Being unapologetically authentic and finding true love

With our wedding less than two months away, I think about the process I went through to get to this point. The point of finding a wife. It’s been quite a journey and one that has taken me back to 5th grade. The point in which she and I first met. The last meaningful time we spent together prior to reconnecting for writing was 8th grade, and a lot changed for the both of us with the 17ish years that have elapsed since. This isn’t about our story, but the prelude.

At 32 years old, I’ve spent close half of my life in relationships. I’ve been called a serial monogamist by my closest friend and people label me a ‘relationship’ guy. But my mom once told me I was too young to get married. I’d be in line for more evolutions as a person. Evolutions that might change who I am. And that’s exactly what happened. At 32, I’m much different than any point of my life. But this is the point in which it became clear that I was ready. I had crossed multiple dreams of my dream list but had yet to cross off family. I always felt the desire to love for something outside of myself. I like many, have felt at times that I was with the person I ‘could’ marry. That could, is what dating is all about.

In dating, it starts off with common interest or an attraction, but gets to a point to where you decide whether or not this person will be the subject of your attention. Courting and being courted. It’s human nature to seek out companionship in the form of a partner. But when do you know when it’s the right person? All of the women I’ve dated have been great and made tremendous additions in my life, of which I’m thankful. I’ve been helped with leaving the NFL, Suicide and Authenticity. Key victories in my life. But development and growth don’t always translate to forever. In relationships, we have an obligation to growth. Helping your partner grow is par for the course. But finding a wife isn’t about a woman. It’s about you.

As a man, I had to grow. I had to work on managing my frustrations, communicating, contributing above and beyond to maintaining the house, paying bills…all things of which I’ll need as I co-build my family. The development and growth from scrutinizing myself and my flaws as a partner and a person, without running away from my weaknesses, has put me in position to be more authentic and be able to express fully who I am. This authentic expression is key to finding harmony in a partnership. For both sides. If you don’t know what beat you March too, you won’t be able to sustain a healthy marching pace together, it won’t be natural. For me, I had to shed. Shed the ideas of who I thought I was and step into who I am. This isn’t comfortable and hasn’t been comfortable. But neither is scaling a mountain. But this is the only path to joy. Choosing to be yourself unapologetically. Not being afraid to reduce your life circle.

In my pursuit of authentic expression, I’ve rejected materialism, turned minimalist (although I love technology), lost friends, deployed capital, made mistakes and failed…but all of that led me to my soon to be wife. Someone who knows Lawrence. Not Cadillac, LJ or LoJack…but Lawrence. It took me awhile to get back to Lawrence, but as I did, the love of my life showed up. What was once an arduous and painstaking journey. Has become the light of my life. At one point, I didn’t think that this feeling was possible, that real love existed. But I found it, only when I was only willing to be 100% committed to authenticity to my soul. In leaving everything behind that I thought I wanted like football and the idea of a relationship, I walked into everything I need. Unconditional love and support and encouragement. But most importantly understanding. An understanding of who I am and the courage to hold me accountable to being who I am. This makes her the one. I feel seen, supported and loved, all while being myself unapologetically.

Interdependence in America

As we prep to celebrate Independence Day, better known as the 4th of July, I think about how far we have yet to go. At this point in time, America as a Nation should be held to a higher standard. Yes, America is a “meritocracy” where skills are rewarded, but we are also one of the richest nations on earth. The 20th century saw massive wealth accumulation, so much so that Millennials stand to inherit over $40 trillion dollars. Most of this money lives in capital markets, earning suboptimal returns with moderate risk. That money could be put to such better use.

The idea of Impact Investing should be an American norm.

The American GDP is of importance to us all. To see capital collect dust, waiting to fund the next tech company, while millions of Americans live in poverty is distasteful. The idea of charter school booms with public school decline is distasteful. High rates of unemployment and incarceration are distasteful. Why are we investing in China and India as a government? Why is Private Equity investing in the same countries and other emerging markets? Why doesn’t American health issues in low income communities non reflective of the Foreign Aid to other countries? Why is there so much poverty? Why is all this going on within our borders when there are TRILLIONS of dollars available to solve American issues and boost our total economic output? Because we aren’t interdependent.

America is built on the foundation of the distinction of the other, it’s built on capitalism and the idea that it’s better to exploit time rather than develop skills. The world is building around America, while we are sleeping in our inequities and inequalities. We applaud celebrities for tweets of support and joining social causes, we applaud millionaires and billionaires the same way. But are they doing their part? Are they missing an opportunity to actually invest in the development of the country, to position us for a more prosperous future in a changing Global landscape?

