What My Past Has Taught Me

What My Past Has Taught Me

Early Years

Fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and hot Cheetos are incredibly motivating for a 10-year-old kid. I did not receive an allowance from my mother, so if I wanted money for my heavenly cookies, I had to generate my own money. For most years, I finished in the top three for the school fundraisers sales. I took the first place prize twice. Realizing that I had no fear when it came to rejection, I reached out to my neighbors and offered yard services. Between mowing lawns, clearing gutters, and helping out in the gardens, I quickly acquired 12 consistent yards to maintain. I was making $200 a week as a kid, and when I wasn’t playing sports. In the summers, I doubled my profits. Motivation and resiliency are two qualities that I’ve had since I was a kid, and they set the foundation for the rest of my life.

I’ve had to earn everything in my life, and I credit it to my childhood. My work ethic in the classroom and on the football field led to multiple full-ride scholarships to half a dozen universities on the west coast. While completing my studies in communications and business, I played collegiate football at the highest level while balancing a 60-hour a week job with my responsibilities as a student. My ability to adapt to situations was reinforced and improved during my years in college. Between injuries and Leach’s famous “Midnight Maneuvers,” I had to adapt quickly to stay on track. Some people called me crazy, but if there was time in the day, that meant there were things I could still accomplish. Unfortunately, motivation, resiliency, and adaptability are not enough to play in the NFL. I failed in my life’s dream, but those three qualities shaped me into the man I am today, and I wouldn’t trade those lessons for anything. 

  • The first lesson I learned in failing at my dream is that it is better to have taken a risk on a dream and lived than to play it safe and settle. Never live life wondering what-if. Take risks. 
  • Lastly, the more adaptable you are, the more likely you will succeed. The ability to learn and adapt quickly will keep you relevant in the eyes of those who make decisions. 

Looking back on this time in my life, three qualities of mine were incredibly evident.

  • Resilient: I’ve lost before, but I’ve never been defeated. I accept my losses, learn and educate myself from them, and then transform myself to better compete in life.
  • Motivated: I’ve been a self-starter since a child. My motivation comes from knowing that I’m improving my family’s future and the lives of the people I serve.
  • Adaptable: While a great strategy is critical to winning, being able to adjust when something isn’t working is a quality that is necessary to overcome adversity. I don’t overthink my decisions. While I appreciate deep research, most decisions don’t require an eight-slide PowerPoint. Make a timely decision and take action. If it doesn’t work, we can backtrack and try something else more often than not.

Even if my playing career was finished, I still had a life to live. Low on cash and with no professional work experience, I decided to take a fast-paced sales job to build my business chops quickly. 

Early Career

My time at Alexis Management Group was an eye-opening experience. I went from working with a team of individuals that were %100 committed to achieving one team goal of winning to working in a high turnover agency where everyone was more focused on their own initiatives—most people left within a week. My ability to see the company goals and understand how our sales fed into that objective helped me climb the ladder in the small agency. After proving myself as a high-volume seller, I was promoted to marketing team lead, where I oversaw the training and development of new hires while maintaining my own sales numbers. Selling was simple enough, but learning to communicate with new employees to determine what motivated them was more difficult. Everyone is not motivated by the same thing. To get the most out of an individual, I needed to get them to trust me to share their desires. I found out quickly that everyone does not buy into the team initiatives, and ultimately, the ones who succeed have their personal goals aligned with the organization’s goals. While I enjoyed teaching sales techniques to new hires, I knew that my opportunities within a small agency were limited and decided to look somewhere with more mobility. I learned three lessons from my time at Alexis Management Group. 

  • First, I have a knack for building and managing teams. I could coach and communicate with people in various ways, which showed in my team’s retention and promotion rates. Managing is about getting the most out of your people. You have to know what they want and help them grow to achieve their goals.
  • Second, resiliency is more about how you learn from a rejection or loss than just coming back. It’s essential to learn from failures, or the same mistake will continue to plague you.
  • Lastly, while I was good at sales, my heart was not in it, and I needed to do something that challenged me. Sometimes you have to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains.

After working a fast-paced sales job for two years, I moved on to Textron Aviation to fully utilize my communication skills to help the company save money on employee training, rewriting manuscripts, and increasing sales through customer retention. In addition to completing weekly communications deliverables, I participated in Six-Sigmas project-management and management programs. Six-Sigma reinforced management basics on the organizational level. It also emphasized how to turn business group objectives into actionable initiatives for contributors. I enjoyed a lot of success on the individual level, but as a department, we did not show enough value to justify our spending. When small craft aviation started turning for the worse, the entire department was let go. 

