Florentine

(From Mission to Millionaireship)

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” — Booker T. Washington

By such a standard, my wife, Florentine, may be the most successful person alive today. She is certainly an inspiration to me and many others. Here follows a brief synopsis of her story as described in the Epilogue to Mission to Millionaireship.

Epilogue

Mission to Millionaireship was never intended to become an academic exercise. The objective was always to provide you with actionable intelligence, principles of success and self-actualization that you can use, starting right now, to get on track to achieve liquid, investable assets of at least $1 million. In the Introduction, I promised to keep things simple and not burden you with unnecessary detail. The idea was to give you the basic concepts in broad strokes and not get lost in the minutia. Part of this formula was the conscious decision to omit the usual mix of interesting and entertaining personal and professional stories. For those still convinced that their situation is so dire that even the wisdom of the ages will not help them, I will now change tactics and offer up the following true tale.

The GDP per capita in Madagascar is roughly the same today as it was in 1979 when my wife Florentine was born (about $400 a year). She grew up in a grass hut, no phone, no electricity, no running water, no high speed wireless Internet connection. Her family and everyone around her lived pretty much like the Malagasy people in her region have lived for hundreds of years. They grow rice. They pick fruit. They may have a few chickens. They may grow for sale a little coffee, vanilla, cloves or cocoa which gives them just a little bit of money once or twice a year. It may sound romantic. It may even look exciting when you see it in a movie. The reality, however, is that it takes an enormous effort just to survive with little or no obvious opportunity to advance – and you better not get sick or injured.

At about age five, Florentine saw the contrail of a commercial jet airplane.

“What’s that?” she asked a villager.

“That’s people traveling,” she was told.

“That’s what I want to do!” she yelled.

Everybody laughed, long and hard – and based on their reality, experience and belief system, rightfully so.

Florentine had never seen a movie or television show with, or even a picture of, an airplane. Obviously, she had never read anything by Norman Vincent Peale or Napoleon Hill. She received no encouragement or positive reinforcement from anyone. And yet, she stopped, right then and there, set her goal and resolved to become and to do whatever it took to achieve it.

She was going à l’exterieur and nothing was going to stop her, period, end of issue. She was committed. Obstacles be damned, she was coming for her dream. Whatever problems were placed in her way would be overcome. She saw in that contrail a glimpse of her future self and began to see her present self differently. In that very moment, she created a possible future that no one in her village could even comprehend.

She immediately began to visualize her dream. Several times a day and especially whenever she would see a contrail, she would pause and imagine herself riding in a plane. Sometimes, she would raise her arms in the air and shout in Malagasy, “Andatsaha mofo!” (“Throw bread!”).

She had been told that only rich people could afford to fly and she figured maybe they would have an extra baguette they might throw out the window. It was awhile before she learned that the people in the airplane couldn’t hear her and couldn’t open a window even if they did. She was so intent on her visualizations that at times she would tune out everything and for a few seconds be lost to the world. She even earned the nickname of “la petite fille fou” (“the little crazy girl”).

When she turned 15, she figured there were no airplanes in her village. She didn’t know where she had to go but she knew she needed to go somewhere. She knew her grandmother would never consent to her leaving the village so, as much as it pained her to do so, she kept her plans to herself, and when the time was right, she left out with no money, no shoes, three dresses and a cup of rice wrapped in a leaf.

After two days, she arrived at the village where her mother lived. Her mom was not doing well so she gave her mother her rice and moved on. After another few days, she came to a larger village where an aunt lived. Her aunt gave her a meal and a place to sleep – for one night. Early in the morning, she told Florentine she would have to move on. So Florentine walked through the village shouting, “Looking for job! Looking for job!”

By the end of the day, she had a job caring for the children of a relatively well-off villager. She liked the family and stayed with them a few weeks. As soon as she was in good enough physical shape to resume her journey, she moved on. She continued to march steady, stopping for a few days, working just long enough to get a few meals and the energy to continue.

As she made her way through the jungle, she noticed that rice sold for different prices in different places, usually the more remote the location, the higher the price. After several months, she finally made it to the trading post at Antsiranana and got a job at a bar and grill. She was given a place to sleep in a store room, a bowl of rice a day and the equivalent of one US dollar per month. Pretty minimal compensation even for Madagascar but she did have the opportunity to wait on customers and earn tips. For nearly a year, she saved her money until finally she had enough to buy as much rice as she could carry. Then, she quit her job, carried her rice far enough into the jungle to turn a profit; walked back out, did it again, and again, and again, until she had enough money to pay other people to carry her rice.

Now 16, she was still in Madagascar, but completely independent, trading rice and sending money back to help her grandmother, already quite an accomplishment, especially considering where she had come from.

By the time I met her, she was 20 years old and had received over 50 proposals of marriage, mostly from French and other European tourists. She could have already realized her goal to leave Madagascar and see the world but she didn’t want to marry a judge, lawyer, policeman or some other type of government worker – what she calls (a word she taught me) fonctionnaires.

