I have heard people say never look back, always look forward as the past is in the past however, I think that there’s a lot that we can learn from our past if we know what we are looking for and if we view it in the right way. When I look at my past I see mistakes, failures, disappointments, uncertainty, insecurity, but I also see success and progression even if it did not seem that way when I was struggling. What I realize looking back and what I’m reminded of on a continuous basis is that who I am today has not been shaped by the experiences but more accurately, by how my mind has interpreted my experiences over time and the meaning that I have assigned to them. We create our own reality based on how we decide to view the world around us and this is a choice we never have to surrender.
The first big risk I took was starting my own business a few years out of college and it was during this time that I learned a lot about myself…
The first thing I remember is just the sound of my dress shoes clicking on the sidewalk over and over again and feeling the heat coming up off the payment burning the bottom of my feet. The heat from the payment was magnified though because the bottom of my right shoe had a hole forming under the ball of my foot (I didn’t realize this could actually happen) but being completely in my head, feeling alone, detached, and numb I simply continued to walk even if I was now even more ashamed about my situation. By that time I had been walking around in the late morning heat for about an hour and I honestly felt like my face was melting and I could feel the beads of sweat trickling down my back as I pinched my dress shirt from the back and pulled it so that it would not stick. The stack of about 1000 flyers in my hand began to feel heavy and the longer I walked the more I was shifting the stack from hand to hand so that the sweat would not soak through. As I continued to walk in the morning summer heat I raised my head and I looked around the neighborhood whose streets I had been canvassing and I wondered how these people got to this point in their lives.
Now let me clarify that I picked this particular neighborhood for a reason, this was what I pictured as the neighborhood that I wanted to live in someday. The streets were made up of cul-de-sacs and they were lined perfectly with trees and manicured lawns, the homes were not extravagant but they were large enough, you could only assume from the outside, to have room to breathe and to feel that you had established some level of stability in your life. In the driveways you saw bikes that were left abandoned as you could tell the kids that were playing already moved on to the next exciting game and when you looked around you saw this is as a common theme throughout the neighborhood. The children were playing in groups running from house to house and the bikes became the only evidence that the kids were previously there.
It is clear that there is no perfect neighborhood, there is no perfect house, and there is no perfect community but to me, at my young age, a business loan over my head, no sustainable income, and the best slacks, dress shirt, and dress shoes that I could afford at that time, this was the perfect neighborhood and the perfect community. I started that day with 1000 flyers as I had done week over week for a little over a year. On those flyers I had condensed as much value as I felt that I could in the hope of getting somebody to see something of interest in my flyer or in me as a person so that I could simply have a chance to earn their business. The interesting thing is that for over a year I had been engaged in this type of canvassing not just in this neighborhood (although I continued to come to this area that I idolized) but everywhere that I could within a 50 mile radius of my office and not a single person showed any interest in me or my business. When I look back and reflect it is clear why I could not gain any traction, at that point in my life I was negative, sarcastic, and spiteful because I saw no way to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. It was this victim mindset that allowed me to continue blaming everything and everyone for my failures except for myself; I had no vision.
But this day was different than all the others and something changed which would redefine my understanding of what I was going through. No, it was not some amazing event or breakthrough, it was simply a very slight shift in the way I was internalizing what I was seeing and experiencing. I felt that I had nothing left to give so I took a break and stopped walking. I looked around and what I did is I just imagined myself in one of those homes getting ready, having my morning coffee, walking out my door, and mowing my lawn or even just checking the mail. I tried to be very specific with my imagination so that I felt that I was actually watching myself doing all of it. The slight shift in my mindset was that for the first time I did not look at the house or the neighborhood with envy or spite, I looked at it as a testament to the hard work those men and women invested throughout their lives to achieve what they had achieved. I then simply told myself that this was a certainty for me because I had a clear vision of what I wanted and I knew that I had the heart to diligently work toward what I wanted.
All I did in that moment was I allowed myself to dream and imagine in order to create a vision for what a life in a neighborhood like this would feel like. Once I made the mental shift I began immediately walking with hope, determination, and optimism as opposed to the detached numbness that I displayed only one week prior. What happened next was unexpected, although nothing physically changed all of a sudden the heat was not as hot, the sweat did not feel as bothersome, and I was no longer ashamed of the hole in my shoe. As if a light switch had been turned on none of it bothered me anymore. I made a decision in that moment that I would be in control of where I went establishing a clarity in what I wanted to achieve and letting my hard work and determination be the fuel that would get me there.
The heat motivated me because I was out doing things others would not sacrifice their A/C for, the stack of flyers in my hand became a game to see how many people I could get my information in front of and refusing to stop until all of them were gone, each house that I passed acted another log that fueled to my fire, and that hole in my shoe soon spread to my other shoe and those holes actually inspired me to see how many more steps I could take toward attaining my dream. The funny thing is that even when I bought new shoes, I used these shoes when I did my canvassing because I knew that nobody could see the hole and this little secret was my way to have a physical reminder of the journey that I had committed myself to, one step at a time.
