Simon Sinek changed my life forever. Who did the same for you?
Who are you?
What is the feeling you want to instill in the people around you?
When you were younger, did you fully understand yourself?
Does your online personality match who you are in real life?
For the past few years, I’ve embarked upon a challenging journey in search of self-discovery. I’ve paved this path to uncovering my true self with the answers to questions like these. Now, I’m sharing my story about a life-changing set of personal experiences to try and help make your own road a bit easier to travel.
Have adversities you’ve encountered provided clarity perspective to make better decisions for the future?
Do you surround yourself with people who fully align with your core values?
Are you prioritizing relationships with people you want to be a part of your life for the long haul?
I wrote this article to help you navigate life a little more meaningfully. One special person helped me make one of the toughest decisions of my life, one that eventually transported me to where I’ve always been supposed to end up.
It’s never easy to find the courage to stand out when everyone around you is trying to fit in. During my junior year of college, I hit rock bottom. I had lost touch of who I was completely, and everything I was striving so hard to accomplish felt meaningless. The constant pursuit of directionless achievement for the sake of external applause took its toll on me.
Where was I going? I didn’t know how to find my path. I was pushing myself to the breaking point by striving to overcome shortcomings and insecurities from my previous chapter in life — and it came at an expense.
I kept immersing myself in relationships that brought out my most immature side. Lacking self-awareness, I kept taking the same actions and expecting different results.
I burned out so many times, often hurting myself in the process. Even when I succeeded, I felt aimless. What was the point of achievement if I didn’t have any end goals?
Finally, I gave myself a hard look in the mirror. I knew I had a question to answer:
What is my purpose?
I don’t regret the hard work I invested in studying marketing, communication, and relationship building in college. These are valuable skills I still use to this day. My real regret is not setting a path with intentionality earlier.
I wish I could tell my younger self to carefully consider where I ultimately wanted to end up. The silver lining of this struggle was gaining the perspective I needed to clearly see the life I want, and how to live it — and how to stand out on my own terms.
Once equipped with more self-awareness, I could finally pay attention to the things that spoke to me and felt right on a visceral level. This process of self-discovery wasn’t easy, though.
During my darker days, I vividly remember watching a TED Talk in class that changed my life forever: How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek.
Simon’s words filled me with hope for my future. It felt like he was speaking directly to me, hitting me to my core, telling me I could create something meaningful, too. His energy and passion radiated from the heart.
Watching that TED talk left me so motivated that I dedicated my whole summer to unpacking Simon’s speech in therapy as I delved deeper into uncovering myself. I devoured his book within a week as I connected to his work even more.
Putting my blood, sweat, and tears into this challenging and often deeply uncomfortable inner work was beyond rewarding. I entered my senior year completely transformed, like a lobster that finally found a new shell. I took on a new identity that finally felt like the real me. Finding myself changed many of my relationships, too. I began looking to connect with people who were navigating similar experiences, and found many through their own stories.
The night after the Tennessee vs. Georgia football game, I skipped the parties and pondered deep questions in my bed. My thoughts kept me up until 3 AM, and kept circling back to one question: “How do you write something meaningful to influence others for the better?”
I’m not sure why I landed on that question, but apparently I wasn’t alone in seeking the answer. Hundreds of conversations followed and led me to build a platform to foster vulnerable conversation, called Wish Dish, jumpstarting 800 meaningful contributions.
Since I lacked experience of the digital world at the time, Wish Dish never fully took off the way I envisioned. While building this platform, I skipped a lot of classes to focus on what felt so much more important — so many that I almost didn’t graduate on time. I remember the overwhelming feeling of goosebumps during that period. Now I know that when I get the goosebumps, I’m on the right path.
Reading the powerful stories people shared about navigating challenges through writing was the most connective experience of my life. It showed me the power of creating a place for people to belong and be fully themselves without fear of judgment.
As I headed into my last semester of college with a full-time job lined up in NYC at a sports marketing agency, my internal conflict dragged me down like an overwhelming weight. I was constantly asking myself the same thing: Should I pursue my passion and the risks that came with it, or settle into the safety of a 9-5 job?
Deep down, I knew turning down the job in NYC was the right decision for me. Even though it was the best choice, it felt extremely scary, especially compared to all my fellow graduates who were about to start traditional careers.
Fortunately, I spent time the previous year starting the process of asking hard questions. I went back to the TEDX talk and all my introspective discoveries from the past summer, and took the plunge. I sent an inquiry to Simon Sinek online to ask for help to find strength and confidence in the path of my dreams. Truthfully, I never expected to hear back from the message I sent to Simon’s online portal that existed at the time. After something inside me pushed me to follow up, I finally heard back.