She was on the same page as Voltaire, Andy Warhol, Henry Miller, Henry Luce, Igor Sikorsky, C. S. Lewis and Henry Ford. She wanted someone who appreciated the art of the deal and shared her love of the game. She had her dream and she wasn’t about to settle for anything other than exactly what she came for. At some point, that became me.

We were in a small seaplane flying over the Mozambique Channel on our way to the island of Tsarabanjina when the pilot said, “We have a problem.” Most gals I had known up until that point would have thrown a tantrum right there, not Florentine, nothing but positive energy.

Turns out, the plane was fine but we wouldn’t be able to land in the open ocean off the coast of Tsarabanjina, where they normally land, because the swells were too large. The plan, if I consented, would be to set the plane down in the cove of another nearby island and meet up with a boat from the Lodge at Tsarabanjina. That sounded good to me.

The landing went off without a hitch, so far so good.

The transfer from the bobbing plane to the bouncing boat would be doable but you wanted to make sure you didn’t slip and fall in between the two and get yourself crushed. Florentine jumped out on the pontoon. Holding a bag in one hand and a stanchion of the plane with another as it floated up and down, she asked me to take a picture. This sent the pilot into a panic. He settled down just a bit before Florentine bounded down the pontoon to the next stanchion, grabbed it and asked me to take another picture.

Finally, we both get over on the boat. The pilot waves goodbye. The boat takes off. Not really paying attention to the conditions, we get hit (and soaked) by a massive wave coming over the side of the boat.

Now most gals I had dated, married or lived with up until that point would have went ballistic. Wet hair, messed up makeup, drenched clothes, all things I should have anticipated and been careful to protect her from, right?

Not Florentine. She just laughed out loud like a little kid. Right then and there, I figured, you know what? I could get used to this. No matter what happens, we just keep steady on the march and have a good time of it to boot? Actually being able to relax with a drama-free companion? No need to anticipate the next circumstance that might set off your gal’s cinema? It would require some adjustment but, hey, what’s not to like about that?

It took several months to get through the immigration bureaucracy but eventually, Florentine arrived in the United States at LAX in Los Angeles. One of the INS agents asked her where she was going to be living.

“San Clemente,” she says.

“You’re going to like San Clemente. It’s really nice,” she was told.

So 16 years after setting her goal of going to l’exterieur, here she is at nearly the geographic as well as financial and cultural antipole of Madagascar. When she set her goal, she would have been thrilled to have made it as far as Réunion. Now she had travelled, literally, as far away from Madagascar as she possibly could without actually leaving the planet.

Florentine and Randell in Venice

Less than a week later, Parthenon Capital held a little shindig at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Beverly Hills. They had opened an office in Los Angeles and invited a few people over for a meet and greet sort of thing. Now The Peterson did a superb job and the hors d’oeuvres were outstanding even by Beverly Hills’ standards but, as you might expect, the guests were in their best nothing impresses us mode – all except Florentine. She didn’t speak a word of English. Her appreciation would be verbalized in French but also expressed in her tone of voice, body language and attitude. Whatever, the staff got the message.

Pretty soon, every single waiter who came out of the kitchen with a fresh tray of hors d’oeuvres ignored and walked right past everyone else and headed straight for Princess Florentine of Madagascar. John Rutherford, the founder of Parthenon, noticed this, came over and introduced himself.

“I just had to meet the people who took over my event,” he joked.

We all let out a good laugh and proceeded from there to have an interesting chat and basically monopolize all of his available face time. At one stage, I even asked John if he didn’t feel like he should spend at least a modicum of time with his other guests – but he was having none of it.

So here you have someone straight out of the jungle but, nevertheless, conducting herself with class, style and grace – and being noticed. We could fill another book with Florentine stories but, hopefully, by now, you’ve caught on to the point.

You still think you’ve been dealt a tough hand? How many days much less years have you gone without electricity? Without hot and cold running water? Without a refrigerator? Without a washing machine? Without a flushing, indoor toilet? Without a hot shower? Without a television, radio, telephone or computer in sight?

If everyone in your village, everyone that you had ever seen or talked to, laughed at you and called you crazy, would you have brushed that off and held fast to your dream? Would you have kept steady on the march? Now that you have read Mission to Millionaireship, maybe you would.

It really doesn’t matter where you come from. These concepts work. They just flat work. They will work for you. Use them. Get in the game. Start now.

If Florentine can do it, why can’t you?

Of course, the answer is: You can.

If you apply these principles of self-actualization, no matter what your current situation, you can and will achieve millionaireship – and beyond. Yes, you will be tested. No, it will not come easy. But, chances are, you will not have to walk out of the most isolated jungle on the planet with no money, no shoes, three dresses and a cup of rice wrapped in a leaf.