It can be intimidating to face your fears and take a leap of faith, but I know from experience that it’s well worth it. My parents were the first to show me that. They brought our family to the United States from Colombia in 1967, when I was three years old. Looking back, it still amazes me the courage it took to up root our family and start over in an unfamiliar place. They left everything behind in the hopes of a better life for them and their three small children.

We were a working-class family: my father delivered milk door-to-door for Carnation, and my mother secured an office job for a publication company. After just two years in this country, the bought their first home (in what is now Winnetka, California) for $22,000.

Years later, we moved to Woodland Hills, and I graduated from El Camino High School and then Pierce College before securing what I thought was a dream job in the trucking industry. Back then, I thought I was doing great. I was excelling at my job in freight sales, and I was certain that my expense account and company car were hallmarks of success.

However, when I finally stepped back and took a look at myself, I realized something—I simply wasn’t happy. I was working twelve hours every single day, and only then did I start to understand that I was sacrificing my whole life for someone else’s dream. I wasn’t building a legacy for myself, or enriching my life in any meaningful way. That just wasn’t right. So, I drew a line in the sand and promised myself I would quit on my 30th birthday.

At the time, I hated Los Angeles. The city was going through an extremely ugly period in its history. Between O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers, and the Rodney King riots, LA was rife with injustice, violence, and anger; and that negativity was seeping into my day-to-day life. Everyone used to talk about how beautiful Los Angeles was, but you couldn’t see that beauty because the city was being burned down. Underneath it all, LA was supposedly great. “Great compared to what?” I thought I wanted a fresh start, but even more importantly, I needed perspective.

So, in 1995, I quit my job, packed a bag, and moved to Chile, where I knew no one. It was as scary as it sounds, but it felt like it had been years since I had breathed so freely! I didn’t know how long I would stay in South America: I only knew that I had begun to find what I had been seeking.

I scraped by with cash earned from teaching English, at first; and later worked as a motivational speaker and trainer for Amway. Selling hope through soap, as I like to say! The message was “Find a dream, and start working for it.” It was an easy message to deliver, because it was the most important thing to me personally. I was living every day to find my own dream and work for it.

There was no expense account anymore, and no company car; but what I did have—for the first time in many years—was freedom.

It was the freedom to reconnect with the heritage I had never truly known, and I journeyed to Colombia to perfect my Spanish and reconnect with my culture. It was the freedom to explore the world, and I traveled to Peru, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, and all over South America, even hitchhiking to the Punta Arenas at the southern tip of the continent, almost to Antarctica. From the humid jungles to the freezing glaciers, I saw it all. It was the freedom to fail or succeed on my own merits, to search for meaning in my life, and the freedom to bring that meaning back home.

In the end, I returned to the U.S. to be there for my family. My timing proved to be serendipitous. Real estate was booming, and my brother had already been in the business for ten years. I started working with him, and our mother joined us a short time later. Today, my mom owns a beautiful five-bedroom house with a pool and a view in Granada Hills. She’s come a long way from that $22,000 house on Quakertown Avenue; all because of her work ethic, smart real estate investing, and a strong belief that the American Dream is alive and well.

My family loved the real estate business. It allowed us not only to grow together, but also to help others improve their lives with real estate just like my parents had. That’s the biggest reason my job is so fulfilling—there’s nothing more satisfying than handing someone their new keys and saying, “Welcome Home."