By Eric Johansen
The “American Dream” has to be earned – it will not be gifted to you. I can attest to this. I grew up in a small town in New York. My little brother was terminally ill and my father had to work several jobs, one of those jobs being a custodian, to keep up with medical bills. My mother had to stay at home, as caring for my brother was a full time job. When he passed away, my father continued to work hard and save up money. He didn’t make excuses, he knew what needed to be done to provide for his family. There were times when we couldn’t afford fuel, so we heated our water on the stove for baths or stood in front of the electric oven for warmth. Through the hard times, my father never once asked for a hand out. I remember going with him to buff floors after he had saved up money for an industrial buffer. We always had lots of toys on Christmas – thank goodness for layaways.
My parents could not afford to send me to college but they wanted to see me get a higher education. I learned the value of hard work from them, so I followed their footsteps and joined the Army at 17. I went to basic training after my junior year of high school, finished up my senior year, and then went back to learn Information Technology for my advanced training. I enrolled in college and, in my second year, was activated full time for Homeland Security responding to terrorist events in the US. I went into rooms with Anthrax, nerve agents, explosives, and was given hazardous duty pay since I could die each time I was exposed. I made way less than $40k a year. I learned all I could and always volunteered for training. After a few years, I got back into the civilian workforce and got a job as a Junior System Admin. During that time, I went through a divorce, lost my job, and had to foreclose on my house. I had to move back in with my parents and met a wonderful woman online that gave me the courage I needed to make a change.
I moved to Florida to live with my girlfriend, Katie Johansen, and spent 6 months looking for a job. While unemployed, I did volunteer work to stay busy and worked at the Smithsonian and Manatee Centers in Ft. Pierce. I wasn’t paid for my work, I did it freely. Katie had to support us both on her teacher’s salary. We didn’t have much, but we managed. Finally, after 6 months of constant searching, somebody gave me a chance and I got a job as a System Admin. With Katie cheering me on, I decided it was finally time to finish my degree. I finished my Bachelors in IT and went on to get my Masters in Cyber Security. I now have 13 professional certifications as well as my Masters. I’ve worked extremely hard at my current job and have proven myself – I’ve been promoted twice in one year. There are many times I cannot eat dinner with my family as I am still working, I’ve had to travel and miss my children’s birthdays, and I’ve had to work with some really terrible people over the years, but I persisted.
My father and mother taught me to never give up. My wife taught me to always strive to better myself. I now make enough money where my wife doesn’t have to work – I can provide for the both of us but I’ll keep working. I’ll keep getting certifications. I’ll keep working nights and weekends if it is required, and I won’t make excuses. I am in charge of my own destiny and no politician or Hollywood actor will tell me otherwise. I don’t need the government to run my life, I just need the support of my family, my faith, and the work ethic that I was taught at a young age. I’m living my American Dream and earned it with blood and sweat. Don’t let anybody ever fool you into thinking you can’t make it without them. With hard work and perseverance, you can accomplish anything. *Drops 🎤*