Mike’s Story Part 2: Finding Motivation & Responsibility at a Young Age
There are a lot of different reasons people do things – different forces working on you that drive you. Things like money, success, power, and love.
I am not sure what the right combination of these forces is that makes a person not only successful externally but also feel successful internally. For every person who feels like a failure, there are a dozen people who wish they had everything you have. It is a vicious cycle and I want to share my personal struggle with learning to find internal peace and satisfaction. (Spoiler Alert: It’s still something I deal with on a daily basis.)
Quick recap as to what has happened: I failed out of college. Started going to therapy. Got a job at a high pressure high performance-based retail cell phone store. What’s the worst that could happen right!?!
Pressure to succeed
Growing up as an athlete with highly driven parents, there was always pressure to succeed. I was expected to prepare well, perform, analyze, and adjust. This was a pretty common world for me.
My entire idea of what success looked like was looking for feedback on how to get better.
- “Great game, but you could have done this better”
- “Nice grades, but what’s with this one.”
- “Thanks, for mowing the lawn but you missed a spot.”
Some of these are clearly bigger deals than others but the point being, with every attempt there was someone in my life pushing for better, including myself.
One of the memories that has always stood out for me to describe this and has stuck with me for years was 8th-grade track.
I was a sprinter and a pretty good one for my age. I was in a region-wide track meet and I ran the 100, 200, 400 and made the finals for the 200. I was so happy to get there. I had one of the top 8 times of the day. Running against the fastest of the fast. And here I was, not a natural runner, in the finals.
I had already proven something to myself. I was in the starting block area getting ready to take my mark chatting up with the guys around me. I went from being a terrible runner to one of the fastest in my area. I felt loose and was ready to go. I took my mark and ran the 200 – finishing 7th, if I remember correctly, and my personal record!
I was unbelievably excited. I had conquered a fear of looking like an idiot, joined the track team as a terrible runner, and turned in a top 8 finish at the biggest track meet I had ever been a part of. I walked off the track excitedly looking for my parents, and to my complete surprise, I found them upset. I couldn’t even rationalize this response. They looked at me and pointed out that while everyone else was getting ready on the track, I was goofing off and not getting prepared and that is why I didn’t finish better.
This was the first time I dealt with the big internal struggle between what made me happy and what made me successful. It felt like being happy wasn’t the goal anymore. Like being successful was all that mattered.
Now don’t go putting my parents in a bad light here. They were very supportive and always gave me what I needed to compete but I think they also expected me to repay their sacrifices with my own. The fact I didn’t do what they thought I should to get ready for that one race made me less successful as they thought I should be. It was a burning love that only a parent can truly understand. But as a child, I had never been more confused in my life. I had just PR’d, right!? I killed it! But somehow to the people I cared about most I was not successful enough. This was a tough learning curve for me. Honestly, it drove the majority of the next 15 years of my life.
Why does my childhood track meet matter?
I tell that story to catch you up on why me failing out of college and deciding to not go back was such a big deal. I came home about as broken as a functioning adolescent can be. For the first time in my life, I was an actual failure. Not only did I not do enough to succeed I didn’t even do enough to play the game. I was on academic suspension and couldn’t even go back to school for an entire semester. This was bad! Really bad.
Both of my parents are highly educated individuals. My dad was the son of immigrant parents. They came to America with less than a 5th-grade education and were very blue-collar workers. My Papa was a longshoreman in NYC and my Nana was a seamstress. I remember my dad telling me that Papa’s only dream for him was that he would get a job that had AC and heat. That’s a big upgrade from the docks in the northeast.
My grandfather worked his entire life with his hands so my dad had the opportunities he had to work with his mind. My mom was a teacher working on her master’s in education. School was the way out for my parent’s generation and they were taught hard that without a degree you would be working at the same docks with your hands or at the same bar as their parents’ friends that didn’t have a skill or couldn’t find work.
Growing up college was the only route. And here was their first born, their first attempt at this parenting thing, failing out and moving back home. I can’t even imagine the embarrassment, fear, shame and self-doubt they felt during this process, and ultimately this decision I had made to not go back was not going to fly. My dad and I had major battles over this. Hard fought and sometimes aggressive conversations about his stance on the importance of college battled my strong feeling that if I went back, I was wasting his money and my time.
I didn’t do well in classrooms.
I didn’t know how to be successful. I didn’t know how to picture myself doing the right things necessary to be successful. In sports, if you’re in a slump at the plate you do more cage work. If you can’t catch a football, you’re thrown 1000 balls until you can’t miss. I had no idea how to study, how to prepare, how to do the right activities in order to get a degree.
