Stay Hungry.

Six months ago I sat salivating over South Carolina’s tastiest chicken biscuit and an irresistible business opportunity.

I had flown to Charleston to pitch a pretty aggressive business development proposal to my then-boss. My presentation projected 200% growth for his company in 12 months, led entirely by yours truly. It was ballsy. It was unlikely to be accepted. But I believed I could do it and I had to try.

I didn’t know what was going to happen when I took that 1,200-mile flight to a city I’d never visited before to pitch the most aggressive presentation I’d ever crafted to a man I’d never met. But I wasn’t scared. Quite the opposite. I was as alive as I’d ever been.

So when my proposal was rejected I didn’t lose an inch. I gained miles. What I did that day made me proud. It gave me confidence and resolve. It gave me closure. It made what happened next seem natural, providential even.

My experience has given me an acute awareness that failure is part of life. I’ve learned failing usually signals an opportunity to succeed at something else, perhaps even greater. What happened in South Carolina that week did not shock me. It came as no surprise. Not to me. I’ve been working my entire life to position myself for the exact type of situation that unfolded.

What I didn’t know when I got on the plane to leave Oklahoma was that I wasn’t going to South Carolina for this proposal I worked so hard to create. I was following a path years of diligence had carved for me.


It was 24 hours before my proposal and I had taken maybe a bite out of my biscuit. I lost my appetite for food. A new hunger had taken hold of me.

Sitting before me on that table was more than South Carolina’s best breakfast food. There was also opportunity served. The type of opportunity so one-of-a-kind you can’t even dream it up. But for me it was also the kind of opportunity that made me hesitate and ask myself, “Am I capable of this?”

The shellshock wore off with the rejected proposal, and I knew what I had to do. Nothing would stop me. No one would stop me. I knew the only way I could answer that question was to meet it with my best effort. So I did. And everything fell into place.

In the following weeks I uprooted and moved 1,200 miles away. I had no second thoughts. I hadn’t even figured out how I would make it all work when I left. But I found solidarity in the drive. I knew I would make it. I believed I would.

In the short months that followed I learned just how capable I was. Capable of working hard. Capable of learning. Capable of observing. Capable of improving at least 1% or more each day. Capable of waking up early and working ‘til late. Capable of dedicating myself to labor I believed in and capable of being mentored. I was as capable as I was willing to be.

Now I no longer worry if I’m capable. Instead I believe with enough resolve, effort, and willingness to get in the trenches and deliver, I am capable of anything. Anything. And I intend to prove it. Every. Single. Day.

I’ve come a long way since that chicken biscuit, but I’m still as hungry as ever.


Present day, I report directly to the Founder & CEO of a VC-funded startup. No two days have been the same since I started. I’m intellectually stimulated and challenged daily. I get to dive in and solve problems all the time. I get to learn new softwares and help design and implement new processes. I have 360 degrees of exposure to a rapid-growth business that’s taking an $81 billion industry by storm. And I’m only 24 years old.

I could be in law school or working toward an MBA. Instead I experiment daily with actual business operations and with actual entrepreneurs. I could be married and working on a family. Instead, I’m single and creating a fulfilling life. I could have taken a high-paying corporate job, grown roots, and bought a house. Instead, I‘m mortgaging myself so I can be an asset wherever I choose to go, with no cap on income potential. I could be living out any number of prefabricated lifestyle templates. Instead, I’m not. Instead, I’m blazing my own trail and I’m creating a life governed by my own terms.

It all happened because I bet on myself. Not on a credential. Not on conventional wisdom. Not on the status quo. It happened because I refused to follow the beat of someone else’s drum. It happened because I needed to prove to myself what I could do given the chance to thrive. It happened for me and it can happen for anyone who wants to go out and discover the life they’ve always wanted.

Your story to the life you’ve always wanted can begin anywhere, too. Mine started with a chicken biscuit. And that’s why I believe it when people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Stay hungry, my friends.

 

Unmarked Graves

The most horrendous thing to me would be to die without having made a dent in the universe. To have led an insignificant life. I choose one that’s monumental…one that’s worth living.

You can live this way if you want. It’s no easy feat. But it’s not as difficult as everyone lets on either.

You’re uniquely equipped to change the world in a way no one else ever could. You were born possessing your own unique genetic makeup, personality, point of view, perspective, thoughts, and ideas.

Yet societal pressures emphasize assimilation and conformity. It’s no wonder many of us lead lives of “quiet desperation.” But you don’t have to.

When you adhere to these standards, you quash the best offerings you hold for transforming the world as it is into what it could be. These value offerings are the ones that can only come from the fullest expression of your unique traits. When you assimilate to this average of everyone else, you denounce your best abilities to live impactfully. It’s like watching the beautiful panorama of your life on a black and white television set instead of in high-definition color.

On the flip side, properly harnessing the unique traits inherent to your own personality increases your value to the world. It allows the fullest expression of yourself free reign to imagine and create. It’s this version of yourself that produces things entirely novel, authentic, and original which would never otherwise have been birthed the same way by anyone else. Dismissing those traits is like committing an abortion. It’s like killing your best opportunities to change the world before they’re given a chance to breathe.

This is why your individuality must be embraced and unleashed instead. If you’re going to make a mark on the world you can’t do the same things everyone else is doing.

Forgive the sweeping generalizations, but I highly doubt anyone wants to live unhappily, poverty-stricken, or oppressed. Deep down, just like you and me, everyone holds a desire and drive to improve their circumstances, to acquire a better hand of cards, a “pissed-off gene” that drives them each out of their caves to go hunt their own proverbial wooly mammoths or to carve wheels from stone. It’s a longing that everyone burns to fulfill, yet one that, if pursued, would look entirely different for each individual.

