This series of blog posts will make up my 3rd book at some point and it is yours to do what you want with it. I have tried to blend some humor with real world stories to make points that have served me well in regard to my career. The progression of stories are not in logical order, rather they are told in direct relation to lessons that have taught me how to get better in business. The plan is to publish the stories every Monday. Sadly, the stories are true and further reveal I am Professional Idiot!
My career really started in college by complete mistake. I should point out I initially had no interest in business whatsoever, but due to one mistake I literally fell in love with business and certainly being my own boss instantly. As my career progressed I found myself getting better and better at what I did not really taking stock as to how or why but certainly appreciating it. I currently own a firmProgress Coaching and Get Your Pulse where everyday I get up at 4:30 am not because I have to or that we need to for the money, rather because what I do totally turns me on. I create solutions most people cannot fathom of (because I am screwed up which we’ll get to later). I answer to no one except my wife Beth , two kids Liam & Bridget, and customers. But I have choices in my life which I am lucky to have due to all the experiences in this book of posts so I hope you take a few of the lessons and apply them to your life and realize when you have choices in life you are truly ahead.
Its never about money or lifestyle per se, but about doing what you love, when you want, and the way you want to do it. My life is free of typical financial stress associated with a job I don't like or have to do. I have very little anxiety with what I do! Wow, what a pompous ass you must think I am but let me make this point. As you read this book you will realize I am an idiot so the prior statements should serve as motivation due to the statement “If this idiot can do it anyone can”. You will realize ...
- I am not that smart.
- I am not that skilled.
- I am not gifted as most people are in business.
- I struggle with comprehension when tested ... school was hard.
- I am inadequate in so many other thing.
I am an idiot but you will see as you read this book its okay to make mistakes, learn from them, and as you will see being an idiot in business is not all that bad. The reason I titled the book I was too stupid to fail is because failing is apart of the process most people will avoid, thus never making the attempt to progress or get better. Good Luck to you and hope you enjoy this book of posts. The stories in the book are true but I really hope you learn from the lessons. Failure is A Great Teacher!
Now, I should point again out that 100 % of this book is true. I am not embarrassed by anything I will reveal in this book of posts but maybe I should be. But, when you grow up with my family you get over embarrassment quickly. That was a gruesome looking group. Okay, you don’t think that was funny than stop reading this. I was kidding sit down.
If you ever meet me I speak like I write. Grammatically incorrect but very sarcastically and hopefully humorously. I say this to remind you as you read this book I will use humor to illustrate some serious business lessons I hope you will appreciate and possibly use. Forget the humor if need be (I am an idiot and I understand), but please take the lessons seriously. I say this because I have the greatest privilege in the world. I get up and can do what I want, when I want, and with whom I want. I attribute that privilege to the lessons in this book.
Failure is the Best Thing that Could Have Happened to Me
I entered college (1982) right after high school forgoing some athletic opportunities to play basketball or volleyball. I probably only have one regret in life and that is not playing college sports. I entered UW-Milwaukee and began to explore what I wanted to do with little passion or excitement. As a matter of fact I got kicked out my first day of college from freshman English. I went to my am classes to only have the teachers hand out the syllabuses and tell us to leave so I thought that’s the way it was in college. At lunch I went to the Ghauss House (the college bar at the Union) where I drank four pitchers of beer with Frank and Jay, two long time friends from childhood. By the way they are also idiots. I went to English class drunk and of course now have the only teacher who actually wants to have class the first day of school. She handed out books and randomly called on people to read. You got it she called on me. So after I read the same paragraph three times the teacher stopped me and asked if I thought I was funny. Completely unaware I had read the same paragraph three times I said “No, why?” She asked why I was reading the same paragraph over and over. I said “I thought you were going to hand out a syllabus so I went to the Ghauss House and drank beer, I’m hammered.” I was now kicked out of freshman English the first day of college.
What a great day. I then had to go to dean of the English department to see if he would allow me to take another English class. Evidently this was a big deal. He asked what happened and he was probably ready to hear some BS like most people would tell him. I said exactly what I said to the teacher. He started to laugh and let me in another class. Now this sounds funny but I have always been blunt and honest and it’s served me well.