It had nothing to do with a lack of people trying to help me. I just either didn’t want to hear it or didn’t absorb it. I was sent to study hall every day during my freshman year just like every other athlete. They could all figure it out but for some reason to this day, the thought of a classroom still scares the shit out of me. I tried going back a year later to a local community college and failed again. It just wasn’t for me. That was not an environment I could figure out and it was time for me to move on.
Accepting this was a turning point for me
This is where life got pretty real for me. Telling my dad that I was not going back to school regardless of how firmly he believed I should I knew it was a waste of his money and my time surprised both of us. He was kind of surprised I was taking such a strong stance, and so was I. I had a hard-nosed Italian father and standing up to him was risky, especially when he had his mind and heart set on something. I would say this was the first time my dad made the step in the direction of seeing me more as a man and less of his baby boy.
Looking back now what he did next will never be anything less than a miracle.
I asked my dad if he would cosign a mortgage for me. Yep, asking the man who viewed me as a failure and an embarrassment to put his credit on the line so I could buy a townhouse?
To this day I don’t know what he saw in me that gave him any faith that I would be able to support that level of responsibility. But to his credit, this helped me and I never had to ask him to help me make a single payment for any bill or mortgage payment. I will say you learn a lot and grow up really fast when you’re a kid and waste a bunch of money on bullshit and aren’t sure you’ll make your next mortgage payment. I am sure we all have that experience at some point but I was set in stone that I was not going to let the lack of a degree be my defining moment. I would be successful partly in spite of my dad’s views that I needed a degree but mostly my personal mission that I didn’t need his help.
I was not going to let him look at me as a failure ever again. I was also a hard nose Italian man and I knew I could be successful and I was going to work every single day until that came true. I think I had a little bit of an unhealthy drive by this factor. I am not sure if it was fair to my dad to put him as the bad guy in this scenario and I believe our relationship today is not as good as it could be because I was out to prove him wrong. It is something we are working on but ultimately that drive got me to where I am today just like every other decision I made to this point and I can’t say I regret it because it has brought me a lot of things I knew I wanted.
So here I am – a full-time job, making good money, owning a townhouse. Things looked pretty good. But somehow, I was still trying to find happiness. Crazy right!?
I was more successful than some people ever get at the age of 20. But I got cocky. I thought I was the man. I thought I had it made. $50,000+ was a lot of money for me then. But I was more motivated by the competition that is inherent in the sales world. I was still learning what it meant to be a salesperson.
What did it mean to deal with clients?
How to not take things personally.
This was the first major sales lesson I learned. When you are in the retail world you are the face of the company to the families that came in. If there was a problem with their bill, or a problem with their phone, or anything ever they came at you. And I was a hot shot 20-year-old. I would go right back at them. This was not good and almost cost me my job a few times. I never put my hands on a client but I would yell back sometimes. People would throw their phone at me I would throw it back. People would call me out into the parking lot because I couldn’t solve their billing issue. It was pretty crazy some of the things I saw in that store. But what I learned over a long period of time was not to take it personally. I came to learn many years later this was the empathy I needed to be very successful in sales throughout my career. And by empathy, I am referring to the ability to put yourself in your client’s shoes.
What are they really mad about? Who are they really mad at? If I was them what would help me feel better about this situation?
These are questions I molded into a system that taught me to not just overcome objections but completely avoid them by anticipating my client’s thoughts and needs ahead of time. I almost made this my mission to avoid as many objections as possible so I wouldn’t need to overcome them. This allowed me to build rapport with clients that I dealt with in the store because I was able to help them understand their concerns sometimes better than they did which helped them trust me. I was a true consultant not a just a phone pusher. One of my directors saw this trait in me early and had asked if I ever considered a career on the B2B side of the business. The what? I didn’t even know what that meant. But it would turn into the place for me. I was straight to the point kind of guy. Tell it how it is. Even thought I had what some would call empathy I talked at people in a direct way like I wanted to be communicated with and when you’re dealing with the public this is a challenge. Anyone in a role that deals with the public or with home owners knows what I mean. You never know what you’re gonna get sometimes. It can be a challenge and I was interested in it if she thought I could do it. I respected her and her opinion led me to explore that option several years later.
In the meantime, I had great success in the retail world which led to some interesting opportunities that continued to lead me to where I am now. Head on over to the next part of my story here.
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