Given the chance to pursue this longing, whatever it may be, life might look a lot different for everyone. Consider how yours might differ. It might dramatically alter the course of the world. Or it might just dramatically alter your own world. It’s difficult to say how significant the impact could be. There’s not really a metric for measuring ‘what could have been.’

I see really only two options. Embrace your uniqueness or don’t. Live passionately or be normal. Unleash your individuality or imprison it.

Harnessing it to create the products and visions of your mind sends a ping out into the great big nothingness declaring, “I am up to the challenge. I will slay the dragon. I will scale Everest. I will live a life of meaning!” Refusing to heed this calling stifles that better version of yourself. It donates your best value offering for the world to the wind, blowing it away like chaff.

Don’t live that way. Choose to live with historical significance. Refuse to be buried in an unmarked grave.

My Librarian, The Drug Czar.

I didn’t get really into drugs until I was about six or seven years old. During the summers, I used to visit the Enid Public Library and wander about the shelves, carte blanche. It was there, cloaked from the public eye behind numerous texts, where I would be administered dosage upon dosage of fresh, new, enlightening psychotropic devices. Even so, this freedom to binge diminished as I relocated during the school year to a more cautiously monitored environment: the public school library.

Potent substances of epidemic proportions, if you look carefully enough, can be found littering the shelves of most libraries, though, and I was determined to find the most satiating of these. This, in my opinion, must have been why I was banned from visiting certain “Dark Arts” sections as an elementary student. It must have been that look in my eyes. Perhaps they were too red, or maybe the librarian had begun to take notice of that slight change in my disposition each time I made a new visit to this wonder emporium. Either way, I had to proceed with caution most days, if I was, after all, going to get my fix.

One day, in fact, the librarian caught me perusing around this “off-limits” section of the bookshelves. There I was at 11 or 12 years of age, Atlas Shrugged in hand, when that user’s itch overtook me. I dropped the book immediately and began frantically convulsing, part from fear of being caught in the act, part from knowing my stash was about to be flushed. All the while I knew if I did not administer soon, I would surely die.

It was no use, however, the ruse was up. At that age, I was hardly tall enough to see over the counter to check a book out, let alone hide a 1,200-paged manifesto behind my wimpy little back. So, I picked the book back up from the floor, replaced it on the shelf, and obediently followed the orders, promising myself I would find a way to unlock the potency of its contents at a later date.

That memory seems so long ago; I oftentimes wonder if it happened at all or if it was no more than the birth of some intense trip. After all, I have been using most of my life, and, it is not uncommon for me to drift entirely from all tethers to reality into fantasies tucked deep away in the darkest crevices of my mind, readily awakening to the inspiration I find in each new literary drug.

Subsequently, even if the instance with the librarian did not occur, I am certain the restrictions to prevent me from self-medicating or overdosing at such a young age were, in fact, in place. I despise that truth even to this day, but realize it did not stop me from introducing myself to those much harder drugs, so much as it merely delayed me.

However, what I know now is that had I simply been allowed to satisfy my craving when it initially had sprung, perhaps I would not have been so receptive to its effects or so keen to discover even harder, more illicit scholarly substances to fill the void such a prolonged introduction had created.

Furthermore, perhaps under the cautious supervision of the librarian or some other pedagogue dealer of dalliances, I would not have—once self-prescribing—been so keen to consume far above the recommended dosages. Perhaps given the opportunity at self-discovery—though this might be a stretch—I would have even hated the drugs, and rejected altogether any such interferences with my worldview as it then existed.

Even so, such was not the case, and it was made clear that such voyages into the unknown were impermissible for such a young, budding mind. This created nothing but contempt and inspired in me a sense of rebellion, a sense of courage to gallivant off into uncharted waters as a freelance pharmacist for myself, eager to indulge in every new available banned product I could find. So, too, did it make me more receptive to the mind-altering nature of these unapproved commodities. I found in these not merely a delightful escape, but more importantly, I discovered truth. I felt alive and aware, as if my eyes had at last been opened to all that was around me. I saw the world not as I thought it to be, but for what it truly was. I saw myself juxtaposed to the universe as a finite entity, both free and powerfully awestruck by the magnitude of what I had previously not only not known, but dismissed as impossible.

Those substances freed me from the restrictions imposed not only by coercive authorities, but of the inhibiting limitations I had enforced on myself through ignorance. Upon discovering this newfound, vast expanse of intellectual wealth, I gained a new appreciation for life, for learning, and for contemplating axiomatic truths.

I discovered how to listen rather than talk, how to humbly promote myself rather than boast, how to speak sincerely rather than with grandiosity. But far and above more imperative than all, I came to know how to love myself and as a result, how to love others. The ideas resulting from of all these trips and highs in prose and poetry unlocked all of these things for me, and I think they can for anybody courageous enough to give them a try.

So forget about prohibitions, censorships, or coercive deterrents. Why don’t you give the unknown a shot? Why not explore the limits of your own vast cognitive abilities?

Go pick up a book today, who knows? Your gateway drug could be waiting for you.

 

 

How A Stranger Taught Me To Love My Neighbor.

Take-Home Message: Spread hope, not hate. Focusing on all the bad in the world can make you lose sight of the good in it.

Writer’s Note: This is based upon an actual conversation from Summer 2015. I have preserved the integrity of this to the best of my memory.