I was not passionate or excited about being at school so I had a very lazy attitude about college success. The next two years I simply floundered and got terrible grades now lying to myself I would turn things around soon. As I looked at myself and how I was convincing myself everything was okay I started to mold into the idiot I will reference throughout this book. I had a 1.2 grade point average and was one semester of bad grades of being kicked out of the Wisconsin School System. What an idiot and what made it worse I still did not care, but some chance encounters started to change things.
I noticed an ad for fitness consultants and went down and interviewed at the local YMCA. I interviewed with Joe Dean. We instantly connected. I was very honest about my school challenges thinking he will find out anyways so I am not going to hide anything. He did not judge me, rather smiled and said “I think I have a way to help you”. I got the job and simply loved it. Teaching others how to stay in shape, use equipment, and simply conversing with members was awesome. Joe helped change my life due to NOT judging but taking the stand to help - A GREAT Coach!
After a semester of not going to school Joe talked me into visiting Dr. Beck who was the Chair Person of the Adult Education school at UW-Milwaukee. He sat me down and said “Look your grades are not very good so if you get back in school lets take some topics you want and will really enjoy. I looked at him like he was an idiot, but wow what brilliance. He changed my association of college from pain and suffering to actually enjoyment. I took courses in physical education, exercise physiology, and adult education. I loved it as I pulled my first 2.8 GPA for a semester. My idiot ways were starting to teach me some things. It was okay to enjoy school. It was okay to be honest with people and lay your cards on the table and they will accept you for who you are. The real lesson I learned was the change of my association with school and doing things that I liked fueled this interest. Dr. Beck was extremely influential in my turnaround as this first step was critical in that process.
Something was still missing. I could not figure it out. My personality is very outgoing so I was engaged with the members of the YMCA and always asking them questions about what they did and for whatever reason loved learning about other people. Management of the YMCA saw this and asked if I would go to corporations to help promote the YMCA. I said why not as long I can wear sweats I was still in heaven. I believe I was one of the first people in the country to literally sell programs to the corporate world outside of a YMCA facility. I absolutely loved it and I loved the YMCA. I met so many great people from fellow employees, upper-level management, and certainly and most importantly the members.
We were at Northwestern Mutual Life one day, probably the number one life insurance company in the world, where a chance encounter changed everything. One of their Human Resource Directors approached us and asked if they knew of anyone who could teach noon hour fitness classes. One of the YMCA managers turned to me and said “Tim why don’t you do it”? I said sure, why not. This was a BIG decision little did I know. The woman from NML told me to come back next week and present a proposal as to what I would want to do. The funny thing that happened was when this fellow manager said I should do it it really created an entrepreneurial opportunity I did not initially see. At the age of 20 I was about to start my first company little did I know.
I had no clue what to do next. I called my sister in law who happened to be an employee at NML. She said people were sick of regular aerobic classes because it hurt their knees and they hated going back to work sweaty. The idiot’s light bulb now went on. Why not deliver a program where they could go at their own pace, no aerobics or pounding their knees on the hard floor, and they could work on what they wanted. I was going to propose what was called the “Universal Super Circuit” which was a combination of weight training and in place aerobic stations. I drew up the plan and itemized benefits to the employees versus traditional aerobic classes. Looking back, I asked the members of the YMCA how I should present it and the advice and feedback I received was invaluable. One member said make sure you present something that is multi color and wire bound so they know you are serious. I would not have done this unless I had sought and received this feedback. Now as I present this story I even realize what I did was very simple but most things in business are. Ask customers what they want and design a solution to give it them. Even idiots can do it.
The next week I had to go before the NML Human Resource board to present my ideas. If you have never been to NML or seen it its simply a gorgeous company. Marble everywhere. I was scared to use their bathrooms they were so nice. So what does this idiot do? I went to the meeting in sweats, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap. Why? Because I am idiot.
As I entered the room I was totally clueless as to how out of my element I truly was. While I was walking in the room people around this huge beautiful conference table started laughing. They were all dressed professionally and the setting was immaculate. I knew my fly was not open because I was wearing sweats so I just ignored their laughter. As I presented my ideas I could feel myself getting energetic and passionate. The board loved my idea which by the way required $12,000 of funding for the Universal equipment. They had never done this before. Now came the big decision. I presented my income requirement of $11 an hour because after all this idiot was certified in exercise physiology through the American College of sports medicine. That may not seem like much but this was back in the late 1980’s. They responded “Tim we do not pay money to our instructors ”. My heart sank. They said the pay comes from directly from the people taking the classes. They shared with me whatever business you get you keep 100% of the proceeds. I had a choice and only about 20 seconds to make it. It’s a defining moment that I knew a commitment like this could kill my work at the YMCA and possibly my schooling. What was I getting into? So what does any idiot do? You say yes because you are not smart enough to come up with ideas quick enough not to do it.