We are. Impact investing is growing to a $300 billion dollar industry. Impact is the idea of adding social or environmental impact into the investment picture. As demands for more socially responsible investment opportunities increase, more and more financial institutions are creating products for their clients. JPMorganChase, Wells Fargo, UBS, Goldman Sachs, the list goes on. The idea of making money, while making a difference is becoming all the rage. As we grow into more economic options to financially incentivize impact investments, America will become more interdependent. Looking within it’s own borders for investment opportunities that can impact millions and changing the landscape of America. Imagine an America with more professional competition, where your skills dictate opportunity and not your skin color of family black book of connections. An America built by Americans for Americans. The government should not be solely responsible for the development of it’s citizens, not when private money is leaving our borders to build up other borders. We can create for-profit change in America, it’s already being done, we just have to have the desire and intention to do it on our own soil.

American in the 21st Century

Today represents a pivotal moment in the history of the United States. In 1776, on July 2nd the Declaration of Independence was approved. 2 days later, it was signed. I love this moment more than the 4th of July for numerous reasons. The main reason is that it was the Start-Up launch of America. The reasons why America became America are what I think are missing in today’s version of America. During the time period of the 13 Colonies, America was seen as an expansive opportunity. Although previously tied to Great Britain, with limited control of production, America decided to produce for itself. A nation of entrepreneurs. Looking to build a new land of opportunity. That they did. But today majority of Americans don’t like there job, a large number a depressed and many wonder about the Why of their life. Cough cough midlife crisis. We work and work and work to retirement, saddled with bills, counting on the mid 60’s to enjoy life.

For most people, they feel that fulfillment of basic needs requires one to sacrifice their time in a job, that only creates spending habits. Even myself, as a pro athlete, would at times, shut down after work. I went through periods of no investment into self, but relaxing and preparing for the next day. I watched sports, I went to games, I hung out, I was enjoying my success. Than I realized it was all a lie. The idea of 6%-12% returns on earned income deployed in the stock market seems like success, indeed the passive income is. But America isn’t passive by nature, it’s active. Now I do understand, that not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur or a businessman. But each of us has something special that the world is in need of. But we have to have the moral courage to do what we know we need to do.

Leaving the NFL was that thing for me. I had a choice. To continue to exploit my body by increasing my risk of loss of quality of life, collect $900k-$2-3 million a year for a few years. But for whatever reason, it didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel right committing 10 months out the year to a sport, while kids were struggling right were they are. I realized that making money, makes no difference. Acquiring things make no difference. And even donating money at times can have less than the intended impact. I felt it was my responsibility to do something about it. A look into my personal civic duty. This changed my life. I stopped worrying about what America could do for me, and focused on what I could do for America. Yes, I have understand that I have to take care of myself and my family. But what good is material security in a messed up world? To me, not much at all.

In feeling like this, I felt that to fulfill my civic duty as an America, I needed to leave the NFL. Although it wasn’t easy, I decided to do the necessary work to put myself in a position to solve problems with the money I earned, rather than focusing on spending it or holding onto it for later use. Now, I’m not throwing it away, it’s all being deployed strategically, with the bet being that the long term reward is not merely income but impact. I believe being American means upholding our civic duty to make our country better within our means.

Knowing that poverty is dragging down the American economic output, hasn’t been enough to rectify it. If you knew that EVERYONE could enjoy a better quality of life if we worked together as Americans would you do it? I would. I see China surpassing the US in preparation for the 22nd century. We are focused on making money and spending money. Not production. At least not anymore. It seems like the book, ‘The Triple Package’ is tight. After two generations of assimilation, the third generation loses its edge. Just think about how hard your grandparents had to work to get the same things we get now? Are we willing to work as hard as that generation? I don’t know. Because our work is different, it’s about more than equality and equality of opportunity. It’s also about equity. This is why we have to produce.

America was about production. Now it’s about consumption. China was impoverished, but now, they produce for the world. They are building a new Silk Road, creating their own space program which has alliances with many nations. They realize the time for them is now. We have to realize our time is now. As we grow into the future, we are going to need to compete on an international level with production. The right thing to do as an American, is to help build the future, not let time and capital collect dust or settle for 6-12% process. Being American is about taking the necessary risk to live the life you envision for yourself. America is about opportunity, to be American should mean one that seized opportunity for the greater good. But we are missing the point. We aren’t, as a people creating the companies we enjoy supporting. Immigrants dominate the STEM industries which are the modern gateway to new opportunities. It’s the new language of the world. These companies talk about the lack of American talent. Our civic duty is to help make America better. Are you just enjoying your citizenship? Or do you fight for yourself like our Founding Fathers fought to establish a New Land of opportunity.