When I look back I had no answers, no idea what I was doing, and no plausible plan of action to get me to where I wanted to be. I had been trained on planning, goal setting, and having a vision for the future but up until that day when I actually woke up, the plans I had, the goals that I developed, and the vision I adopted from the material I read was all artificially created. It was all created by the training programs that were provided to me, the books that I was assigned to read, and the ideas and business philosophies that I thought I should be having at that point in time. The problem with is that they were not my plans, they were not my goals, and it was not my vision. What I came to realize, though not completely until many years later, was that none of that mattered, all that mattered was what I envision for myself, the values that believed in, and the fact that it was ok to not have a perfect plan or a perfect answer.
The search for the perfect plan or strategy in business does not exist yet it is easier to believe that it does because if we follow it and it fails then it was the plan or the strategy that was flawed, it was not us of course. It takes a lot more courage to think autonomously and to diverge from normative practices and philosophies. What I needed then was the courage to have confidence in myself even when I didn’t really have anything to feel confident about and to have a vision for a future that based on my current state seemed illogical and unfounded. What I realized (and this was a bit scary) was that once I decided to think for myself and once I allowed myself to trust that the clarity of my vision coupled with an unwavering discipline, accountability, and resilience would get me to where I wanted to go, I had to accept that security, stability, and comfort would no longer be part of my life.
When I look back it’s easy to be disappointed with the victim mindset that I allowed myself to have in the early years of my business and it’s easy to be disappointed with the mistakes, failures, disappointments, uncertainties, and insecurities that I had and that continued throughout my professional progression. However, I will say that when I look back, what I see is that I would not trade a single area of failure or disappointment because all of it has defined the character that I have developed and embraced within myself. Regardless of having the perfect strategy, the perfect plan, or the perfect goal, I have relied on vision and action to get me through. Since those early years in business I have never stopped moving, I have never stop thinking, I have never stopped progressing, learning, or discovering, and I have remained stubborn, illogical, and fanatical. This approach has provided me with the ability to move forward even without a plan of execution that would logically get me to where I wanted to go.
Looking back what I have learned is that everything in my life is temporary (good or bad) and what will always be relevant to continuous growth and development is the courage to think autonomously and the courage to dream and imagine a different future because that is what allows vision to gain clarity. I have also learned that we will never have all the answers in terms of how to get to where we want to be and how to become the person that we want to be but that is completely ok because this is a mold that never hardens. We never truly know the person that we want to become because this changes over the years and we learn, we grow, and we re-invent ourselves on a constant basis.
Who I am today and who I have become is based on how I have interpreted my past experiences, failures, and successes and what I have learned over the years is that I am somebody that my younger self would be proud of. With that being said, I have so much farther to go and so much more to learn however, it’s nice to look back every once in a while and really put yourself in a past moment to be there again and reflect on how all of that hard work and dedication paid off. It is important to know that while planning and goal setting has its purpose, the strongest indicator of forward progression is the vision of who you want to become and where you want to go. The plan and the strategy is something you figure out along the way as long as you don’t lose sight of the vision you have for your desired future state. Things don’t always need to make sense in the present for them to make sense in the future. In life and in business you achieve what your mind is focused on and when you look at your current state it is not necessarily a reflection of your past experiences, it is a reflection of how you interpreted those past experiences over time.
12 years ago with a stack of flyers in my hand and worn out dress shoes, I looked at the house in front of me which was a two story with a Spanish tile roof, 2 cars in the driveway, the kids’ bikes by the front door, and a man in his late 30s early 40s walking out his front door and at that moment I thought to myself I have no idea how I will get to the point of where this man has gotten but I know that I will get there somehow.
What’s interesting is that today, 12 years later I woke up, made my coffee, walked outside and looked around and what I saw was a 2 story house behind me with a Spanish tile roof, 2 cars in the driveway, the kids’ bikes by the front door next to me and me in my late 30s walking outside realizing how all the mistakes, failures, disappointments, uncertainties, insecurities I had over the years shaped me but did not define me. What they did do is define my character and my focus on a vision for better things and it was this vision that worked behind the scenes to get me to where I am today. As I drank my coffee I was not proud of the material possessions that I have accrued, no that is not what all this is about, what I was proud of was that through my own hard work and the realization of my vision for a better future, I created an entire life for my family, a life that they now get to live, experience, and learn from. My hope is that I can continue my own exploration and growth while having an impact on how my son and my daughter interpret the life events they experience now and in the future and that I can be the best husband possible to a women that has dedicated her life to me.
The past is not just the past, the past is our story and a story that can teach us much more than any training program, assigned book, or mainstream philosophy and if we look at the past through the right lens we gain a better understanding of how we got here and how we get to where we want in the future. This was an important moment that took me back to my younger self that had no idea of how to get to where I got to today, that didn’t have a plan for each step of the journey, and that only had a dream and desire to make things work by any means necessary. Today I stand here as professional, as a father, and as a husband and I’m proud of that young man that allowed me to get to where I am today.
I am not the most successful, intelligent, or innovative person that I know by any stretch of the imagination but I am not done growing, learning, and most importantly, I am not done failing. Reflecting on this I see the importance of acknowledging success at every point along the way regardless of how large or small and this is truly something we can all allow ourselves the freedom to experience as we continue to explore the unknown ahead.