The below lesson is an excerpt from my upcoming book, When Not If: A CEO's Guide to Overcoming Adversity, Forbes Book, January 2024.
In order to increase your odds of overcoming extreme adversity, first of all do not put yourself in a position where your fate and destiny rely upon the actions or
decisions of others.
I was in disbelief. I sat on the floor of the majestic Clune Arena, where the US Air Force Academy Falcons basketball team competes, trying to make sense of the devastating announcement new head basketball coach Reggie Minton just delivered. Ten of the rising sophomores on the team had been summarily cut. Coach Minton was in. I was out. A new coaching staff was taking over and they had brought in their own recruits. The team was “going in another direction.” My Division I college basketball career was over.
I loved basketball, but at the same time, I was acutely aware the sport was a means to an end. Given my family’s economic reality, I knew a scholarship would be pretty much my only ticket to an elite college education, certainly one from such a prestigious institution as the Air Force Academy. I knew my limitations. (I hope you will read the wild story of how the 5 "scrubbed" sophomores then beat the starting varsity thanks to the inspiration of my great teammate, Paul Meyer.)
So that’s when I turned to the top-ranked Air Force rugby program. For the next few years, I was fortunate to play for the first team and threw myself into the violent sport as a perfect release from the grueling constraints of the Academy. My senior year, we made it to the Collegiate Rugby National Championships in Monterey, California. I had started every match this season in the winger position and was eager to finally go out a winner, instead of a scrubber.
Then Coach Barney pulled me aside one hour before the match and informed me that plans had changed, and the coaches had benched me in favor of our second-team winger. No good reason, no questions, just follow orders. After enduring one broken arm and two concussions for the team, I was once again out. My parents had used their savings to fly out to California for the championship game, and, again, I felt like I let them down.
Eventually, I decided I would start my own company, build the right A-Player culture, and as founder and CEO would finally be protected from the arbitrary whims of people with their own agendas. And for nearly two decades, the plan seemed to work beyond my wildest expectations. I believed I had been trained my entire life to build MICG Investment Management. The harder I worked and the more people I helped, the more successful I became. It made complete sense, and everything aligned. In a blue-collar Virginia town, we, surprisingly, grew the firm to over $1 billion in assets serving 3,000 clients with a broad array of financial services.
We had one hundred associates serving clients in forty-six states and five countries, and I, again, believed there was no limit to our success. I was wrong again. My new tagline “zero to a billion” almost overnight became “a billion to zero.” This major black swan event
crushed me, and everyone around me, more than all my previous failures combined.
In short order, the company was closed, I was in a federal trial, and then I was sitting on a metal prison bunk for the next fourteen years of my life . . . until I wasn’t. The pattern seemed to be continually repeating itself. I had received a master class in encountering and overcoming adversity, and while it’s true we learn best from mistakes, these mistakes do not necessarily have to be our own.
Learn from my stories and significant number of failures. As CEO, entrepreneur, business owner, or Commander in Chief of Home Operations, position yourself to be in control of your future. As much as possible, don't rely on a boss, a coach, a corporation, or a partner to save you or control you. Today, assess your station in life and take back control. I can tell you for sure, in this next or final chapter of my life and career, it is all up to me, and I will succeed or fail on my own merits. I urge you to do the same!
Have a great week!