 

It was a normal day and I was headed to get a haircut. Since I was from out of town and driving around the city, I pulled up Yelp and searched for the nearest barber shop. The closest result showed up just a few blocks from where I was and it was on my way back home. So, I pulled in and walked up to the door.

Immediately after walking into the building, I began second-guessing my decision. In the barber’s chair sat a large Mexican man covered in tattoos, carrying on conversation loud enough for the whole building to participate. But there wasn’t anybody else but the hair dresser and me. Towering over this man was a large black woman working on a high and tight for the customer. She was humming a few bars of what she later told me was one of her favorite Billie Holiday tunes.

I thought I should leave. I pulled up Yelp again and refreshed my search for a haircut and found the nearest one almost 7 miles away. On a Friday afternoon around Atlanta, GA, 7 miles is a several-hour-long commitment, and for some reason I felt like I was being frozen in place. For some reason, I thought, I’m supposed to stay here.

So I gulped my preconceived prejudices down and waited. After a painful amount of time, the Mexican man stood up, politely thanked the woman, paid her, and headed for the door. A few paces before he exited, he flashed me a smile and asked, “How are you?” shattering my earlier notions that this was a dangerous man. “I’m fine, thanks,” I replied, disgraced by my stereotyping.

“You’re up next, Sweetie,” the warm, inviting voice of the hairdresser beckoned to me. “What can I do for you, today, young man?” she said politely awaiting my instructions. I told her how I liked it cut and she said, “Oh, that will look great on you.”

She asked me where I was from and how I made my way to her shop. She asked me what I did and how I had found my way from Oklahoma to Atlanta. I told her what I was doing in Georgia and how [at the time] I was about to go back to school. I was interested in studying law because I had a passion for helping people live more freely, I told her.

“I can already tell you’d be one of those good attorneys,” she said. “The world needs more of ‘em.” But she paused for a moment after that and seemed bothered. “I’ve had experiences with bad attorneys,” she said. “Someone I know (I think she said her nephew) got arrested for possession last year, and he’s been locked up ever since. They [the Public Defenders] didn’t really care about his case.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I told her–and I really was. I could tell that this was really troubling her.

“What do you think about marijuana?” she asked. “Do you think it should be illegal?”

A rare moment with a stranger had arrived for me. Here I was, simply wanting a haircut, and my prejudices had almost driven me out of this shop. But her kindness and sincerity had sent my smugness packing. “I don’t have a problem with it,” I told her. “In fact, I think it being illegal does a lot more harm than good.”

“Why is it that so many people don’t think that?” she asked.

“I couldn’t tell you for certain, ma’am,” I said, “But I think the world could be a lot better place if the government and law enforcement stopped interfering so much with people’s lives.”

At this she stopped cutting my hair altogether and I saw a tear stream down from one of her eyes. She took a deep breath and wiping it away said, “Young man, I think you were supposed to come into this shop today to get a haircut.”

“Thank you,” I told her. But I didn’t reveal to her that I had felt that strange sense of assurance earlier that I was where I was supposed to be.

“You know, I look around at the world and I see so much hatred,” she said. “It’s all black versus white and cops versus people and the news all riling everybody up. But here you are and here I am. I love you and I don’t even know you. I want the best for you and I just met you. I don’t think people hate each other as much as the media wants us to think,” she said. “But this ain’t anything new, Sweetie…”

When she said that, she sort of drifted off, her eyes got misty and she let out a couple of more tears. She had set the scissors down at this point and was looking directly at me.  “I’ve seen this story all my life,” she said, “People don’t naturally hate one another,” she said. “Their circumstances and the way the world treats them teaches them that. I want to share a story with you if you don’t mind,” she gestured to me.

“Of course!” I told her. I was intrigued by this point and had entirely forgotten I was even there for a hair cut. And then she began narrating a story that has forever changed me.

 

“I remember the day those men in black suits came rolling through our neighborhood,” she said. “I was only about five or six at the time, and my sister and me was out in the front yard playing when we saw this big, new, fancy car roll up to the house at the end of the street. That was back in the ‘60s, though, just a few years after Mr. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and we hadn’t ever seen a car like that before. Then these two men climbed out all dressed up, they had them a couple of black suits and white shirts, with the black tie on, looking all official and such. They just marched up to the first door and disappeared. My sister and I went running into the house hollering at Momma and Daddy telling them all about the sight we just saw. Then, one by one, them men just kept making their way down the block, one house at a time, until they got to ours. Momma and Daddy said we had to wait outside seein’ as we wasn’t old enough to talk business yet, so we did, and I tried peeking through the window the whole time. I never could make out what they was saying, but Momma and Daddy seemed a bit troubled by it.

Just a street over at the time was a huge lot surrounded by great big, tall fences. We never knew what was going on inside there, but we could hear the banging and hammering around the clock. All of us on my block kept guessing what it was that was going up, and whether or not we should be afraid of it, but the walls stayed up and the banging kept on a’ coming. Until one day, it stopped. The walls were torn down and behind them stood two great big, brand new towering buildings.

It wasn’t until Momma and Daddy told us we was moving that they explained what those gentlemen in the black suits months before had shown up to discuss. It became clear fast that the offer those men made wasn’t the best for everyone in our neighborhood, though. Momma and Daddy explained that those men were offering us one of the few spots in the shiny new apartment buildings. ‘The spots are going fast,’ they said to Momma and Daddy that day they came to our block, ‘So you’ll have to act now.’

