HE POWERED HIS WAY THROUGH THE DARKNESS
My mom got pregnant with me when
she was 16. I had multiple stepdads.
They treated her poorly. She did the best
she could, but she had to make decisions
based on survival. The question wasn’t,
“Is this a caring, loving person?” but
“Does he have a house, so we don’t end
up in a homeless shelter?”
Once, we ate pork rinds for a week,
because we couldn’t a;ord groceries.
Another time, we fished in the pond
out back to catch and eat the bluegills
there—after our water got shut o;.
I never felt safe or secure. No matter
how well I did at school or in sports—and
I made the varsity wrestling team—I still
saw myself as the poor, dirty kid. To this
day, that mentality is hard to change.
I became an electrician because of my
childhood sweetheart, Bridget. When
I was in my 20s, I knew I wanted to
marry her. But I asked her father for his
blessing, and he said, “No bloody way.”
I needed to get a stable job. I started
o; answering phones at a pharmacy
hotline. Then Bridget’s mother called,
asking me if I’d consider becoming an
electrician, because she could help me
get an interview. I put in my two weeks’
notice right then and there.
In my mind, an electrician was the
closest real-life thing to a Power Ranger—
the hard hat, and the tool belt. I had no
experience, but I was crazy about the
girl, and I was going to work my butt o;.
When I started, I sucked. Bad. My
first day, it took me two hours to put in
three plugs. That is a joke. So I’d volunteer to work late in exchange for lessons
in how to wire a transformer or repair
light fixtures. By my second year at the
company, I’d run my first job as foreman,
on a sports complex for Fort Hays State
University, in Hays, Kansas. By then,
Bridget and I were married, and she had
given birth to our first son.
But I didn’t like the way that company
treated its workers. We had very little
vacation time—a week at the most—and I
felt pressured by management not to take
it. When Bridget went into labor with our
second child, I had to decide whether
I would be home for the labor or the
actual birth. I decided to go to work that
day, knowing our son might be born
without me there. He wasn’t, but Bridget
will never let me live that one down.
People in construction talk about a
Josh Levin was raised on the wrong side of the tracks. An
unexpected call from his future mother-in-law—plus his
own fierce determination—led him to start Empowered Electric, which has what’s probably the coolest Instagram of
any electrical contractor anywhere. —AS TOLD TO ZOË HENRY
Empowered Electric founder Josh
Levin (second row, in gray shirt)
with his partner Paul Shoemaker
(in green plaid shirt) and some
of nearly 40 employees at their
soon-to-be new offices in
North Kansas City, Missouri.