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G.R.I.T. — Guts, Resilience, Initiative and Tenacity, With Scott Petinga, Founder of the TH!NK DIFFERENT Foundation

I had the pleasure to interview Scott Petinga. Scott is the Chief Troublemaker of The Scott Petinga Group, where he is a pioneer in the development of businesses that make a lasting impact on society. He is the founder of the TH!NK DIFFERENT Foundation, the Fairy Foundation, the Center of Advocacy for Cancer of the Testes International (CACTI), and a volunteer mentor with Imerman Angels of Chicago. He lives in the Minneapolis metro with his life partner and also the father of three pretty amazing daughters.

What is your “backstory”?

I grew up in an Italian American household in Atlantic City during the ’70s and ’80s. Our home was always filled with uninvited guest who drank too much, smoked liked chimneys and swore like sailors.

My father had an insatiable drive as an entrepreneur and my mother (prior to us being enrolled in school) was your quintessential stay-at-home-mom — a Jewish version of TV’s June Cleaver.

Once I hit ninth grade, my mom revealed her big plans for me. She wanted me to be the first in our family to go to college. I, of course, had other plans. So, at 18, I ran away to join the world’s most elite fighting force, the US Marine Corps… only to have my military career cut short by a DWI. Not mine, but that of the gentleman that ran me over. And because of the resulting injury, I was back home within 2-years of leaving.

After serving in the military and in roles as varied as Vice President of Segmentation Management at Santander Bank and Adjunct Professor at several regional colleges, I put my brilliant marketing skills to work.

May 3rd, 2004 started off like every other day. But unlike those before it, this particular one would change my life forever as I was soon haunted by thoughts of mortality. Long story short, I survived from this god-awful disease called cancer and have risen from its ashes.

Since then there are still days where I feel beaten down, find myself in excruciating pain and bruised from the ongoing treatment. My body constantly physically changing like a superhero that has been exposed to radiation. Yet I’m thankful to be alive. And deep down I’d be foolish to think the future would be any different but as the saying goes “straight roads do not make skillful drivers.” Even my mindset changed. Cancer made me understand more deeply, appreciate more quickly, cry more easily, hope more desperately, love more openly and live more passionately.

I am now defined by a fresh new compulsion to engage in ventures that would change the world for the better. I have this insatiable drive, this compulsion to create change. To be change. Everything I pursue must have meaning and purpose beyond the norm.

However, my most important role is being a father to three pretty amazing daughters. They are my priority — the air that I breathe.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I was a struggling traditional artist and by happenstance meet William Cradle who owned a printing and design firm. He would go on to hire me and to this day I still have no idea why. Guess he saw something in me that I didn’t. I was still reeling from a no-so notable discharge, my dreams no longer achievable, floundering like an Oster Toadfish — trying to find my purpose in life.

Almost a quarter-century later, I am going back home to be the guest speaker at a PR Council — Greater Atlantic City luncheon, an organization where William is the President. Interestingly enough, the restaurant where it will take place was first owned by my Great Grandfather during Prohibition and was the location of my first job as a teenager. While there, I’ll also be donating 50,000 condoms to the South Jersey AIDS Alliance (one of the first clients I had while under William’s tutelage). It’s amazing how a single individual can have such a massive impact one one’s trajectory.

Are you working on any meaningful non-profit projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

All of the projects I work on and the companies I form have some sort of social significance and impact. I founded 12 corporations and an additional 2 have sprouted from my business accelerator and the lion share have some type of philanthropic component. In addition to these, I also oversee operations for three 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations that continually make a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of people each and every year.

Mélange is an amalgamation of the world’s most brilliant analytical and marketing minds and annually we provide $100,000 worth of services to non-profits across a variety of sectors. TH!NK DIFFERENT is a humanitarian organization that provides grants and other program support designed to spark innovative ideas in underserved areas of housing and healthcare within the United States. In the Fall of 2014, the Think Different Foundation exposed one million 18–25-year-old men and women at the top 25 college campuses about the importance of monthly self-exams for men. Several months later, the foundation made a $500,000 donation to USC Norris to help the medical community finally start making better decisions — decisions driven by data so that others who walk in my footsteps with a testicular cancer diagnosis face less of a burden. Better yet, so that we can prevent this highly preventable disease that has robbed me of so many things — and nearly taken my life. In addition, proceeds from my underwear company Pariah Underwear, and line of condoms, Rouse Condoms, support the good work of the TH!NK DIFFERENT Foundation as well as educates countless men about the importance of monthly self-exams. Fairy Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to forging lasting memories for adults with life-threatening medical conditions. Timothy and Titus is an independent book company with interests in book publishing and distribution services. Our revolutionary model donates 32% of all royalties to charity — and 100% of the profits from my own first title: No One Ever Drowned In Sweat go directly to fulfilling the last wishes of others. CACTI, is an international advocacy network whose mission is to advance the practice, research and education in the field of testes cancer. CACTI provides invaluable information to newly diagnosed testicular patients regularly.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

The good news is, there have been many! A particularly touching one involved a young lady in Minneapolis who thanked me for distributing testicular cancer self- exam flyers on her college campus — because raising HER awareness about the cancer symptoms actually ended up saving her boyfriend’s life.

There was a Chicago businessman, who was feeling incredibly sorry for himself when his wife left him and took half his fortune. He thanked me because my book was the impetus behind his re-thinking of just who was actually in charge of his life. And he got busy fixing his.

Then there was the 70 something year old grandad who always wanted to skydive, and finally got his last wish granted through our Fairy Foundation, which makes wishes come true for terminally diagnosed adults.

And even the mom in NYC who’s highly intelligent son dropped out of college — who thanked me for bringing her comfort and giving her hope that her son could still succeed, without an traditional education, once he identified his true path in life.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Over the years I’ve learned that champions are made from a consistent stream of learning, preparing, getting out there where the fight is and, if knocked down, getting back up and going again.

So for me, it comes down to 4 foundational ingredients necessary to get the journey started, keep momentum going, effectively handle hurdles along the way, and stick with the task until the destination is reached. G.R.I.T. stands for Guts, Resilience, Initiative and Tenacity and these traits are the driving force that makes thing happen.

G — Guts are the internal super-power which allows us to overcome adversity and steer a course over, under, around, or straight through life’s many obstacles and challenges.

R — Resilience is the rebounding energy which allows us to bounce back from life’s many defeats to enjoy our eventual success.

I — Initiative is the entrepreneurial spirit which inspires us to act on our biggest ideas and build a life — and career — for ourselves.

T — Tenacity is the staying power which ultimately determines how hard we will fight for our dreams.

And don’t worry where your story started — I flunked out of school, was kicked out of the Marines, has been fired from jobs, went through a divorce and is suffering through one of the greatest tests of all… being diagnosed with cancer — and still ended up on top! True grit is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts to push through fear. And believe it or not, you can develop G.R.I.T. — the first step is seeing what you are made of — go ahead test yourself!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

I have several conference rooms in my office that I named after individuals that have both inspired and motivated me to be the person I am today — Musk, Gates, Jobs, Branson, Fadell. However, hands down, my favorite is Sir Richard Branson. Like me, he was the quintessential underdog. As a high school dropout, he went on to disruptive industries to not only become a Billionaire but also a very humble Philanthropist. Just imagine the damage we could do if we met over coffee. ##startarevolution