Of course, I was going to jump on that.

What I didn’t know at the time was that by filling out that simple piece of paper, I would be added to the state’s directory of registered professional engineers that could provide windstorm services in the State of Texas. At the time, I also didn’t know that there weren’t many in my area that were doing that work.

As a result, I started receiving phone call after phone call asking me to perform the same services on other people’s homes. General Contractors were calling me asking to retain me to do all of their projects.

I proposed to John Mercer that we could have another revenue stream on our hands. A new service we could offer out of his engineering firm. John heard me out but ultimately decided that changing his business model after so many years of being primarily a civil engineering firm was riskier than he liked. He was approaching retirement, and at that point in his career, it just wasn’t a great fit.

So, with his blessing, I went out on my own. I rented a small office space in Bay City, Texas, and officially opened Lynn & Associates. I don’t know who the “& Associates” were because it was just me, myself and I at first, but people were calling me with work, nonetheless.

I was committed to the customer service aspect of the business more than many larger firms. One client called me and asked me to make a two-hour trip to Port O’Connor, Texas, for inspections on one job. His engineer in Rockport was retiring, and he was looking to develop a new business relationship.

Rockport was way out of the way for my little Bay City operation, but if I learned anything from the personal development work I had been doing it was to go the extra mile – or in this case 102 miles along State Highway 35.

It was through this encounter that my new client introduced me to his former engineer – who just happened to own the market share in the area and have his business for sale. This would become the first of many acquisitions in the coming years.

As the business grew, I continued to work on my own personal development. I found additional guidance in a seminar called First Steps to Success hosted by Dani Johnson. Dani is a best-selling author on the topics of personal development, business and finance. These events were intensive workshops to put the principles into practice. I signed up and began to sponge as much as I could.

Fast-forward a decade, and Lynn Engineering now has offices all up and down the Texas Gulf Coast, and a presence in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. We’ve grown from one to 60 employees. We even purchased John D. Mercer & Associates where my engineering career began. Now the teams work together seamlessly – offering civil, structural and windstorm engineering to our clients up and down the coast in Texas.

And one thing we’ve made sure to remain true to is our mission of positively impacting the lives of our employees, clients and communities.

As the company grew, our leadership team studied Verne Harnish’s book Scaling Up and one big thing that we took away was what Verne calls a B.H.A.G., or Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

At one of our first annual leadership retreats we committed that our crazy, big goal wasn’t going to be about us. Our goal wasn’t to make millions for our own gain. Instead, we committed to think BIG and to work BIG, so we can give BIG.

Out of this discussion, Vision 2030 was born. We decided that in this decade, Lynn Group companies would seek to rescue 500 sex slaves from human trafficking, construct 500 new homes for disadvantaged families across the globe, feed 1,000 orphans and dig 30,000 new water wells in developing nations. In an instant, 2030 became more than just a number to us.

And that’s been the key to our success, and what has helped us visualize our own version of the American Dream.

When I stopped thinking about how much money I could make for myself, or how I could accomplish something for my own benefit and began to think in terms of how much I could give back to make a difference for others who might be down and out or considered underdogs… That’s when things changed. That’s when we went zero to sixty in a hurry. That’s when stuff started to 10X for me and my team.

So, this year as you enjoy the three-day weekend with your family, light up the grill and enjoy the fireworks show, I challenge you to visualize your version of the American Dream. And I challenge you to look inward and consider whether that dream is about you or is it about others.

Happy Independence Day.

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