Simon’s teammate, Stephen Shedletzky, asked to set up a Zoom call for our first meeting. Coming from an authentic place, he really tried to understand me and my situation and even shared personal stories with me about his grandfather, a WWII prisoner.
I was so inspired. I couldn’t believe how similar we were: we had both left corporate job opportunities to chase our passion projects. My story about feeling misunderstood seemed to resonate. Working with Stephen led me to Simon’s personal discovery Start With Why Course, an online program helping me look inward to set the tone for my future.
In the end, the right choice wasn’t the one that would relate to my friends in the short term.
In the end, the right choice was the daring one.
FAST-FORWARD TO SUMMER 2019
Stephen and I stayed in touch for five years before we ever met in person. An email last summer from Stephen telling me he’d be in town for an event finally brought us together to meet.
When the day came, I was beyond nervous. I texted Stephen’s assistant Laila when I arrived, and she told me to meet him upstairs. Standing at the top of the escalator, I started to sweat as I realized this had been a “setup” all along: to my surprise, the man who came into view wasn’t Stephen; it was Simon Sinek himself.
Our initial greeting followed with an invitation back to the green room before Simon’s speech. On the walk to the green room, conference attendees approached Simon were literally crying tears of joy. Many of them shared the same words: “You have changed my life.”
These experiences were the complete opposite of a fan who just wanted to take a picture with a celebrity to post on Instagram. Instead, I saw the same ecstatic pull and emotional response I felt from the inside out as these individuals expressed their genuine passion for Simon’s work and underlying message.
Watching these reactions in real-time was incredible. How could one person have this kind of impact on so many others through a simple message? I was profoundly inspired by the idea that maybe I, too, could similarly impact people someday in my future career.
Once we entered the green room, Simon finished preparing for his speech and sat beside me. He asked me a series of poignant questions about my passions, life, and career. At the end, he asked “What questions do you have for me?”
In my head, I was just happy to be sitting there “as one of the guys.” I hadn’t prepared questions to have loaded my arsenal, yet his responses to the few I asked have pushed me to leave my comfort zone. Our dialogue that day even inspired me to expand my personal interests by exploring the arts. At that moment, Simon made me felt completely valued and understood.
I’ll never forget walking out to my seat in the front row of a sea of 10,000 people to watch Simon deliver his speech on his recently released book, The Infinite Game. During his talk, it felt like his eyes were beaming down right at me. Simon made me feel like I was the only person in the room. Goosebumps washed over me yet again.
I was incredibly drawn in by message of this talk, especially how it applied to long-term and strategic decision making. I deeply resonated because my path has been a series of long-term decisions at every step of the way – even when the short term results are harder and scarier.
My experience meeting Simon was as real online and in his writing, as he was in person. In a single word, its was GENUINE. But it wasn’t just Simon who was real, it was Stephen, and his assistant Laila. They all shared the same core values.
Five years ago, I was the outsider looking in. I was just another person who had a huge pipe dream without the skillsets to turn it into reality. My vision was so much bigger than me. I can only achieve it by following my intuition and gut instinct at every turn. Meeting the right people like Stephen Shedletzky gave me hope for the future.
Moments like these show me there are no coincidences in life. When I meet people who have a dream, I greet them with open arms.
WHY DOES THIS STORY MATTER?
If I hadn’t taken the initiative to ask myself the important questions, listen to my intuition, go to therapy, and reach out to people who could help me, I would never have found the path I’m charting down today. No matter who stands in the way, tells you no, or says that who you are is not enough, you should never waiver from following your truth.
I challenge you to take the path of most resistance. Make yourself vulnerable. Push yourself into unknown territory and listen to your internal feelings. All these steps will require you to stand out fearlessly, but they will put you on the path you were born to explore and bring the right people you need to meet in your journey – both personally and professionally.
Following Simon and his message has completely reshaped how I thought about my work and personal relationships. Now, I ask myself how I want people to respond to me:
How can I share a message that helps people belong and find their true path?
More importantly, how can I make others feel as special as Simon made me feel that day?
When I chart my path forward in life, I always use the bulletproof set of guidelines I’ve created based on these experiences, because I know without a doubt they work for me. This is my process: listen, reflect, internalize, ask the right questions, and put the right people in my corner who will guide me towards the best decisions. If I repeat this formula, I know I can continue making progress towards the destination I’m meant to go.
This is my hope for the world: that everyone can understand themselves fully and genuinely, carve through the woods in their own unique way, and surround themselves with people who fully embrace them for who they truly area and what they represent.
Special thank you to Rich Keller and Catherine Kushan – without them, I could not have wrote this article.
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