It was October 2006 and I had just spent the night in jail. It was one of the most embarrassing, exhausting, and terrifying experiences of my life. It has also turned out to be one of my greatest learning experiences.
That single experience is the catalyst, or crucible, that sparked my personal development, leadership development, and taught me the most valuable lesson of my life: every single person has the incredible potential to change their circumstances, reach their full potential, and make an impact in the world.
Every one of us has a story. And every one of us likely has elements of that story that we don’t want to shine a light on. The problem with that approach is that we all end up hiding what made us who we are. We shine it, dress it up, remove the parts we don’t like, and present the story as one perfect picture of who we are and what we believe. That way no one can criticize, condemn, challenge, or question us.
What I’ve learned is that when you do something bold, like quitting a well-paying job to chase an idea, people think about you differently. I get so many people that ask me how I’ve been so successful, what gave me the courage to quit a well-paid consulting job, how I was able to survive shutting down Living for Monday, and how I found a spot on a great team at Fizzle. Then I get people who think I was born perfect – destined to be an entrepreneur, leader, and risk-taker.
All of these people miss the other side of the story. They project onto me this false perception of accomplishment or perfection.
They do it to many others as well. Why? Because when someone is perfect it means you can’t accomplish what they have. It means you don’t have to push yourself to overcome your own obstacles and face the dark side of your story.
Going to jail is one part of my larger story. It’s certainly not the only blemish, and I don’t let it define who I am. Instead, I look at that challenge and others as the stepping stones that have allowed me to learn, grow, and become a better person, leader, and believer in my own ability to change the world.
This is my story. I want you to know who I am and what I believe for two primary reasons:
- I want you to know that I’m nowhere close to perfect and I never have been, which I hope will inspire you to overcome your own obstacles.
- I want to build trust with you. I want you to know who the essays, courses, and talks are coming from on this site.
So without further ado, this is my story, in 36 points:
- When I was a baby I used to bang my head against the floor when my parents would leave the house. Maybe that’s why my head was huge as a kid.
- I was obsessive compulsive as a kid. I had to say “Night, love ya, and I’ll see ya tomorrow” at least three times every night before going to sleep. I also went through a phase where I had to sneak to the bathroom three times before going to sleep. When I turned off faucets in the bathroom the pointy part always had to be facing straight up. Yup, I was weird.
- I played baseball from age 6–18 and loved every minute of it. When I look back on it, I realize that baseball taught me at a young age to lead by example, work hard, and not to be afraid of getting dirty. It also fed into the fact that I’m very competitive. Very.
- I grew up in diverse schools, I had best friends who were all kinds of races, and I fundamentally believe that diversity makes the world a better place. I also believe that diversity is about more than race, but race is one of the easiest things to see, which is why we focus on it.
- I believe that every person deserves respect. I don’t care how much I disagree with a person’s views, I always strive to understand them and not to judge them. It’s hard. I fail often. But I keep trying anyways.
- My greatest fear in life is throwing up. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure why.
- Hiking and being outdoors are two of my favorite things in the world. I realize now that this probably comes from having to go on so many hikes and trips to the mountains with my parents growing up. I hated it at the time, but I now know exactly why we did it. There’s just something fundamentally refreshing and energizing about being outside and connecting with nature.
- I’m ¼ Mexican from my Mom’s side, but I always put “White/Caucasion” on my standardized tests and other forms. I didn’t want to be treated differently (good or bad), so I just didn’t make it a thing for me, even though it could have been. Nonetheless, my friends always liked to joke with me about being part Mexican. I think it’s kind of cool, and I had a blast visiting Mexico for the first time in May 2013.
- I love rap music. Eminem, B.o.B, The Game, T.I., Dr. Dre, Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar are some of my favorites. I think the words are absolutely terrible and encourage bad habits, but something about the rhythm and beats gets me energized and ready to tackle the day’s tasks.
