In the last few months I spent more time looking back on my career than any other time I can remember. Not looking back at blocks of time but literally moments, moments that were that crucial to me and my journey. As some may know I live with Celiac Disease. While it was diagnosed in my thirties I have lived with it all my life. As I was growing up, it affected my ability to retain information, which manifested itself in severe learning disabilities. During my high school and college years, I struggled but was very fortunate to have a few mentors, or, now as I look back, “angels” who guided me to higher ground, helping me find the best place for me to be at that time.
One of those “best places” was my first job out of college at Waldenbooks. It was the most fascinating and important experience in my life. I was exposed to an incredibly challenging environment filled with corporate obstacles and brilliant people who gave new meaning to “survival of the fittest.” In the right place at the right time, I was immersed in the upper echelon of the Waldenbooks marketing culture. But to say it was all wine and roses would be an absolute lie. I was eaten alive daily by my naiveté of business culture, the mere inexperience of business etiquette and the fact I was learning disabled, which hampered my writing and reading skills significantly, to the point that most people wanted to know how I even got past the guard in the lobby on a daily basis.
In this personal turmoil, however, there was a defining moment which started me on the journey I find myself on. I was living with my eldest brother Michael and his family. One night after coming home utterly defeated by my work day, my brother in his stoic and direct way wanted to know the problem. I explained that everywhere I turned, I did the wrong thing, in terms of getting along with people, sharing ideas and navigating the bureaucracy. He looked at me, puzzled at my weakness, and said quite simply, “Read.” I said, “Excuse me.” He repeated himself, this time staring a little longer at me, perplexed that I had a problem with what he was saying. To be honest at the time, I thought the advice was rather weak and short on suggestions that I could use. But he then went on to tell me that at work I had access to the greatest resource in the world to learn about business, psychology of people and how to succeed – with thousands of books at my disposal that could help me figure out how to navigate my career. He was right. But at that time I was terrified because reading was such a task for me. However, I did what he said, not only because I always did, but because I had nowhere else to turn. I looked at his impressive career at a young age and all he did was read. So the next day, I collected all the business, self help and psychology books I could get my hands on. And it changed my life.
One of the books I read early on was a book called “Habits of Wealth” by Bill Byrne. It had been sent to the then embattled CEO of Waldenbooks, and somehow landed on my desk. I read it cover to cover and then read it again, the second time highlighting and reading out loud important passages. In the book, Bill talked about not having the same thinking process as everyone else, sitting up in the middle of the night at the age of 25 not breathing and realizing he could not fall into a pack mentality. He could not do what he felt was instinctively wrong just for the sake of getting by.
I still did not fit well at Waldenbooks, but I felt I was not alone; I knew there were a few other guys out there that seemed to be different. I never stopped reading and during that time; I was consuming every book I could read. Then in July of 1992, I needed to go to the CEO’s office, a beautiful, huge section of the building where few went, much less a 22 year old marketing coordinator. As I waited to speak to the CEO, there was Bill Byrne on the front page of Fortune Magazine with his wife on their farm. I grabbed that magazine and have it to this day. There he was again, and I took that as a sign it was time for me to realize I was meant to do something different. Bill Byrne was such a powerful influence in my life that in 1993 I wrote to him and he responded. We have been in touch ever since.
It would be almost a decade of failed employment opportunities and thousand of books from guys like Tony Robbins, Donald Trump, Zig Ziegler and M. Scott Peck, to name a mere few, before I decided to go my own way starting Marketsmith. And it would take another decade to conceive, plan and launch my next great effort, I.Predictus. In months to come there will be plenty to tell about this new venture. But for now the important point of this correspondence is to share that what seems like an incredible journey was spawned by words from two very wise men. One that told me that books are the greatest way to connect with people and to learn from others, if you are open. The other told me through his book and correspondence that thinking differently is not a curse, but a gift. Embracing who you are, where you are and what you were meant to be is a realization that must be fostered and nurtured. In that process you fail more times than you succeed, but the triumph is in trying. Trying to make it work, trying to rise above disadvantages, trying to be something more, trying to make a difference and trying to be the best you can be.
To my brother Michael and to Bill Byrne, two guys who do not know each other but who created a tectonic shift in my career path by sharing their wisdom in a caring, but practical way, I want to thank you for sharing your words with me. You inspired me never to give up, even when the challenges and barriers I faced seemed insurmountable. Currently, I am trying to do something big enough to change the marketing world as we know it. And I am just having the time of my life. I can never thank you both enough. All I can hope to do is pay it forward.
To those who read my words, I am always grateful, and I can only hope that someone, somewhere sees something I say as a game changer, because I so want to be that angel or mentor and pay it forward with my words. In Bill Byrne’s dedication in his book, he writes to his children, “I wish you blue skies and green lights.” Well, I am going to borrow that line and wish you all “blue skies and green lights.”
Have a great Summer and see you all soon,
My best always,