30 Over 30: Juan Jose Martinez

Today’s a special day. It’s my Father’s birthday. We’ve always set aside January 1st to celebrate his special day. Only after starting college (and afterwards) has attending a post-New Year’s Eve family gathering further exemplified my unending filial piety. But such is life.

There’s a lot that people say when speaking about their biological father (yes, I have to clarify). I’m not one of those types since my father has enough philosophizing words for the lot of the Martinez clan.

J.J.’s Background

Juan Jose (J.J.) Martinez was born on January 1, 1951 in Brownsville, Texas. He grew up poor enough to know what it was like to stand in a welfare line when he was young. Always industrious, he worked the fields picking cotton, grapefruit, or strawberries, as well as in bussing tables at the local eateries and drinkeries. Raised by his aunts and a surrogate mother and father, my dad never really knew his mother until she moved back to Brownsville his senior year of high school.

He and my mother met at University of Texas at Austin, got married, and had my oldest brother Jason. After graduating, they moved to Houston in 1976. He started his own accounting practice after working for a few oil & gas companies in the late 70s and early 80s, servicing small- to medium-sized businesses. He and my mother purchased a pre-existing restaurant in Rosenberg, Texas and built it up to be a successful restaurant enterprise.

When he and my mother called it quits in the late 90s, they each had a restaurant to take as their own: one in Houston, the other in Rosenberg. He’s since gone back to being a partner in an accounting firm, working with his 2nd wife, Nancy, and his brother-in-law, Jose. After having married Nancy, they have had 3 children: Catalina, Ignacio, and Mateo, who are some of the best little siblings a “youngest child” could ask for.

[We had our meeting at his 65th birthday celebration at his house in Richmond, Texas with all his kids, his in-laws and their kids chatting and rough-housing around. Sitting in his dining room, it was hard to concentrate.]

What did you want to be at 30 years old?

Growing up in Brownsville, Texas and moving around a lot with my aunts, there was a lot of instability. We’d make the best of it, despite being poor, but there was a lot of flexibility required from a kid as young as I was.

Having grown up in a small town along the border, I saw a lot of stability with the business owners of the community. They lived a comfortable life and had the respect of their fellow neighbors. It looked like something I wanted to be.

What have you liked about getting older?

I appreciate the application of my wisdom, which is the collection of your experiences, what to do and what NOT to do.

We don’t pay attention because we “know better” and we have to try it out ourselves. If you had listened to the advice yourself, you’d be in better shape.

I guess, really, getting older has meant allowing myself to be influenced by the wisdom I’ve received. I guess I’ve always heard the advice but have slowly allowed myself to truly “listen” to it. [Not sure why he air-quoted “listen”.]

Do you think you listened to the wisdom imparted to you when you were younger?

Yes & no. I was kinda like every youngster, thinking “I’m different than that, this is a different era.” Stuff like that. I tried my best to listen to the wisdom, but those core principles of life don’t change: discipline, self-control, tenacity, persistance, and passion. Living life close to those simple guidelines leads you to obtaining where your passion leads you.

What did you think you’d be doing at 30?

When I got out of college, I knew I was going to own my own business. I only considered working for others so I could learn more about accounting and business operations. I pretty much had decided that my bookkeeping abilities were the way I’d be able to exercise my people skills to guide my customers to where they needed.

What’s been one of the most pleasant surprises you’ve gotten since you were 30? So anything since 1981.

Pleasant surprises? Nothing was ever really a “surprise.” Most everything’s been pleasant, though.

Does life get harder or easier after turning 30?

Now looking back, it got easier. In the midst of it, it was chaotic and difficult. Across the spectrum of human experiences, it’s gets easier since it gets simpler to make those decisions.

[Editor’s note: This is a man who went through a started his own accounting practice during The Bust period in Houston, raised 3 children with my mother, bought a restaurant, went through a divorce, sold off the restaurant, started a 2nd family with my stepmother, and operates an accounting firm with his wife and brother-in-law. “Now looking back, it got easier after turning 30.”]

What would you do over again if you had to opportunity?

The only thing I would re-do, or re-think, would be not work so hard and spend more time with family. Out of all the crap I’ve been through, I would say “Spend more time with family.”

Do you think you’re doing a better job of listening to your own advice now?

I have to remind myself constantly. My wife Nancy pulls my chain and reminds me, and then I catch myself. Although we both work a lot (and together), she also allows me to focus on maintaining that centeredness and balance that I sometimes lose sight of.

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