  • The most important lesson I learned from my time at Textron (and in business) is always to show the team’s value. While individual success is rewarding, if the group is failing, then personal success means nothing. It’s like being the best player on a bad team. No one cares. Later on, as I was completing my Masters’s degree, I learned that successful companies want their employees to generate 3-4x their salary—results matter.

Dealing With Adversity

Up to this point in my life, I’d succeeded at everything in the business world. Being laid-off took a toll on confidence. I consistently asked myself, did I do something wrong? How did I not see this coming? Is there something more that I could have done? After reaching out to a few of my peers and a former director at Textron, I realized I should have done more. Two things in particular. 

  • First, adopt a growth mindset. Instead of taking a year to settle into my role, I should have taken advantage of the Six-Sigma programs sooner. Simultaneously I should have kept an eye open for internal promotion opportunities. Management couldn’t read my mind and showed initiative through completing extra projects, internal training, and looking for leadership opportunities, which would have demonstrated my value to the organization.
  • Second, I could have networked more efficiently to be in the know. Working relationships are critical to success. If I had worked harder to get to know my director or our sister department’s manager, I could have been considered for a lateral department move at the very least.  

It’s easy for me to see those mistakes now as an experienced manager. But as an entry-level employee with no corporate work experience, I might as well have been walking around blind. Having a mentor would have been helpful, but I had never heard of mentorship in business terms (more to come about that later). After taking the time to grieve, I had to decide what to do next. Feeling the burn from working for someone else, I decided to try entrepreneurship. 

My First Business

I’ve always been physically active, and fitness has become as much of a mental aide as a physical one. If it wasn’t for my discipline in staying physically active, I might have never come out of my depression. Also, scores of people asked me to help them with their fitness goals over the years. They saw something there that I did not. I took a risk and moved down to Dallas, Tx, to stay with my Uncle and his family as I finished my personal training certification. Once finished, I utilized my marketing skills to increase my online presence and attract my first customer. In Cedar Hill, Tx, a local business needed help getting its employees in shape. They were all experiencing numerous health issues and needed to make significant lifestyle changes. A tall order for my first job, but I applied myself and produced results that earned me my first review and led to group training classes at a few country clubs and local athletes.

Being laid off from my corporate job and becoming a trainer might have been the best thing to happen to my career. They say you learn more from your losses, and I am a living testament to it.  

  • First, it is not your job’s responsibility to provide you with security. The only true security is your ability to produce. “Your only security” is knowing what you do well. Knowing your areas of competence will give you freedom amid corporate politics and unexpected layoffs.” – Dave Miller, author of 48 Days to the Work You Love.
  • Second, a growth mindset is forever. Successful people continue to learn and develop new skills while refining their most vital competency areas to avoid becoming obsolete in this ever-changing world. 
  • Lastly, I learned about my first personal value. I am a risk-taker. Risk-taking: I pride myself on being a calculated risk-taker. Bold action requires a degree of risk but is necessary to deliver truly impactful results. 

Feeling re-energized after proving to myself that I can make things happen and positively affect people’s lives, I decided it was time to get back to my communications discipline. 

Mid-Career

After working at Textron for almost three years, I decided to re-tool and focus on business communications at Wichita State University (WSU). While finishing my Master’s program, the entrepreneurial spirit that carried me through the layoff continued to support me through my studies. Most of my associates thought it was too risky to work on commission for two years while completing a rigorous program, but I fully understood my strengths and had faith in my abilities. I am an above-average listener, and I know how to motivate others to get critical work done. People see my enthusiasm, focus, logic and want to contribute to the outcomes. Because of this skill, I knew I’d be successful in my financial responsibilities while finishing my studies. 

One of my early career mistakes was failing to network, so I made it a point to get to know everyone around me. My deep understanding of people and experience managing young professionals led to a teaching opportunity at Wichita State. Initially, I signed on as a graduate teaching assistant for public speaking. But soon, I had acquired two sections from senior adjuncts and developed my own lesson plans to accomplish the curriculum objectives. Between training clients, teaching my students, and completing my studies, most people, including my fiance, thought I would run myself ragged. I’ve been working 60-hour weeks since I was 16. Compared to my undergraduate years when I played ball, went to class, and completed assignments, this was easy and significantly less painful. Not to mention more enjoyable.

