Today, Nick Nixon, successful businessman, lives in Carlsbad, California in a beautiful house overlooking the ocean, but he was born in 1953 to young parents in Pittsburgh, and at times he lived in foster care.
“Thankfully,” Nick says, “my extended family kept the details of my parents’ whereabouts from me – [a] gift because I never held negative feelings toward them. I enjoyed life wherever and however I lived [although]…I remember the sadness of being separated from my younger brother.”
Eventually, his immigrant grandparents took in the boys. Nick delighted in becoming fluent in Greek and experiencing two cultures. Then in the middle of first grade, his mom showed up at his grandparents’ home to move him and his brother to a subsidized housing project. They grew up poor, often living on welfare, but he recollects a noisy, happy family, rich in love, caring, and hope. At his new elementary school, he tested above grade level, so they put him in second grade. He says he never thought about it until he couldn’t drive a car like other high school juniors. People didn’t expect much from kids who came from the projects, so Nick became competitive with grades to be as good as or better than the “rich” kids.
“To me, being rich was defined as anyone who lived in a house and/or had a car…,” Nick recalls. “No woe-is-me story here. I had a very good life – happiness was a choice I made early. And did I mention how very lucky I am?”
Coming from an immigrant, blue collar environment, he was expected to finish high school (maybe) and then go to work at the local steel mill. Fortunately, he’d been too young after graduation to work in heavy industry, so he went to a local college during the day and worked nights at a mental health hospital as an aide. In witnessing some of those sad souls’ lives disintegrating, he learned to appreciate his own circumstances, however, the experience doused his aspirations to go into medicine. Since math had always come easily, he switched to engineering – except he soon realized he couldn’t afford to pay for school and support himself.
With a vow to finish college part-time, Nick packed up his car with everything he owned and drove to Hampton, Virginia to become an apprentice at Newport News Shipbuilding. He loved building submarines and aircraft carriers by day and going to school at night. College units slowly added up over the four years he worked in Virginia.
“They taught me how to work…,” Nick says. “I learned not only to be a starter, but more importantly, to be a finisher.”
Then recruiters came from another shipyard and offered Nick a job for almost double the money in Galveston, Texas where he worked on Jacques Cousteau’s ship “Calypso” and built offshore drilling rigs. Night school continued, but slowly, as the company shifted him between jobs in Galveston and New Orleans. It was then Nick discovered his wander lust, and he decided to travel the world before settling into a steady career or getting married.
In the 1970s he lived in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Connecticut. He settled in California in 1977, but along the way, he visited every state in the USA and province in Canada, traveling in his “Nick-built” van camper. He also backpacked in Europe for three months in 1976 and took an around-the-world journey for a hundred days in 1978.
“The word ‘xeno’ in Greek means ‘stranger,’” Nick explains. “I was xeno, a stranger, throughout my late teens and twenties, because I lived on the road alone…I learned happiness gets you past loneliness and …helps with making new friends, but loneliness can also lead you in the wrong direction. In my case, it contributed to making a very poor choice in marrying the first time.”
After 14 years of night school (without computers and on-line study) Nick completed his bachelor’s degree in 1984. Nick diversified his skills into transferable trades: as an iron worker, a production planner, a manufacturing engineer, and lower to mid management positions. All that education and experience led to founding his own businesses and eventually designing useful commercial products.
Nick’s motto: “Decide what you want and pay for it, not just with money [but] by working hard.”
- Be patient with your plans and goals, but be assertive with your actions.
- Don’t fear change.
- Learn skills that serve a worthwhile need to keep you employed (or become an employer).
- Embrace a varied education to become a producer and life-long learner.
- Surround yourself with those who are experienced and heed their advice. “Everyone can be a mentor if you listen and watch,” he points out.
- Treat everyone with respect and awe (yes, awe) – unless they give you reason to fear – then run.
- And finally, marry when you are emotionally ready. There’s no hurry. Marry your friend that dreams with you and cries with you; marry the friend that builds with you and fails with you. Plan together – and produce together. Change together – and love together.
Although Nick may not ever retire completely, because he’s always got his fingers in several pies, he enjoys family, friends, and beautiful sunsets in Carlsbad, California; that is, when he isn’t traveling the world with his truly lovely wife of thirty years and best friend, Kathy.