We didn’t have a lot of money at the time, but we also didn’t have reliable electricity or indoor plumbing. In fact, almost everybody on our block still had an outhouse. So when me and Sissy walked into our new home that day, we couldn’t hold back the excitement. “Our very own toilet!” I remember yelling to my Momma. “And what’s this machine over by the wall?” I asked, as Daddy swooped me up in his arms and set me atop our very own washing machine unit. That was such a happy day.

After a few days, I started to notice that very few of the other Daddies from our neighborhood had come over with the families who had moved. I asked Momma about it and she told me to stop pestering and one day when I was older she might tell me.

Days passed and turned into months. Months into years. Until one day, I was watching the news in the apartment building, an older girl now, and I saw this fancy pants man get on the screen talking about all the homeless blacks that were causing problems with drugs and violence and vandalism. He talked about how the cops were roundin’ ‘em up for disturbing peace or something like that. Most of the problem, fancy pants said, was coming from over just a block or so where we used to live. The problem was, none of those houses that used to be there was standing any more.

Just a few months after we had moved out, some wrecking crews came in and tore down all the houses. They said it was the city who had bought all the property up preaching about eminent domain or the likes of some law. They said it would be better for the whole city and that they had built the apartments and offered them real cheap for all the former residents. They said the ones who didn’t take up the offer were lazy criminals and deserved to be snatched up by the law. Some of those men were my friends’ daddies.

So I mustered up the courage to ask Momma and Daddy again about what happened to the other Daddies and why they never moved over. They sat Sissy and me down and explained what they hadn’t told us about those men in the black suits who had come knockin’ on our door for all those years ago. They said they were making an offer to move to a better life.

Those men told my parents it was $39 per month rent to have running water and electricity in the new place they’d built for us.

Daddy had a job at the time, but he didn’t make very much money. He worked long hours and Momma stayed home with us kids. Back then we wasn’t old enough for school yet. But, Momma and Daddy told us, the new apartment buildings didn’t have room enough for all the members of all the families so if the men wanted to move in with the families it would be another $9 per month. Those men in the black suits told Momma and Daddy and all the other neighbors that day that it would be a lot cheaper and just fine by them if the men stayed in the houses where they lived. They’d be allowed to visit whenever they wanted, so long as they got a permit and left by 9 p.m. And they told them the men could come and live with the families one week out of every month, too, if they got the permission from the building. But there just wasn’t enough room to fit everybody.

And so that’s what happened. Most of the families moved over to the new buildings and the men stayed put figuring they could keep more food on the table for their families if they saved the extra money per month, Momma told me. The cost of renting the houses on our neighborhood wasn’t even that much at the time, so they could use the difference to help out. Most of the men in our neighborhood worked jobs like my Daddy, too, long hours for not a lot of money, so it didn’t really make a difference where they laid their heads at the end of the night. But not my Daddy. To him, it mattered, and he told us he wouldn’t let our family be separated even if it was going to make things tight with money.

But after we moved over, the worst thing happened to those other men. When the city came in and bought up the properties, they evicted all of the Daddies who were still living over there. And some of them came over to the apartment trying to work things out but they weren’t given permission by the building to move in with their families. Maximum capacity by order of the fire marshall they told ‘em. No more room for more people.

That’s when new men in black suits came to the apartment building. The marched up and down the hallways to the rooms with a clipboard and some pens. Daddy wasn’t home when they came by but Momma told us later the men were walking by explaining how families could get assistance to help with the bills if they needed to.

“Since a lot of families are facing hard times, we want to make it known that there are options,” those men told Mamma. “We can offer assistance on a monthly rate and even more depending on the number of mouths you have to feed.”

Momma knew Daddy wouldn’t like this, so she asked those men to leave. Mamma told me that it’s because a lot of the Daddies had been arrested by the police and were out of work and couldn’t pay their families’ bills anymore.

 

She broke character after this, lightly sobbing, and began to shake her head. “After they ripped those families apart and kicked the men out onto the streets, many of them lost their jobs,” she said. “My Daddy knew a lot of them. He told me that it was like they had lost their reasons to live, so a lot of them turned to alcohol and drugs to help them escape. And then it got a lot worse,” she said, shaking her head again.

“The laws around those times that were passed were really harsh, especially on marijuana and crack rock, on the poor man’s drugs,” she said. “They’d catch somebody one time and he’d go away for a decade or more, and nobody could do anything about it. They’d just keep yelling from the news about the ghetto and drug dealers, and how it wasn’t safe unless they were all rounded up.”

“So, that’s exactly what they did. They rounded up all those men that used to be Daddies and husbands, working long hour jobs to support their families, and they threw them behind bars. Meanwhile, they were running through the families whose husbands and daddies were being jailed and they’d get them fixed up on government assistance. They had pretty much replaced the role of the husband and father with the government over the course of several years. That’s not making society a safer place. That’s destroying it. And that’s how I feel almost every time I hear about new laws for making us safe or about gang violence or any of the white noise coming out of the TV, there’s usually a much bigger problem behind it somewhere else.

And it doesn’t look hopeful still today. With all the police killings and the rioting, it’s sadness and fear and hate every time you pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV. It’s bombing other countries and wars and arrests and politicians breaking promises. It’s people hurting people everywhere you look. But that’s not the way it has to be,” she said. “That’s not how we were supposed to treat each other. Loving one another is a choice, and it’s one I choose to make every day.”

She went silent after that. I was at a loss for words, but I wanted to give this stranger a hug.  After a few moments pause, she picked up the scissors and set to finish up on my haircut. When I finally found some words, all I could muster was to thank her for sharing her story. I was too choked up and taken aback to come up with anything worth adding.