I was helping clients achieve their physical goals while leading my students in their studies. During my time at WSU and training, I learned that helping others is imperative to sustainable happiness and success. If people believe in the service, and you genuinely believe in your service/product, success will come. Success manifested in two ways at this point in my career. First, one of my students won the Shocker Speakout Public Speaking competition during my last year of teaching. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite career moments as a mentor and educator. Second, I received my Masters’s in Communications. Gaining another degree isn’t the real success, but the knowledge gained during my time at WSU was the real success. While limited in financial success, I learned about my values during this period of my life. 

  • Entrepreneurship: I take pride in everything I do. Entrepreneurship is taking ownership. Whether that’s a business or a job assigned to you, I do my best to let my work reflect the quality that I’d expect in return as a patron.
  • Service For Others: The work I do ultimately must help society. I’m not interested in doing anything that doesn’t positively impact the way people live their lives. I’ve been happiest when I’ve helped others realize their potential and succeed. 

Realizing opportunities aligned with my values were limited in Wichita, KS, I moved to Phoenix, AZ. Quickly, I found a position as a marketing specialist for Edwards Vacuum. I saw an opportunity and challenge to drive leads through strategic marketing campaigns and measure the quantitative results for decision-makers.

While working at Edwards, I continued networking and looking for new challenges to promote growth. Soon, I found myself in a meeting with the founders of the BLEAV network, and we agreed on terms to bring on a new podcast hosted by me. The Business of Fitness highlights elite companies, owners, and consultants in the health and wellness industry that have built sustainable brands in the health and wellness space. It is the perfect blend of my business insight and experience as a health professional. 

As mentioned earlier in this post, I did not have a mentor early in my career. After working full time at Edwards, running a virtual personal training service, and hosting a podcast, I found not one but two mentors to help me navigate the professional waters. During one of our more memorable lunches, one of my mentors recommended that I dive deeper into my management training. I decided to purchase a small product-based business to gain experience that I would otherwise have to wait to acquire at Edwards. After researching more than a dozen product-based businesses, I purchased a minority stake in a drop shipping CBD business in Reno, NV, called Worx CBDs

Worx Cbds employed six employees and needed some direction regarding branding and marketing. I headed up the marketing department and immediately got to work defining the company’s story and values. I oversaw two employees remotely and assigned objectives to increase sales through paid media ads, organic social media marketing, and influencer partnerships. For the first six months, everything ran smoothly, but what happened next was one of the most humbling events of my career. One of my team members came to me and asked for a pay raise. While they certainly deserved a raise, our profit margins did not allow such a move. The owners, myself included, didn’t receive any compensation for our contributions because all the money was still going back into operations. He resigned one week later. Being on the other side of the table now, I felt awful knowing that I could not provide the resources my employee needed. While I understood why he left, he told me something that I still hold dear to my heart today. “I never once felt like you thought you were better than us. If we had a problem, you jumped in immediately to help, and it was refreshing to see that.” One of my mentors reached out to me and pointed out a quality about myself that I had been overlooking for years. 

  • Humility: No task is beneath me. I am willing to get my hands dirty to get the job done. I wouldn’t ask someone to do something that I would not do. Respect is a two-way street demonstrated by the actions you do or don’t do.

While I still find it awkward admitting humility is one of my qualities (I feel like you can’t tell people you are humble, more on that in a later posting), I agree. I have worked for and with people who refuse to do tasks because “they were too good” to do those specific tasks. Leaders not only motivate others to get work done, but they should lead by example when necessary.  

As the year closed out, I became well-versed in navigating financial spreadsheets and managing larger budgets. As we continued to grow, our operations and supply chain expert decided to leave the company, leaving a critical gap in our business. Led by one of the more experienced owners, I helped to interview a new operations manager. This task proved to be a lot more complicated than I anticipated, qualified individuals were out of our price range, and my partners and I couldn’t agree on the ones we could afford. After interviewing for almost two months, I decided that I had gained all the experience I needed to better myself, so I decided to leave the company and focus more on my data engineering skills. 

Meanwhile, at Edwards Vacuum, I proved myself as more than capable in a short amount of time and began optimizing routes for our sales teams to help increase the efficiency of their travel. Unfortunately, coronavirus hit, and the company began scaling back operations. While I was not happy that I was laid off, I was not surprised. Having worked for a corporation early on in my career, I saw the changes in the organization and had a mentor in upper management keeping me informed of the possibility. While my time at Edwards was brief, combined with my serial entrepreneurship, I discovered more about my values. 

