Elena Cardone

I want to share the story of the exact moment I went from shoplifting to giving back to others.

When Grant wrote about the point in his life he decided to change, I was inspired to do the same.

Grant and I made a promise that we would pull back the curtain on our lives. We are both kids from Louisiana who weren’t supposed to make it.

I want to share the information we’ve learned — both what we’ve done right and the mistakes — so others can fast-track their success. 

This is the story of how an act of kindness made me stop taking and start giving. 

Being Punk Rock in Japan

You can’t tell so much now, but I used to be very into punk rock through my teenage years. I even had my hair in a mohawk at one point.

Punk rock has a sort of philosophy to it where you take from “the man.” And my way of sticking it to “the man” was to shoplift. At least that was the justification I used. 

My shoplifting even continued as I started to start having some success in my career. I was on a modeling job in Japan in the mid-nineties where stealing is very serious. Japan is a highly ethical country.

However, I would go through the street markets and steal apples and other pieces of fruit. My excuse this time was that the fruit there was extremely expensive — $5 for one apple in the nineties was an astronomically high price. 

Had I been caught, I would have gone to jail and may not have been able to return to the U.S.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but I did get a taste of my own medicine. 

Leather Jackets and the Yakuza

My comeuppance came from none other than the Yakuza, AKA the Japanese mob. They didn’t rough me up or bully me to give up shoplifting for a life of giving back.

It was something more powerful than that. I saw how good others can be. 

My favorite leather jacket was stolen while I was at a Japanese bar. It wasn’t just any leather jacket — it was my favorite leather jacket. I had painted the flames down the sleeves. This completely devastated me.  

The owner of the bar saw how upset I was and he knew that the Yakuza from down the street had stolen my jacket. He took a very expensive bottle of liquor and went to exchange it for my leather jacket back.

This kind person went out of his way for me — the thief. This moved me so much I swore that day to never steal again.

From that day forward, I stayed true to my word.

A Life of Exchange and Giving Back

As I said, I never stole again. I also decided to take it a step further.

There are efforts I make to ensure that everyone in every type of transaction in my life I am in fair exchange with. I make sure that I pay for things correctly, but I also make sure that I give my relationships enough attention as well. 

As a result, I have benefited too — though a clear conscience is priceless. Designer Chanel wallets have been returned to me with all the money and documents inside. I have had lost luggage found and returned. 

It turns out that the saying is really true — “Clean hands make a happy life.”

Build an Empire,

Elena Cardone

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