The Reality of Entrepreneurship

I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life. In middle school, I sold candy. In high school, I sold CD’s, as a kid I tried to sell books. I’ve always found the creation point of meeting peoples needs intriguing. When I chose football as my definitive path, I became a CEO. I was responsible to lead myself to the NFL. I say lead myself, because the mind and the body are two separate things. I had to make sure that the first thing to do was to put myself in position to get a scholarship academically. I saw class after class have seniors who couldn’t accept a scholarship because of grades. I didn’t want that to be me. I didn’t want to get in my own way.

I knew that at my size, someone would take a chance on me. So I got to work.

Once I became a scholarship athlete, the scenario changed. I knew I’d get into school, now I’d need to go to the school that would best serve me longterm. Being in LA was what I wanted, but the opportunity to be part of restoring glory to USC was too appealing to pass up. Once my decision was made, I began charting my course to the NFL. Again, I knew at my measurements, someone would take a shot on me. So, I focused on school. I knew that I’d retire and want to be more than a football player. So I exploited USC. I tried all the classes I wanted too. If I didn’t like it, I dropped it. But my biggest decision was majoring in Philosophy. The idea of learning the fundamentals of knowledge and life drew me in. On one hand, I was a football player, the other a student. For some reason, I felt that learning how things worked would pay off later. It did. I eventually got drafted in the first round.

Being drafted is sort of like having an IPO. I became official. Official in the sense that I was no longer an amateur. I was paid. The work I put in paid off. The next step was maximizing the capital while getting used to having money and giving myself the best chance to earn more money. I thought this would be a second contract. But I was wrong. My shift became in stocking up on supplies. Mostly knowledge. While in Detroit, I found a Barnes and Noble and decided to move into a nearby building. This gave me an option to read whatever for free. But I also saw that I had free time. Between practice, in meetings, travel time etc. I didn’t have to try and fit in. I tried to maximize my time. Seeing a long snapper learning to become a pilot set me off.

After realizing that my life was made for something other than football, I started to prepare to leave. I cut back on expenses, got essential technology, books, real estate and cooking utensils. I learned how to do almost anything I paid someone to do. I wanted control of my life. I didn’t believe in capitalism as it stood. With the Fossil Fuel divestment movement, I felt like a hypocrite. I was not happy with the system, but I took money from the system. I knew I needed to divest. I had to stop investing into others to simply make something for me to buy. I needed to make my own stuff.

When I became an investor, my financial adviser wasn’t happy. He was conventional and I was an entrepreneur. He felt that this was the highest earning period of my life. I felt it was just a start. He felt 6-8% from the stock market was good enough. I felt 1200-1500% returns in donuts was far more profitable. This of course led to me getting fired from my bank. I wasn’t making them any money. I went against the norm and bet on myself. This started off great, but was rife with learning lessons. I’d invested into solutions. Following the advice of my birthday buddy Warren Buffett. I looked for intrinsic value. Once I figured things out in the business arena, I decided I was ready for my own attempt. I’d crawled, it was time to run.

I’d developed my system of values and principles, I decided on my destination and sat out. I felt good knowing that I had assets and capital. I felt confident in getting angel funding or leveraging a property to have seed capital. I expected to fund a portion of it on my own, but felt that the early opportunity would draw interest from like minded thinkers. I thought wrong. This is the shitty part of entrepreneurship. You’re trying to do something that you think is going to be profitable. But only a few entrepreneurs can take an idea all the way without outside funding. I believed in my idea to the point, where I was willing to sell my Seattle home to keep building. I was prepping for takeoff and ran out of runway. It was January 2017, I’d secured valuable entrepreneurial position, but was unable to get a loan on the house nor sell it until the season was over. I wasn’t able to get a bridge loan until the home sold. I was down to less than $8,000 liquid. I had lease payments, deposits, rent, among other things due. I had my water cut off twice, electricity twice and had to pawn two watches, to pay rent. I had $1.8 in property, free and clear, but my liquidity dried up before I could get a solution. I went from Jan-mid March not knowing what the hell to do. Where I thought I would get help, I didn’t. I had to ride it out myself. This sent me over the edge. I’d felt a deep sense of hopelessness. Here I was, money locked into my property , without clear access to it. I was building with confidence, knowing that if I put something legitimate together, because of my network, it would be easy.