- I owned a lawn business in high school. That business gave me a taste of what it was like to be an entrepeneur, and the realities of the hard work it takes to succeed. When I look back, I realize that I learned more than I knew at the time, and it was only a matter of time before I started a business as an adult. I can trace that back to when I would sell the heck out of some Sally Foster wrapping paper or pitch my neighbors on washing their cars for money. Starting at the age of 10. Yes, really.
- In sophomore year of high school a good friend on the baseball team died and then I completely blew it when I was asked to play his position as a starter; I didn’t get to start again until my senior year. The summer before my senior year, I spent hundreds of hours in the batting cages, fielding ground balls, and working out. It was sheer willpower rather than talent that landed me back on the starting roster. That experience taught me that I can achieve anything if I put the work in, but that nothing worth having will come easy.
- I was a womanizer in high school and my early college years. I hate writing those words, but they’re true. That’s a part of my story, and the only thing I can do about it now is to live in a way that I’m proud of… I know that’s why I cherish my current relationship so much. It’s the living proof of the value of commitment, hard work, love, dedication, and caring.
- I had a binge drinking problem in high school (so did all of the people I hung out with, amongst other things). I continued my binge drinking problem into my college years. It was a problem that led to my next point…
- I went to jail in high school. Downtown Atlanta jail with pimps, drug dealers, and violent criminals. There I was sticking out like a sore thumb in my Abercrombie & Fitch at the age of 16. But I didn’t learn my lesson, which led to jail again in my freshman year of college. That was a true turning point in my life where I had to ask myself what kind of person I was going to be. Would I be a womanizing, good for nothing, college dropout alcoholic… Or would I grow up, fulfill my potential, and make my life matter? My punishment meant I had to attend AA meetings and counseling. I was also on legal and school probation for two years. That meant if I got in trouble again, I was getting kicked out of school.
- Luckily, I got over myself, stopped blaming other people for my behavior and turned all the mistakes that led up to my ridiculous freshman year debacle into a learning experience. Thankfully I had fraternity brothers who helped me realize my potential and encouraged me to become a leader. I went on to become president of my fraternity, an orientation leader, president of an honor society, and member of a prestigious leadership development program throughout the rest of my college career. I don’t say any of that to brag. I say that because it was the growth experience that occurred between leaving jail in my mom’s car and walking away from my college graduation that made me realize that any person can impact the world positively. I’m not special or unique… I just decided not to be a screw up and I worked my tail off to change my own life. That means that you can do the same, no matter what you’re facing. I believe that.
- Spending a semester at Oxford University reminded me how much I love reading and learning. For some reason I quit doing both for years because I thought it wasn’t cool. Now I try to read at least 20 books every year, if not more. They fuel new ideas and help fulfill my desire to learn.
- My time in Oxford also helped me to realize how much I love traveling and learning about new places, peoples, and cultures. Travel has become one of my biggest goals in life, and I want to see as much of the world as possible.
- I went to work for one of the big four accounting firms right out of college, and I worked in their management consulting practice. I got rejected from the first round of interviews for that job and had to get a connection to call in a favor on my behalf. That experience helped me realize how the world really works, and it formed the foundation of my perspective on how to find jobs that matter.
- I quit my first job after 9 months because it didn’t align with my personal purpose, my values, or my vision for my life. The first thing I did was go to my family’s mountain house for a month with my dog and I read the Bible. I don’t know why, but I just felt like it was what I was supposed to do. I had never read the whole Bible, and I was not even remotely familiar with it. That scared me, and since then I think I have more purpose in my life. Despite working hard on my faith, I still question it because of my intellectual side. That’s hard.
- I don’t like it when people wear their religion on their sleeve, which is why I rarely talk about my own religion. Instead, I aspire to live in a way that makes people ask if I believe in God. That’s inspiring to me and I believe that’s what God wants from me.