“Mitchell,” she said, “I’m going to pray to Jesus for you tonight. I hope you get to help people like you said you wanted to. Thank you for listening to an old woman’s story. It was nice to meet you, and I hope the best for you.”

“Likewise,” I told her. “I think you were right that I was supposed to be here today. Thank you so much.”

I paid her for the haircut and left her the best tip I could afford, told her goodbye, and walked out in the warm Georgia air shaken up but somber. Her story pulled scales from my eyes about my attitude and how I look at the world. It wasn’t dismay that I found from her story, but hope. She didn’t have to share her story with me. She didn’t even have to be as kind as she was. She could have just done her job. Instead, this stranger taught me what it looks like in practice to love your neighbor, and how you don’t need a grand stage or billions of dollars to change the world. You just have to be willing to use your voice, and to see goodness where others see only bad.

 

 

 

How I Stopped Fearing Failure

Take-Home Message: Your past failures do not have to define you, nor should you let them shape who you are becoming.

We are all afraid of something and for our own reasons. There’s something about the object of our fears that gives rise to extreme vulnerability. This vulnerability stems from our expectations, I think. When we examine our experiences being vulnerable and tend to focus on the bad ones more than the good, we establish an avoidance to situations or events that resemble the bad experiences.

This is my story about how I let the fear of failure and the avoidance of vulnerability resulting from that fear control my life, and how I ultimately overcame it.


Back when I was a little tike, around four years old or so, my family had a massive chocolate labrador retriever named Beau. He was a dinosaur compared to the miniature person I was back then. His towering behemoth figure required more food than any beast I’ve ever before witnessed. So much so, in fact, that we used to keep a feeder for him inside of his outdoor pen.

One morning, the little devil of a four-year-old I was, went outside to play. For some mysterious reason, I meandered into Beau’s pen and thought it a good idea to kick his feeder. To my demise, the nest of wasps inhabiting the feeder took my rampant eviction notice to them as quite the threat. Responding like wasps notoriously respond to such behavior, four-year-old  me learned a rather abrupt less about cause and effect that’s never left me. I’m not sure what I had expected, but it definitely wasn’t a hundred sores from stings.

To this day, flying, stinging insects give me the chills. I vehemently despise all of them, even realizing the small likelihood of repeating that incident if I give them their space. Today, I think this fear is somewhat irrational. However, after much analysis of it, I’ve come to a conclusion that I think holds water for all fears.

I’m not afraid of being stung. I’m not even really afraid of these members of the Order of Hymenoptera. My fear lies in something deeper, less tangible, and entirely out of my control. My fear of these flying creatures comes from the vulnerability I once felt as a result of an ill-begotten interaction with them. As a defense mechanism to this vulnerability, my fight-or-flight instinct has adapted to kick in when one of these flying, buzzing triggers is around, and put me on high alert.

It is my belief that this vulnerability is key to understanding the nature of all of my fears. I have found this to be the control in all of the fears I have examined which have passed in and out of my life throughout the years. It’s not so much the actual thing so much as this feeling of being exposed, vulnerable, and defenseless to the inevitable. And yet, today, I believe that this vulnerability is little more than a result of poorly devised expectations.

As I examine the biggest fear that was once prevalent in my life, I can see this deeply rooted avoidance of vulnerability as the source of this fear: The fear of failure. As I look a little closer, I can track the time and places of the experiences and instances that sowed this fear and the series of decisions that led to these circumstances. But more importantly, I see the absence of considering failure as a possibility, as I expected myself to be flawless. As a result, I was totally unprepared to deal with failure when it came knocking.

I think back to the time I told my dad I could manage skating down the 10-foot slide at the local park after someone gifted me a pair of roller blades for my eighth birthday. Pride dismantled.

I think back to the time I was up to bat in little league with two outs and the game on the line and struck out. And how I ended up riding the pine for game after game following this. Whif, I blew it. I let the team down.

I think back to the time in eighth grade when I participated in my first public speaking contest and forgot the words halfway through and cried in front of a panel of adult judges. Humiliated.

I think about the time freshman year of high school when I washed my blue socks with my white uniform, dying it blue and coach still made me wear it in the biggest tournament of the year. Distractingly embarrassed.

I think about the time that I ran for Student Council President and didn’t get elected. And the time I ran for FFA Chapter President and lost to someone younger. Overwhelmingly discouraged.

I think about the time I pleaded with the leadership in my church about keeping the younger and older students together and how they refused, and how I walked out on organized religion because of it. Utterly shaken and confused.

I think about the last game of baseball I played as a senior in high school that I pitched and walking off the field knowing I would hang it up forever. Goodbye, glory days. Distraught.

I think about the first time my heart was broken as an 18-year-old boy because I had tied my identity up in a relationship. Crushed. Lesson learned.

I consider the time that I won a statewide election and my reputation was put on display for nearly 24,000 students, thousands of parents and educators across Oklahoma. And how I threw it all away for a few good times and a handful of misguided decisions. That one stung worse than the wasps. Entirely exposed and despaired.

And I think about the day I was asked to move out of my fraternity house as chapter president because on my watch someone’s life had been put in danger and I hadn’t done anything to prevent it. Some lessons hurt worse than others. Ashamed and Abandoned.

There are many more situations and experiences that come to mind when I think about the thousands of branches of this root system to my vulnerabilities. I think about how each of these made me feel and how I responded in the face of these different adversities. I think about how I could have better handled these, too, had I simply set more realistic expectations for myself or even contemplated the what-ifs if failure arrived.

