Lesson # 6—Learned from the young man in front of me getting coffee

It was Dee’s turn to write the next post in our 25 Lessons series, but she’s in China this week. So I’m taking #6 off her plate—with a simple one that everyone should learn from.

I went from selling staffing services for my family’s business in my 20s to an entirely different stratosphere in my 30s. I landed my first mega deal—a $300M IT contract with a $600M joint-venture at age 35. I’ve had a gratifying career in IT services—however, I remember when I almost gave up.

Lesson # 6—Learned from the young man in front of me getting coffee

I was working in the CitiCorp Building on 53rd and Lex in New York City. I got to the office early one day to hit the phones. In those days, it was the most effective way to reach a prospect. A lot of sales people hate cold-calling, but for the good ones, it’s a sport. You had a 90-minute window between 6:15 and roughly 7:45 to reach an executive decision maker before his/her assistant got into office and their schedule of meetings kicked in.

On that particular day, a number of things went horribly wrong. It wasn’t just that day, though—bad days turned into tough weeks and weeks became very rough quarters. I was on the hook to create large outsourcing opportunities in a very technical industry (I wasn’t technical at all), my company had limited presence in my specific vertical, our competition was fierce and I had an unrelenting boss. Meanwhile, I was going through a pretty rough personal situation—my marriage was coming apart.

About 35 minutes into this cold-calling session, I threw in the towel. I had not only decided to leave for the day—I was considering leaving the business altogether. The situation was getting the best of me. My confidence was dwindling as many doubts filled my head.

I left my computer and notebook in the conference room, then headed downstairs to the cafe in the lobby. As I was waiting in line for coffee, there was a guy standing in front of me who was hard to ignore. He was about 6’ 3”, but looked even taller as he exuded so much confidence. He was sharply dressed in a dark pinstriped suit, colorful pocket square and shiny new shoes. As he turned around, I was caught staring at him. I don’t exactly know why, but I blurted out, “Man, you look like a million bucks.”

“You know what, I feel like a million bucks,” he said in return.

Of course, I had to ask. “Why exactly?”

“Because I’m gonna change the world,” he stated.

“So, how you gonna do that?”

He paused for a few seconds, smiled, and said, “One day at a time, I guess.”

As we talked, his story unfolded. As it turned out, he too was going through a big transition where the learning curve was very steep and competition extremely fierce. It was his first day at Merrill Lynch after playing 5 years for three different teams in the NFL. “Every day was a fight to keep my job in the NFL,” he explained. At 27 years old, he was starting the race all over again without any prior experience.

I realized that he was as scared as I was—but he sure as hell didn’t show it!

His name is Jack Brewer, and he wasn’t kidding about changing the world. In spite of all the uncertainty in his life at the time, all he wanted to do was help others. He created the Jack Brewer Foundation with a vision of helping children around the world make better lives for themselves.

Jack has received numerous humanitarian awards for work in Africa and Haiti. He’s been an Ambassador for Peace aligned with the United Nations, a spokesperson for the Police Athletic League and the NFL—the list goes on.

The 15-minute conversation with Jack completely changed my perspective. His positive energy was infectious, and somehow I felt a resurgence in my confidence. The lesson from the young man getting coffee meant everything in that moment—never, ever stop believing in yourself.

It’s amazing how one man’s convictions can change the lives of so many, including my own. Because of Jack, Dee and I have worked with kids in depressed schools and orphanages in third-world countries, meeting amazing people every step of the way.

I could have talked with Jack for hours, but when I looked at my watch, it was 7:30. I still had 15 more minutes before the admins got in. I ran upstairs to hit phones and I haven’t looked back since.

Thanks for all you do, my friend—keep changing lives one day at a time.


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The Brewer Group

The Brewer Group Companies is an advisory and financial services firm with the mission of making a positive impact.