- When I started Living for Monday the transition from a structured job to entrepreneurship was REALLY hard. I went through a period of depression, confusion, paranoia, and I showed signs of being a hypochondriac. At various times I was convinced I had any number of life threatening diseases. Turns out it was fear, anxiety, and depression causing really weird symptoms.
- I have two dogs. A Jack Russell Terrier, Bandit, and a black lab, Hank. When it’s been a long day or I’m feeling frustrated, annoyed, or down, my dogs always remind me that life is good.
- I’m not a big comedy fan. But when I do watch comedy movies or sitcoms, I still laugh despite myself. I don’t know if that means I don’t like comedies, or I take myself too seriously to just sit back, relax, and enjoy myself sometimes. Probably the second.
- I love politics, I have had a dream of being president of the United States since I was a kid and I love studying the lives of the men who have led our country as POTUS. I tend toward smaller government, free markets and a strong national defense. I also believe in taking care of our planet and conscious capitalism. The combination of all that means I’m probably more of a libertarian than anything.
- I believe businesses have a responsibility to make decisions based on more than shareholder value. The environment, community, employees, and customers are all equal stakeholders in my book – not just shareholders.
- There are a few key things I REALLY want to learn to do during my life: speak a foreign language fluently (preferably Spanish, Arabic, or Chinese); play the fiddle; become a black belt in a martial art; learn to fly fish to the point I can teach other people; visit all seven continents; adopt a child.
- I love the idea of rock climbing, climbing Mt Everest, running a marathon, and other crazy accomplishments… but I’m scared of dying, which causes me not to pursue some of these things.
- I am obsessed with food and I love to cook. I eat as healthy as possible whenever possible. But I also have a wicked sweet tooth that requires a lot of discipline to keep in check. I often fail at that.
- I want to adopt a child in addition to having my own when I get married. In particular I want to adopt an African American child because I believe that is a way to shift paradigms while giving a child what he otherwise wouldn’t have.
- I have this gut feeling that I was put on this earth to achieve greatness. I’m not sure what that means or what I’ll end up creating… Or even if I’ll actual do anything great. But my gut tells me that’s my destiny.
- Sometimes people are put off by me or intimidated by me before they get to know me. As I’ve grown older, this has changed from people thinking I was a huge jackass when I was younger to now thinking that I’m intimidating or not approachable. I hate that.
- I love building relationships, but I’m terrified of entering a room full of people without knowing anyone.
- I’m also scared of asking for help. Whether at a restaurant, store, or from a friend. I’ve had to work really hard to learn to ask for help.
- Sometimes I just want to work with my hands. I feel alive when I use my hands to create something. I don’t know if that comes from owning a lawn business, feeling connected to nature, or just enjoying physical exertion.
- I get the same feeling when I teach a concept or topic that makes the light bulb go off for other people. I love helping people become better versions of themselves.
- When I grow up, I want to change the world. I believe that means I have to start by changing myself.
If you’re still here, thank you.
As I wrote this post, I worried about a lot. What if someone who wants to do business with me reads this and then rescinds a contract? What if I run for politics someday and they use this to smear me? What if I lose half my readers because they don’t like a part of my story? What if someone criticizes me or the way that I’ve chosen to share?
What I realized is that each of those fears is silly. We need more people in the world who are willing to be bold, honest, and vulnerable in sharing who they are. We need more politicians who get elected as real people instead of stuffing their closet full of skeletons they don’t want revealed. We need people who are willing to stand up and say: “This is who I am. If you stick with me, I promise I’ll continue to try to reach my potential, but I won’t apologize for my story.” We need leaders who are real. I want to be one of those real, vulnerable, imperfect leaders and I want to grow with you and for you.
I don’t believe there is a person on the planet who will like every aspect of who I am or identify with every part of that story. But what I hope is that by reading my story you’ve found a way for us to relate to one another.
I would love it if you shared a part of your story in the comments. Any part that you feel comfortable sharing. I’ll read every one of them.