In many cases, I can see how earth-shattering these failures were to me and how they altered my focus looking forward in life. I grasp now how prevalent this fear of failure became in shaping the narrative of my life. Back then, even contemplating a decision that looked like it had the potentiality of failure would cause me to shutter, much like seeing a bee or wasp. And why? Not because I was scared of facing the actual event or hurdles that stood in the way. Instead, it was because I couldn’t bear to think about revisiting the vulnerabilities that had once consumed and shaken me so profoundly.

It wasn’t even fear of failure or fear of bees or wasps, ever. All of these fears boiled down to an avoidance of vulnerability, as if being detached and tough all the time could provide me security and also happiness.

I allowed the horror of vulnerability to live rent free in my mind, and in so doing ceded the authority of my life to this force that had erected itself only by the expectations of myself I had poorly constructed.

I believed that I could not fail. And as a result, any time I caught the scent of failure looming anywhere near a pathway, I briefly flashed back to a multiplicity of failures that caused me to lose sight of my own valuation of myself; these failures that had rendered me vulnerable. Each time I did this, I cautiously, almost absentmindedly flipped my blinker and changed lanes, refusing to consider where exactly it was I was rerouting to. I only knew I had to drive as far and fast away from the possibility of failure and the feelings of vulnerability, because, after all, I could not fail, not me.


And then I began reading…

I read Atlas Shrugged and I watched as the world crumbled around Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden despite all of their efforts to keep it afloat.

And I read, too about how Ayn Rand’s works had been rejected by publishers before she ever made it.

I read about Lysander Spooner’s fight to provide cheaper mail to the United States in lieu of the postal monopoly and how he ultimately died a poor man, by the hands of thieves preventing his success at every turn.

I read about Henry David Thoreau’s withdrawing from society to be the arbiter of his own life and about the time he was thrown in jail for refusal to pay property taxes.

I revisited stories about Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team.

I read about one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde, dying in exile because of his sexual orientation.

I read about Thomas Paine, the man dubbed responsible for stirring the motivations for the American Revolution, being jailed in France and then being cast out in America upon his return for his ideas about religion, and how he died broke and despised.

I read about Socrates choosing to swallow hemlock rather than to defame his character.


I read story after story about people who looked directly into the face of failure and dared not quit. I read about them overcoming defeat and vulnerability and rejection to achieve greatness. I read about their resilience and drive. But most of all, I read about these individuals as people who lived life by their own terms and refused to take a second look for the opinions of others. They had made themselves entirely vulnerable, yet found so much strength in their own valuation that the opinions of others could not stop them…

And it all clicked. I saw these dozens of scenarios in my own life where dissatisfaction, disappointment, and defeat loomed over my head. I saw the vulnerability and fears I experienced as the response to my own disapproval of myself. I saw the unrealistic expectations I had been striving to reach for what they were, and that by keeping these in place, I was setting myself up.

And with it, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. I saw a way to overcome these and learn to respect and love myself again. I saw, finally, the point of having courage as a motive, rather than fear. And with these revelations, I unlocked the chains that had been restraining me from my own freedom and happiness.

I would like to close with two quotes, because I think they summarize these lessons nicely. Both are contained in You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts: 

“Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.” –Robert Cody

It isn’t our deathbeds we’ve got to fear; hell, it’s over then. It’s the quiet moments of every single day that slip in and out of our consciousness; the ones at 3AM when our brains are finally quiet enough to turn their attention to the stuff the matters…the stuff we’ve been ignoring. It’s the slow, steady torture of our own thoughts; the thoughts that reflect the truth we’re most afraid to discover. You’re a pussy. A coward. A fraud. A two-bit has been. Your life means nothing, and all you can do is sit there with your dick in your hand, watching it pass you by.

Talk about regret.

Going out on a ledge and royally screwing up isn’t half as humiliating as not having the guts to get started in the first place.

You will screw it all up, you know. And that’s a good thing to know out of the gate, because now you can stop worrying about it. You can stop worrying you’ll make a fool out of yourself if you try and start your own business, because you can rest-assured that at some point, you will. What a relief! You can cross the fear of the unknown off the list, because now you know. You will screw up. You will suck. You will get angry. You will feel like a fool. You will fight battles. You will lose battles. And at some point, you will hate everything. And you will hate everyone.

But once you get past all that, you know what stops happening? You stop hating yourself. And that is worth its weight in 1,001 business flounders. You can look yourself in the eye again. –Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

And with that, I bid you to be fearless. I challenge you to ditch the victim mentality and to go out and own whatever it is that you feel led to do. Stop your worrying and letting your fears govern you. Stop being dismayed by your feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability. You’re going to fail. Expect it. And when it happens, you’ll be able to wipe the dust off and get back in the saddle. Go take life by the horns. You can do it.

The Conversation You Should Be Having

Take-Home Message: People love talking about themselves. Give them a chance.

“Hi, I’m Mitchell.”

“Hi, Mitchell, I’m [Insert Name]”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise. So, Mitchell, what do you do?”

That’s the script to each new interaction I’ve been programmed to rehearse. It happens on auto-pilot. On many occasions, I catch myself regurgitating these words like lines from a play. It’s not because I’m superficially interested, either. It’s something more Pavlovian than that. It’s the response I’ve been conditioned to recite for years, as if we’re all merely products defined by our roles in society, rather than humans with passions, a family, and a story.

