It all started as a means to an end. When I was in seventh grade, I asked my parents to buy me a guitar. They couldn’t afford it, so I began painting houses with my uncle to earn the money. I worked on the weekends and then during the summers and continued to paint with him for another five years.

Under his wing, I learned numerous lessons, but perhaps the most important was about work ethic. He would always say, “No matter what you do, do it to the best of your ability and become the best guy at what you do.” He passed away my junior year of high school, but his words stuck with me, and I’ve applied this philosophy to every endeavor.

When his business closed, I again found myself in need of work — this time for college tuition — and landed an unexpected job at Tru Blu Pool Care in Poway, Calif. Since then, I have followed my uncle’s advice and have made it my goal to learn and understand as much as I can about servicing pools.

This year I also graduated with a degree in history and political science from Cal State San Marcos and am pursuing a master’s degree in education with a teaching credential.

Of course, my current boss and mentor knew my passion wasn’t only in servicing swimming pools. One day he said to me, “You have used pools to follow your dreams. They will always be here. Go try teaching.”

So that’s what I did. With his support and encouragement, and always remembering my uncle’s words of wisdom, I took a hiatus to teach English in China for seven months. During that time, I learned a tremendous amount about myself and other cultures — and, perhaps most important, that it was possible to pave a new and unique path for my future that could include both teaching and pool service.

A matter of trust

Earlier this year, I followed my boss’ advice and traveled with my fiancé to Chengdu, China, as part of a program through Best Learning English Training Center. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment two blocks from downtown and taught English to elementary-age students. We didn’t speak the language, and the children didn’t know much English. I wasn’t sure how I was going to communicate with the kids or the people I was living among. I realized I needed to be patient and creative. I found alternative ways to talk to everyone, like using hand signals and visuals such as a map. I also learned that being direct when talking to the children’s parents helped them understand what the little one might be struggling with, so we could solve the problem together. In doing so, we gained mutual understanding and trust.

Every day was an adventure, especially as we were trying to navigate life outside the school. The most memorable event was when we almost got robbed. One evening, we took a cab to the train station, but instead, the driver pulled into a dark alley and told us to give him all our money. We argued and finally paid 30 kuai, but he left us in the middle of Beijing with just enough money to get back home. We hitchhiked to the train station from someone who didn’t speak English (again relying on hand signals and other methods of communication). The experience taught me that no matter how bad some people are, there are always good people, too, and you really have to have trust.

Thinking ahead

Upon my return, I would draw upon these experiences to help better communicate with my customers, help solve their issues and build better relationships with them through reciprocal trust.

But the trip also made me realize I have options for my future. Initially, I entered pool service as a temporary job. However, having a mentor provide me with the freedom to explore other opportunities has opened my eyes to the possibility of pursuing both passions. I plan to continue working in the industry I began at age 17 and see where it takes me, knowing that I now have two different paths to take, whether separately or together.

Traveling to China and learning to communicate without speaking the same language proved to me that I am capable of achieving success while still handling the pressures of a tough and challenging situation, such as operating my own pool business or teaching young children.