This was the first set of noon hour fitness classes done at the company in this fashion. I literally for over 1 1/2 years ran four blocks down Wisconsin Avenue in the heart of downtown Milwaukee Wisconsin to Northwestern mutual life to be on time in between shifts at the YMCA. All of my classes were evening classes as they were mostly graduate classes as my program is customized within the adult education program. I look back at this time and realized when I am busy I am at my best, but taking 21 credits, running four blocks every day in between shifts at the YMCA, and actually running the YMCA with another manager was exhilarating and taxing.
The Entrepreneur Was Born
I began marketing through my contacts at the company and word spread something knew was being offered. Remember the $11 an hour I demanded? I was now making $72 an hour as Junior in college! I did this for one and half years and loved it. I liked the teaching but I loved the business part. I was making over $30,000 as a junior in college plus my pay from the YMCA while tasking 18-21 credits too and people who know me laughed when they heard how well I was doing. Why? Because I am an idiot.
During this time working at the YMCA and NML I changed my major from exercise physiology to Adult education. Why? Because Adult education had no tests and all I had to do was stand up presentations and papers which was very easy for me. I literally think my lack of fear for public speaking was due to the fact I was not smart enough to realize how scared I should've been. I was just thrilled to not have to take tests due to my attention deficit disorder which was diagnosed years later.I respect other people's nervousness and agitation associated with public speaking but the thought of doing that versus taking a test was so much more appealing so it created a personal excitement I still possess today. Now aren’t you convinced I am an idiot?
The great thing about adult education is it taught me so much about presenting and working with others. I did not even realize I was taking graduate level courses at the time due to there not really being an undergrad program for adult education. What an idiot.
As my college career began to shape and form another defining moment occurred. Joe Dean, my former boss and good friend, left the YMCA and joined IBM which was in our office building. His boss, Mark Lampkin pulled me aside and said you should do a college internship with IBM. Now, I was not one percentage point interested because I was making great money especially for college, had my own business, and could work in sweats all day. I also had the right major any idiot could get through so why change. WRONG.
Mark continued to pull me aside and pushed me to look into it. I said Mark, I have a 2.1 grade point average and the requirement is 3.8 to even qualify. He said don’t worry about it I will help you. Now, why would all these people help me you might be asking? Well, they probably knew I was an idiot but I also learned many people who helped me they were also idiots at some point in their lives. They were simply helping other people as people had once helped them. The “Passing It Forward” concept has been a mainstay in life as I have employed an intern since the day I left IBM 20+ years later!
I quit the YMCA, gave up the NML gig, and joined IBM. I gave up money and content where I was the expert to join a company with people who were very bright and talented. I was out of my element and for the first time in years VERY intimidated. The people at IBM were unbelievably intelligent and at times had no clue what they were even talking about. My fellow interns mostly went to Marquette University as electrical engineers and academically I paled in comparison.
Mistake? No way, best decision I ever made. Stay Tuned
Everything is an Opportunity
As I entered IBM I was in way over my head but here is the thing. You always are in over your head when you change or are willing to learn new things. We want to stay with what we know but if you do that you make a decision to never get better.
IBM was the best experience for me for a couple of reasons. First my interview was a disaster. I was finishing a paper at school which was very lengthy. I needed to get it done before my professor left town. I could not get an incomplete knowing I was interviewing at IBM and would not qualify for the job due to the job requirements.
The YMCA was on the sixth floor and IBM had the upper floors of our building and I knew this time I needed to wear a suit. So how would I go from sweats to a suit without anyone noticing at the YMCA? Two members of the YMCA had offered to help me. How? Well, first I did not know how to put a tie on. One member would help me tie the tie. The other would watch for anyone coming so I could make a clean break for the elevators. As I came to the YMCA that day I was very sick, sleep deprived from doing the paper all night but knew I was not in a position to cancel or reschedule an interview with a company like IBM. I was dizzy and my fever was about 102 degrees. As the two members of the YMCA helped me get dressed, literally, I was combing my hair and making sure I looked good for the interview of a life time as they dressed me. As I got ready for the run to the elevator when the coast was clear I checked my tie, my shirt, my hair, etc.