It happens all around us, and it walks with us through each new stage in our lives. Questions about what you wanted to be morphed into questions about your major, or any other classifying information. Whatever the question, the result is the same, and I’m guilty of it, too.

I call it qualifying by classifying. It’s really an easy recipe. You take a glassful of notions you have about an individual, add two shots of answers to surface-level questions, maybe stir in a pinch of prejudice, garnish with a stereotype, stir, and then you drink this mind-numbing libation. Add rash judgment according to your preference.

This isn’t healthy. All this does is continue a broken narrative that our existence is pointless. It adds to this group-think mentality that our own intrinsic, individual characteristics don’t matter. It adds to the propagation of society as a swarm of worker bees, beholden to the hive. It grants us each a label according to our role–rather than our personality–as if it’s our duty–rather than our choice.

But, there is still hope.

It happens by working on our delivery. Instead of asking someone what they do, ask, “What’s your story?” or “What keeps you up at night?” or even, “What are you passionate about?”

Watch the fire light in their eyes. Why? Because people love talking about themselves, detailing their passions, and telling their stories. What they likely don’t get often is someone eager to listen. This is not mere conjecture. Research has proven that the areas of the brain that respond to self-disclosure are also associated with reward. People really, truly, love talking about themselves.

Here’s the beauty of this, though. When you engage someone else this way and set them into motion about their story, you will learn more about them than you would by asking them what they do or about their major. Why? Because when you show interest, it allows others to let down their guard and make way for a friendly conversation. Before you know it, you’ll be figuring out how your aunts went to high school together or planning a cookout.

But why does it even matter?

Here’s why. Because a lot of people haven’t thought out what makes them happy or evaluated what they would do differently if they could. They’re just like you and me, moving through life, searching for answers, only to find more questions. But something happens when someone engages us and we get to talking. The wheels start turning and it awakens these feelings and inspirations that we’ve either repressed or forgotten about. Sometimes, all someone needs is to feel like they have the permission to let it all out. We can do that for other people, and it doesn’t even cost a thing.

But why do I care or why should I?

Here’s why I care. Not long ago, someone asked me what made me come alive. He asked me about my goals and my ideal life, where I envisioned myself in a few years, and why it all mattered to me. It floored me. I thought this guy was the most impressive person I’d ever spoken to. Why? Because he made me feel like a rockstar. He challenged me to provide answers to questions I had not even articulated for myself.

I walked away from that conversation remembering him. I remembered how he made me feel, too. And I couldn’t shake the questions. They stuck with me. So, over the course of several weeks following that conversation, I hashed out answers to a lot of those questions. All of this from just a simple conversation, that only took a few minutes of a stranger’s time.

Now, I’m not  proposing you do this as charity. You can approach it from a motive of self-interest. You can even look at it as a key for networking better and making people remember you. You can do it from the joy you’ll likely receive from witnessing someone light up as they describe their story to you. You can do it to feel like a good person.

It doesn’t really matter why you choose to, or even if you choose to at all. But, I assure you, you’re leaving value on the table in every interaction you have if you’re continuing to engage people solely based upon their occupation or education.

I dare you capitalize on that missed value and to join me in making this change. It’s no easy one. It requires a process of undoing years of socially-cultivated colloquial. No matter how I look at it, though, all I see are opportunities–and years of missed opportunities from just scratching the surface. The ripple effects of those opportunities turned into action are impossible to know without trying.

So, will you join me?

Why You Should Try Journaling

Take-Home Message: Journaling allows me to track my personal growth and hold myself accountable. It also allows me to free up my mind to focus on other things.

Journaling to me is like dropping breadcrumbs along the pathway of my life. It allows me an outlet for venting my frustrations, for cataloging growth, and for detailing both specific events and the progression of specific thoughts.

I highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling with finding their purpose in life, or simply seeking to grow personally. It has been a tremendous practice that has allowed me to become more empathic with others and more keenly aware of my own identity.

As far as empathy is concerned, having a journal reminds me where I’ve been, and in so doing, allows me to relate with others who are facing or have faced similar circumstances in their lives. Sometimes flipping back through the pages even grants me a viewing into perspective on a certain situation that I once possessed but lost over time.

One of my favorite aspects of journaling is that it’s like walking through an art gallery of my life. In one chapter, I can see bright, boisterous times and read about how I felt. Some pages are marred with the difficulties of a blue or dark period, and the struggles I faced during those times. In other portions, there are detailed portraits of who I want to be, and viewing them allows me to see how much progress I’ve made since. But on every page, there’s a snapshot of myself that keeps me grounded. It’s been a powerful resource for self-development and learning to overcome adversity.

Personally, I keep two journals and a commonplace book. One journal, I keep on my computer. This journal contains my most intimate thoughts, reflections on life, and a general discourse on all things that go through my mind. The second journal, I keep in the cloud through two applications: iCloud/iPhone Notes and Evernote. This is my “Idea Journal.” It’s where I record all of my ridiculous thoughts ranging from entrepreneurial ideas and reading lists to blog posts and book ideas. Finally, in my common place book, I record my favorite thoughts, quotes, and inspirations from the things I read. Sometimes I briefly scribble what these words meant to me at the time I read it, other times I just catalog it. This system works for me, but you might find a different method to work better for you.

It’s not just a tool for self-improvement, either. It can be for any reason you want; that’s half the beauty of it. If you’ve never tried, I highly suggest you give journaling a whirl. Why not today?

No License Required

Take-Home Message: These applications are revolutionizing the way we complete tasks.

