When I was seventeen, my dad, a union leader for all the local auto dealerships, knew a guy who was getting a truck ready for Monster Truck pulls. You know, one of those BIG, high-performance trucks with an engine bigger than a house. One day, he called my dad at the union office in a panic; he was in danger of losing his house and had to sell off some assets. Since I was such a gearhead, my dad bought the guy’s monster truck and towed it home; the truck was so built up that he couldn’t drive it on the streets. He came in the house and motioned me to come outside with him; then he pointed to the driveway and said, “Look what I bought, Paul.” I couldn’t have been more excited if Farrah Fawcett had come over for dinner. ‘Oh, my God!” I shouted. “Can we take it to truck pulls?” He said, “No, we’re going to convert it so you can drive it on the street.” I think I passed out.
Over the next few weeks, my dad and I worked on that bad boy until it was barely street-legal. The cab was so high up I needed a big step to get into it. The truck had a 428 Cobra Jet engine and the headers were sticking out of the hood. When you accelerated and de-accelerated, flames shot out of the headers. I could peel out with all four wheels. Two words: bad ass.
My friends at school all clamored for rides and I was happy to oblige. One day after school, a buddy and I started heading over to Scoreboard Pizza, the restaurant that my older brother, Mike, owned. To get there, you had to drive all the way around an apartment complex that was directly in front of the restaurant. Of course, when you’re seventeen and driving a monster truck, you’re Mr. Cool, and rules are for fools. I popped the curb in front of the complex’s huge grass lawn and floored that baby, tearing up the grass like it was water. Did I think about the damage I was doing? Hell, no. I was only worried about being cool in front of my friend.
If that wasn’t cool enough—which it was—I also got to treat my buddy to a free pizza courtesy of my brother, the owner. We were wolfing down our slices when a guy came into the shop and said, “Man, that’s a nice truck!” I was how proud. “Yep, that baby’s all mine,” I beamed. “Good to know,” he said as two cops walked in behind him. I froze in mid-bite as the apartment manager pointed me out to the police. As they started questioning me, my mind started racing with excuses—My foot slipped and we went over the curb—but I caught myself and remembered what my parents had taught me. “Yes, officer, that was me,” I said. “As soon as we hopped the curb to take a shortcut, I got so excited about the power, I floored it and didn’t think twice about what I was doing. I’ll do whatever it takes to make things right.”
About that time, my mom and dad arrived, having received a call from my brother. After a cop explained the situation to them, my dad looked over at the apartment manager and said, “If you’re okay with calling off the cops, let’s teach my son a lesson.” The guy nodded and told the cops he’d handle it with my parents. After the officers left, the apartment manager huddled with my dad and reached an agreement. I ended up working the rest of the summer at the complex, repairing the lawn, mowing the grass, and doing general maintenance.
Having to work those six weeks instead of enjoying the summer was a bummer, but I learned a valuable lesson. I doubt that the apartment manager would have waved away the cops if I hadn’t immediately owned up to what I did. If I had tried to weasel my way out of trouble, I may have ended up with a ticket and lots of free time that summer, but I wouldn’t have felt the satisfaction that comes from acting with integrity. That episode also got me thinking through the consequences of whatever choice I was about to make, which I had always been oblivious to in the past.
Today, I own my mistakes—and there are plenty of them—as soon as I realize that I messed up. Yes, being upfront and transparent means that I occasionally have to face unpleasant consequences, but that’s a small price to pay for a clear conscience and a healthy self-esteem. Yes, if you try to cover up a mistake, you may get away with it, but then again, you really don’t. Dodging responsibility just perpetuates a pattern of dishonesty and deception and there’s no way you’re going to feel good about yourself if that’s the way you run your life. I’m grateful that I learned the hard way that doing good feels good.