Now it was time to run for it. As I got to the elevator I pushed the up button praying no one would see me. I could feel the sweat pouring down my head due to the fever and probably a great deal of nervousness. I then heard one of the members yell “Tim, Tim.” I came back to the locker room and said “what I have to get going”. There in his hands were my dress pants. I was so out of it I was at the elevator in my suit, with my tie on, and I had no pants on. This is not a joke, rather absolutely true. I was so tired and out of it I almost went to IBM in a nice shirt, suit coat, boxers, and no pants.
I hurried and put my pants on, got up stairs just in time for my interview (I hate being late, I feel it’s a sign of disrespect). As I entered my soon to be boss Martha Sheffield’s office I could not stop thinking about my potential blunder. As Martha asked me her interview questions I must have had a smirk or smile on my face for I could sense her agitation with me. She finally said “what is so funny. Considering your grades you are lucky to being sitting there at all” ? I knew any lie or fabrication of the truth would be the end to the interview. I looked at her and said “ Martha, I have a 102 degree fever, I have not slept due to this paper that needed to be done so I would not get an incomplete before my teacher left town for vacation, and worst of all I almost came up here without my pants on”. Her jaw dropped and she said “How”? I said “I had two YMCA members help me get dressed due to the fact I have no idea how to tie a tie and to watch for management so I could get up here to interview. I rushed so much I was at the elevator with no pants on” . I forgot how I said it but I shared with her and said something to the effect of “Martha, I realize I am lucky to be here. I also know my grades are not that great. I can only say this. I will never lie to you and will always work my butt off for you. She said “with a story like that I am not worried about the honesty factor at all."
Martha and I then proceeded to laugh together and really get to know one another. I think she would be the first to tell you she could always depend on me and trusted me. I was ALWAYS the first one in by 6:30 am everyday when we were required to be there by 8:00 am. She was by the far the boss I learned the most from probably due the situation from the interview. She always looked out for me. Martha literally spoke to me every day for over two years during my internship suggesting things, mentoring me, and coaching me to look at things differently. At times I became frustrated but I believe this is where I fell in love with coaching due to her impact!
After Martha completed her interview she brought Jerry Vite into to meet me and then I interviewed with him. Jerry was the top customer center manager in the country and very intimidating! His first question was a sign of this as he said “Son, I only have one question for you your grades suck why the hell would I ever I hire you?". Here comes the sweat again. You think I would be skinnier with all the sweating I've done so far in this blog post but sadly I'm not ...
I waited to answer until Jerry turned around and made eye contact. I knew he had to know my response was sincere. As he turned around wondering why I was not answering him I said “Jerry my grades the last four semesters have been over a 3.2. I will not apologize to you or anyone for my grades. The only person I have to answer to is me. I screwed up and am working my butt off to change things. I will make a deal with you. If my grades EVER go below a 3.5 you can fire me. He responded “You have the job”. Now Jerry, who is still a great friend to me 30 years later and much like father figure” never asked for my grades. I nevertheless brought him my report card for the next two+ years where I averaged over a 3.5 grade point average.
The lessons I learned and like to share:
- Be honest-if you tell the truth you never have to remember what you told people.
- Stick to your word-I always brought my report card in because it was validation of my commitment and my accountability not only to Jerry and IBM but to myself.
- It's okay to laugh at yourself when you make a mistake and when people try to cover up mistakes they spend more time doing that; whereas, just admitting it is human and a huge time saver.
- Be open to learning and exposing yourself to change as it can only grow you; whereas, the fear of change can paralyze you.
- I literally share this lesson in my progress coaching course and that is one of the most powerful things you can do is to be & act dumb-what I mean by this is when you admit you don't know it's amazing people will jump in and help you. I still do this till this day.
- When we lower our defenses and quit pretending we are something we are not amazing things happen and as corny as it sounds we open the door to learning. As much as I joke around I know I am not as smart as other people but feel I can converse on so many topics due to this concept alone.
I hope you've enjoyed the introduction section of my 3rd book I was too stupid to fail and would love your feedback. We have launched a public speaking service called "the value of experience in the workplace" and if you'd like a list of topics we present upon please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this form: Click Here