“You are the most important value creation in your life.”
I grew up in a middle-class family. I was a good student and started my first business at age 11: a drink stand on the fourth hole of a local golf course where I sold soda and golf balls. I then started doing yard work as another job. So, I had an entrepreneurial instinct, desire for leadership, and a work ethic that catapulted me to the next phase of my life at Georgia Tech.
It is important to have balance in life, and to have personal as well as professional interests. I taught myself how to play guitar. I meticulously and obsessively worked through each challenge within another challenge until I mastered songs like “Nothing Else Matters” (Metallica). I then rolled those lessons into the next challenge. Learning guitar taught me a different kind of problem solving. I had to slow things down and analyze my mistakes constantly. I also got a chance to be around musicians who helped balance out the intensity of my academic obligations. Being in a band also taught me a lot about teamwork. Music became my “me space”—a platform for me to build skills and express myself that enabled me to compound my value further. I was absolutely terrified the first time I played and sang live in college. Terrified! But I did it. And then I kept doing it, despite my insecurities. My guitar became an extension of me and a way to connect with people in a more meaningful way through the universal language of music. I loved music, but I also let my own internal critic and the unrealistic standard of perfection limit how much I shared with the outside world. My Georgia Tech degree served as a bridge to a wonderful career opportunity, while I left my musical aspirations on pause in my 20s.
I spent 11 years at a wonderful investment firm, and the first 10 years were amazing because my boss/mentor invested in me and pulled me into opportunities I never knew I could access. The last year was challenging as my mentor was retiring, and I realized I was not happy with what was to become of the job. I learned what I could and needed to apply those lessons to bigger challenges in life. I was quite fortunate to become a member of a business network called The Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF), which gave me the opportunity to meet amazing people, travel globally, and volunteer as a leadership facilitator and mentor. At age 36, I chose to walk away from my job and income, and let life pull me another direction.
I could easily say that taking a bet on myself was the best thing I ever did because I went from an energy space that was beginning to limit my growth potential to an energy space that was expanding exponentially. Once on my own, I built my YouTube channel (Chord Savvy), I built a speaking business educating business groups on blockchain and cryptocurrencies; I travelled to 30 countries over 2 years, and I volunteered in multiple networks. I was making way less money than I had before, but I was making way more happiness. I did not die when I left the security of what I had known previously. I thrived, despite contrary advice I received from other well-intentioned friends and mentors.
It’s good to have people nudge you and provide their advice from their experience, but ultimately you have to nudge yourself in the unique direction that YOU want to take YOUR life because you are the most important value creation in your life. Trust yourself, and say, “Look, I know you want me to do that, but my heart says I need to do something else.” Absorb what is useful. Do not deny yourself of your dreams, because if you do, it is just going to build resentment inside of you. You have to honor yourself. Be courageous. The older you get, the more honest you can be with yourself. That is the nature of leadership. It is not just about leading others, but truly about leading yourself and inspiring others to align with your mission.
“I chose a crazy adventure in life, and now it has led me to this fabulous job. You just have to trust your gut. You need to break free.”
When you mentor people around the world, you are helping them in a way that will ultimately come back to you. If you mentor in a way that is vulnerable, open, and honest, then you will also learn a lot about yourself. Both mentor and mentee should ask for feedback without being defensive. Model the behavior in yourself that you hope to inspire in others. Be open to having others shine light on YOUR blind spots. Virtue is its own reward, and it is amazing how investing in others can come back in meaningful ways. Mentoring is also the pathway to hire the right talent to support you and help you in the company and culture you are building.
Mentoring means investing in relationships, which is inherently investing in yourself, especially if the relationship is authentic. Each quality relationship enables you to expand your network and understand yourself better. I have also learned that it is important to cut back the judgement, especially early on in a relationship. Ask questions and listen with an open mind. Understanding the diversity of thought in teams is very powerful because it helps you step outside of the blind spots you exist within on a daily basis. And as a leader, sometimes it becomes hard to know if you are undermining someone because of your own shortcomings, your own ego and your own arrogance. The people in your organization and in your life are dying to share what you refuse to see. In order for them to share, you must first invite them to share and then LISTEN. Don’t interrupt. Don’t defend. Listen. Show humility so that other people in your team feel comfortable sharing that critically important insight.
When it comes to inspiration, there is a network of people that inspires me every day. Being involved in networks with such amazing people evolves you in unimaginable ways if you let their perspectives shift your mindset.
What makes me happy is learning, helping others, building meaningful relationships across networks, and being in a like-minded community of people interested in growth that enables me to help people and be helped at the same time. The best mentor-mentee relationships are symbiotic. Whatever job I am in, having a sense of community is very important because many of us across the globe share common interests and a desire for happiness. We all want freedom, love, and a meaningful life. Most of us want to travel the world, connect with people, and do new things in life. 18-year-old me never thought I would love learning Arabic or playing impromptu concerts for friends around the globe, but that form of expression for me took exploration to discover. Understanding myself and breaking free took a number of thoughtful mentors, who still mentor me to this day. It required me to dismiss my judgments and the fixed mindset I was a prisoner to previously. It required me to grow beyond the self-imposed cultural constraints of my life. What are you denying yourself that you don’t even know can transform your life?
I continue to challenge myself and test my personal values. I continue to do what is uncomfortable in order to grow, despite what society is telling me I should do with my life. I continue to learn from a range of mentors, while paying it forward to mentees I enjoy working with. And I still break out into singing and guitar-playing in any setting! Be YOU. Trust YOU. You always have the choice to live a life others have already lived or choose a life that is uniquely you. Break free. Only then will you know what it means to lead because leading yourself is the ultimate adventure in life.