Retracing Your Steps on the Journey to Reinvention
It was 16 years since I had last set foot in Huntersville, North Carolina and once upon a time, I spent exactly one year living in this north Charlotte suburb for my first job assignment out of university. In 2005 I left North Carolina and moved to St. Louis for the second assignment in my corporate career with Ingersoll-Rand. Both of these cities played a significant role along my journey to reinvention.
Looking back, I was not living a fulfilled life in North Carolina. I had just spent another year in a relationship that I knew was no longer right for me. I weighed the most I ever have in my life and had so little energy that even taking my dog for a walk was a struggle. Aside from work, I didn’t really do anything else socially or otherwise. Little did I know, this was the moment they refer to when they say it is darkest before dawn.
Moving to St. Louis in 2005 gave way to a new dawn in my life. My girlfriend at the time did not come with me, opting to try her luck with jobs in Houston, where her parents lived. Our relationship became a long distance one and ended about 8 months later. Within a few weeks of arriving to St. Louis, I enrolled in a gym and started going twice a day. One year into my assignment, I found an incredible group of humans who asked me to join their soccer team. In 2007, I met an incredible woman, Andrea, who planted in me the first seed for what seems to be a lifetime of reinvention. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it at the time but like any good seed, it developed over time.
In 2008, I made the life-changing decision to leave my corporate career with Ingersoll-Rand and pursue my own definition of happiness. For the most part, there was nothing wrong with Ingersoll-Rand. I worked for some incredible people, including a man who is like a second father to me. However, that seed that Andrea planted in me started to develop and I realized IR was not the place for me to continue to develop and grow.
St. Louis, both before and after that major decision turned out to be the site of my first major reinvention. From the moment I arrived to St. Louis, I began to reinvent my health, relationships, lifestyle, and beliefs. Then in 2008, I took the first big professional step along my journey to reinvention by leaving behind a career that was not the best expression of my potential.
Revisiting Huntersville After Nearly 16 Years
Then in 2021, just over 16 years after I last set foot in Huntersville, North Carolina, I was back in town for a speaking engagement. I decided to spend a few extra days in town so that I could retrace and revisit some of my old spots including my apartment complex and some of the local restaurants I frequented. I figured this would be a nice trip down memory lane, however, I was quite wrong.
Walking around my apartment complex, I noticed my heart rate started to pick up a little. I didn’t think much of it at first, assuming it was just the caffeine from my coffee earlier that day. Then as I got closer to my old apartment, I started to feel a bit flush. I noticed anxiety creeping up, even a little light headed and nauseous. I wasn’t sure why I was feeling this way. It felt really bad. Then I felt the first of many tears trickle down my face. More tears followed and I went back to my car and sat there for a while reflecting on what this year meant to me and why I would react this way.
I think I felt a lot of bad feelings about what I have come to reflect on as a lost year in my life, a year where nothing really happened mostly because of me. A year of inaction, a year of regrets. I almost can’t recognize the person I was that year and a part of me doesn’t like that person very much. So I think all of these feelings about that year, about who I was, and about all of that regret was more painful that I realized. And retracing my steps was the only way to let those feelings out.
On the positive side, that year was the tipping point in my life. Some might call it rock bottom, though that seems a bit much but in some ways it was. I realized this was location “0” along my journey to reinvention. It didn’t start here, but this place preceded my reinvention. In a way, I am thankful that this moment was only one year of my life, in the grand scheme of things, a small price to pay. Nevertheless, it still hurt to be there.
That day, I learned that retracing the steps along our journey to reinvention gives us a great deal of perspective. I realized in that moment how far I have come since that year. Honestly, I don’t even recognize the version of me that lived in North Carolina. The person I have become, someone who is significantly more aligned with himself, is quite far from that 24 year old kid.
Revisiting St. Louis After Nearly a Decade
Just two months after visiting North Carolina, I took a trip to the mid-west for a few speaking engagements and several meetings. Because I was so close, I decided to drive to St. Louis and retrace those steps to see how it would feel. This time I was ready with tissues!
On this visit, I visited my old neighborhood, connected with dear friends and mentors, and stopped by the university where I worked for two years and launched my speaking career.
I thought I might have a tough time revisiting this step along my journey to reinvention, however, I was surprised to feel exactly the opposite of what I felt in North Carolina. In St. Louis, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment, happiness, and overall felt proud of my accomplishments.
The Guiding Angels We Meet Along The Journey to Reinvention
On my first day in St. Louis, I connected with a dear mentor whom I met after a couple of years after leaving Ingersoll Rand. Bill was there to listen to the many crazy ideas I had and always sat down for coffee with me to give me feedback and share advice with me. When we sat down for coffee to catch up after nearly a decade, he shared that he has been keeping up with my progress on Linkedin and congratulated me for the long way I came from those early days of reinvention. And just like a great mentor, he wasn’t only there to reflect, he also helped me think of a few big ideas going forward and offered his ongoing support in my next steps.
When we got up from the table, we hugged for a solid minute and I thanked him for his valuable time and perspective. As I pulled away, I said, “Thank you, Bill, I really needed this conversation.” I got into my car and the first thing I thought was, “I need more Bill in my life.” People like him are the guiding angels we meet along the journey to reinvention. They join us on our journey, not out of obligation, but because they want to help younger people. I am grateful for people like Bill, who take the time to guide young people, when they have nothing but crazy ideas to share.
Next was a meeting with my former manager (and second father) at a company he helped to co-found. He and his business partners founded this company as part of their own reinvention from corporate leaders to entrepreneurs. Mark, always looking out for me and following my progress, invited me to speak with his partners about a potential business opportunity. Of course, he had more planned for me as he also intended to connect me with new people who could help me along my journey. While it had been so many years since I last saw him, it felt like we had not skipped a beat. Mark was one of my earliest supporters on my journey to reinvention. Reconnecting with him was incredibly important because he too held the keys to perspective. Once again, Mark was there to help me make new progress on my journey.
Back to Where I Reinvented Myself into a Paid Public Speaker
My last stop was Maryville University, where I spent nearly two years pursuing an MBA and helping to run the student leadership program. In that I launched my reinvention as a professional speaker. Out of necessity, I had to develop 12 talks for our student leadership fellows and deliver them several times each. Each time I performed a talk, I made small adjustments, improving them. Eventually, others heard me delivering these and offered me paid opportunities to deliver them to other audiences. These were my earliest paid speaking opportunities and the Buder Family Commons was the exact building where my speaking career launched. Walking around campus, visiting former colleagues, and going into the building filled me with so much pride, happiness, and inspiration.
I reflected on how simple it really all was because I didn’t really know what I was doing. Sometimes not knowing frees you of the many fears and burdens that come from doing something new. Kay Rawlins, co-founder of the Orlando City Soccer Club, a Major League Soccer franchise in the U.S. shared with me on a call that, “not having ever done something before is liberating and empowering. It frees us of any burdens or fears because we just don’t know what to worry about. That allowed our early founding team to try things others with more experience might have ever considered. It was those crazy ideas that helped us bring this club to life.”
I didn’t really know what I was doing when I was at Maryville University. All I knew was that I needed to produce these 12 talks for our student fellows and I did that. I followed the subsequent opportunities from there and tried different things. This was an important reminder of how simple starting something new can be and how complicated we can make it seem if we overthink it. As I embark on new endeavors, including writing my first book, I must remind myself to keep things simple.
That’s how I got my start as a speaker and I truly believe it will help me and all of us on the journey to reinvention to start anything we care deeply about.