  • Integrity: I value honesty over all else. If I say I will do something, I will do it, expecting the same in return. In a world where everyone is afraid to admit they are wrong or don’t know something, I don’t mind going against the grain and admitting when I don’t know the answers. You will go much further in life by being honest than faking it. 
  • Intelligence: Knowing is not enough. You have to know how to apply the knowledge. While I am proud of my educational accomplishments, I am more interested in combining what I’ve learned with real-world experience. 

Luckily for me, I spent a good chunk of my time networking over the last five years. One of my old colleagues knew someone in desperate need of my skillset and set up a meeting. I was contracted by the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) as a communications coordinator by the end of the month. Working remotely from my home office, I crafted strong relationships with medical professionals of every nature to assist with their crisis communications during the pandemic. While most people would have been happy to have found another “job” (I despise that word), I strategically chose to work at KUMC on a contracted basis to fulfill a critical need in my career. 

After working in communications for almost ten years, it was impossible not to notice how important data was to the decision-makers. I enrolled at the Bloom Institute of Technology (formerly Lambda School) to become a certified Data-scientist and Machine Learning specialist. Marketing metrics to converted sales, anything that I produced in the past was measured quantitatively to better inform the decision-makers on where to go. I decided to focus on translating high-level data into easily-digestible bites was made clear to the surface.

How I Changed My Life For the Better

A better use for my business communications skills was in the data engineering/analysis field. The decision to learn how to code and work with data was easy after having a life-changing conversation with my mentor Guy Bell, author of Unlearning Leadership and Grow Your Business. Most data professionals are great with numbers but not with people. Learning how to code was not easy. Besides going to training camp with the Seattle Seahawks, learning to code with big data was the hardest thing I’ve done. Learning a new language while working full-time with my entrepreneurial pursuits was difficult. Early into my program, I realized that I had finally hit that point in my life where I was spreading myself thin. Like when I had to take a job at Alexis Management Group, I had to make some short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. I left my show on the BLEAV network and cut my personal training clientele in half to make time to learn a new skill set and reflect on my life and career. 

As my time at BloomTech, was coming to an end, I started to gain new opportunities at KUMC. I also had a few contracts on the table from smaller businesses to come in and help turn around their communications departments. There were a lot of opportunities around me, but just because I could do the job doesn’t mean I should take it. I was no longer an entry-level employee starving for the real-work experience. I had sat in front of vice presidents and pitched initiatives with my colleagues. I spearheaded new markets with emerging technologies and trained new employees. Learning from my past, if the role wasn’t helping me get closer to my end goals, I had to walk away. After completing 1,000 hours of training at BloomTech, I had everything I needed to move forward in my new career space. 

Meanwhile, at KUMC, I took a position in the family medicine department as a project manager on the communications team. The data we’re collecting through our federal grants is incredible. I can see how the public feels about our work, what is working, what is not. More importantly, I can analyze what they need and present the data in a way that makes sense to everyone. All of this data at my disposal will be used to win another grant to help reduce health barriers in traditionally under-resourced communities. While my tenure at KUMC is not over, I have already identified another quality of mine.

  • Strength: Yes, I’m physically strong, but my strength is more evident in the way I motivate others to want to get work done. I am not afraid to disagree with decisions and advocate for what I believe is right. While team chemistry is essential, having different opinions is healthy in any business. Group-think mentality kills originality, intelligence, and results. 

Lessons Learned

As I’ve navigated life, I’ve learned quite a bit. I used the word life on purpose because work and life are not separate. We spend, on average, 40 hours at our job. Once you’ve moved into management or run a business, it’s closer to 70 hours. There are 240 hours in a week, meaning we spend 29.17% of our time working. It’s imperative that the work I do matches with value. Thinking back to the people who have had the most profound effect on me and what I want to be remembered for, my values which are: risk-taking, entrepreneurship, service for others, humility, integrity, intelligence, and strength. 

Throughout the years, I’ve learned a lot about my personal strengths. I listen well and motivate others to get critical work done. I’m the catalyst that makes people want to get things done. Most people see my enthusiasm, focus, logic and want to contribute to the outcomes. I always seek new challenges to push myself and gain new insights to help others. I take the initiative to learn things I do not know instead of relying on others to teach me. At the same time, I realize when I need help and seek it through my peers, mentorship, or paid programs. 

As I continue to learn and share my experiences, I want to tell anyone that has taken the time to read this the following. If no one else believes in you, believe in yourself. Take responsibility for your life by reflecting on what you are good at, what you want to do, and make it happen with relentless effort. 

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