One of my favorite topics involves the use of technology as a means for making our lives better. I am utterly fascinated by innovation, and the way it ceaselessly transforms our world.

Take the smart phone, for example. Even in my lifetime, this was once inconceivable. Yet, today, nearly every 11-year-old has access to a full warehouse of tools that at one point in the not-so-distant past would’ve cost almost a million dollars. (Here’s a cool article that discusses this advancement more.)

A growing trend today allows individuals to make even more use of technology to live better, more opportunistic lives. It’s the rise of the peer-to-peer freelancing industry. These softwares and applications are vast and growing, and they are revolutionizing the way people interact.

These applications don’t simply allow people to be more informed. They free us. They allow us to seek out directly the people, products, skills, or services we crave in a timely, affordable manner. They have dramatically decreased the overhead cost of running businesses, too. Imagine connecting with someone from around the globe to do your company’s billing or data entry at a fraction of the cost (which subsequently is much higher than the wages they might otherwise earn). It’s a win-win for everyone.

Here are some highlights from a few of my favorite examples of these innovations:

Upwork/Elance“Anything that can be done on a computer – from web and mobile programming to graphic design – can be done on Upwork. ” Upwork/Elance allows individuals to create accounts showcasing their talents and their hourly rate. It allows users to sort through and interview applicants, select the one they want, and rate the performance. It gives you access to over 10 million freelancers in more than 180 countries, and is a leading platform for global talent sourcing.

Freelancer“Post your project and receive competitive bids from freelancers within minutes. Our reputation system will make it easy to find the perfect freelancer for your job. It’s the simplest and safest way to get work done online!” Freelancer has similar features to Upwork and Elance, however, with the added element of allowing service providers to issue bids for the project proposals.

Wonolo: “Work now. Get paid. Live life on your terms.Don’t let job schedules run your life. Wonolo connects you with immediate hourly or daily jobs from the biggest and best brands, allowing you to work where you want, when you want, for whomever you want.” Wonolo allows users to find temporary work immediately. At the touch of a button, employers can post jobs and find someone to fill their need. Wonolo is a means to “leverage technology to create a flexible workforce to solve unpredictability in business.”

TaskRabbit: “TaskRabbit allows you to live smarter by connecting you with safe and reliable help in your neighborhood. Outsource your household errands and skilled tasks to trusted people in your community.” TaskRabbit is allowing people to take back control of their hectic lives by connecting with people who can help them.


If you are interested in learning more about talent sourcing platforms, check out this list of 50.

Let Your Stuff Burn, Save Yourself.

Take-Home Message: Don’t get too worked up over stuff.

This week trying to clean up my hard-drive, I deleted 10 years of music by accident. Oops! Before I knew what I had done, I emptied my Trashcan, and sent it walking forever. (Or so I thought, I found a way to recover it, but that’s for a different post.) This accident reignited an ongoing thought-experiment about the importance–or rather, lack of importance–of stuff.

Like me, you’ve likely encountered some variety of the “burning house” scenario at a point in your life. Throughout the years, your answer to that question has likely evolved with you, too, much like it has for me. The more I grow, the easier that question becomes to answer. For one simple reason: Stuff doesn’t matter (it’s how you use it).

So, contemplate this famous question for a moment: “If your house were burning to the ground, and you could escape only with what you can carry, what would you grab?”

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been contemplating the underlying life lessons about questions like this–go figure. But specifically, I’ve spent a lot of time in deep thought over minimalism. I’ve been thinking about this not as some sort of strike against civilization or mark against consumerism. I don’t really care about that angle. It’s intrigued me because waking up tomorrow without any of my stuff sounds entirely liberating. It sounds like a new kind of freedom.

It’s made me think that I could walk out the house without anything and rebuild my life, being cautious to only include the most important things. I don’t know if it’s realistic or not, because in the moment, there’s no telling how I would respond. I might be concerned only about making it out with my life, or ensuring that everyone makes it out alive. Who really knows?

The purpose of this thought experiment though, is not to condemn material things. I enjoy the material possessions I have quite a lot, and many of them greatly improve my standard of living. Rather, the point is to identify the most important things in life, so as to remove any of the idle attachments I’ve made with inanimate shit.

Most of your stuff can be replaced easily. And some of it can’t. But even the stuff that can’t be replaced is likely more valuable intrinsically than for any other reason. The intrinsic value is merely a product of your mind, anyway, so you don’t need to carry any of this with you, the value is all inside your head. As for all the other things, they are not as important as you think, really. They are just things, and you might be letting them control your life.

I really think things often can become barriers to our own greatness. When we place an unhealthy attachment on things, we tarnish our faculties for valuation. I think this is one of the most important things a rational, mature adult can possess: the ability to distinguish priority among the pointless.

Among these possible priorities, the most important one is your life. Your own life matters more than any of the shit in it. Your own life, that force of your existence, is more important than any of the things attached to it.

If your house is burning down, it doesn’t matter what you grab if you never make it out. Think about that. All of the shit is pointless without you. So, in essence, you are the thing that determines the value of all the rest of the stuff. Without you, it’s pointless. I repeat. Without YOU, all of the shit is pointless!

So, as I conclude rambling about this thought experiment, I’d challenge you to weigh the value you find in your own life. If you can properly determine this, then you’ve arrived at a good starting point to make incredible personal growth. If you know your own value first, then the value of everything else, big and small, becomes a lot easier to determine.

If you know what you’re worth, then in contrast, you can see how unimportant all of these things are without you. If you can do this, you’ve uncovered a path to self liberation.