This was a bubble that burst. As an entrepreneur, I had to decide whether or not the lack of support at my worst moment, was in fact a sign of things to come. I thought about walking away from the $250k in positioning at the time, to protect what liquidity I had left after selling the million dollar home. I was scared. But I realized that I couldn’t expect anyone to bet bigger on me than I bet on myself. I didn’t realize it after it along with other disappointments sent me into a suicidal spiral. I felt that I made it all up. I believed the disbelief. Then I woke up. I realized I am working on something far too important to not try. Although I remain alone on the voyage, I take solace in knowing others like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma fought periods of non belief. I’m just thankful I had the means to invest in myself when others wouldn’t. There are thousands of entrepreneurs out there with dreams that are waiting for someone to finance. The reality is that it takes time. Sometimes you may end up at the pawn shop or borrowing money for rent like I had to do. Sometimes it just needs time to clear up. But expectations are the enemy of entrepreneurship. Expect to wait, expect to sacrifice, expect to struggle. It’s the reality of entrepreneurship.

American By Choice

It’s taken awhile for me to realize how great it is to be American. America has been an interesting experiment both economically and socially. It uses a system of capitalism and entrepreneurialism to draw the worlds greatest thinkers to it’s shores with the lure of the rags to riches story. There are very few countries, if any that provide the same type of opportunity. There’s no doubt that America is not perfect, but in a relative world, America is one of the most fair.

Having studied Sociology at USC, I had a chance to see the underbelly of society. What I saw was disturbing. Namely the mindset of poverty. Coming from an urban community that sees 20% of people living below the poverty line, seeing the struggle with my own eyes, I couldn’t understand how the condition I overcame can be reduced to 2 and 3 word concepts. A culture of hopelessness was the most hurtful. Here I am, sitting in a class with few Blacks and academia pretty much saying, we lack belief in possibility. But why would we really think anything is possible while being Black? Outside of sports and entertainment, there’s the few blacks in whatever industry. Tech, Medicine, Politics, Corporate Leadership, wherever you look there will be few Blacks at the top. And the ones that are at the top, usually appear in stark contrast to the Black person living in poverty.

In coming from an impoverished background and ascending to financial comfort, I’ve seen the prism of opportunity morph into a kaleidoscope. What I once saw, I no longer see. What I do see, I never imagined. It was comfortable thinking about Slavery and becoming agitated and infused with a hatred like emotion. As I learned more and the picture clarified, history shaped my outlook. I saw the ugliness of human nature. Not Black, White nor Asian. But humans. We are, at the root of the evil we see. Africans have committed atrocities against other Africans. Europeans against other Europeans. Asians against Asians. Nobody is immune to it. It’s human nature. In knowing this, I’m not surprised that racism exists. It’s just part of who we are naturally. Our choice is to elevate over human nature.

This is why I don’t see my American citizenship as one solely tied to slavery. I recognize that I have a choice. A choice to live anywhere else. But I live here. I don’t want to live in certain parts of Africa nor Europe nor the Asia-Pacific region, nor South or Central America. America provides peace of mind. America provides opportunity. America provides an infrastructure that can be leveraged. Although America has been at the hands of indefensible atrocities, this is the case wherever humans are present. Life, like the Animal Kingdom is not fair. This is a fact. Despite this unfairness, despite the history of slavery, inequity, prejudice and racism, I love America. This is my home and my responsibility to make it more habitable. Not just for Blacks, but for everyone. Being American is my choice.

[Poem] An unexamined life is not worth living

When I write I try to shine some light on my fight with life…

Tales from being in the darkness strapped in a harness…

Stuck…but I’m a fight regardless…

Not trying to be the hardest…

Just trying to be the last at the table card less…

Playing the hand I’m dealt…

Walking tall even though the blows are felt…

Even been hit below the belt…

Welp…

That’s what happens in the fight with self…

You become both the enemy and the help….

Tales of two lives when I rise…

Like the Phoenix…

But this sequence…

Got me dreaming…

About a genius before my lifetime

Named Einstein

Reincarnated and planted into my mind…

That’s why I’m relentless…

And constantly pushing these limits…

Defying physics…

Architect to this system…

Deeper than religion…

Or some construct in a prism…

The only reason why I think about this stuff is because an unexamined life isn’t worth living.

“A warrior carries helmet and breastplate for his own protection, but his shield for the safety of the whole line.”Simon Sinek . “Leaders Eat Last”

I couldn’t help putting my iPad down to pause for reflection after reading this line. For some reason it resonated deeply with me. Maybe it was the prior sentence that said losing your shield in an unforgivable offense. Maybe it was because it was about the warriors of Sparta. Maybe it’s because that’s what’s been missing from the equation. It makes me think about who I’m fighting for, but bigger than that. What are we as Blacks fighting for? Where is my shield and why should I fight to not lose it?

I’ve been asking myself this question for years and it’s fitting that the time for it to reveal itself so clearly is now. How I responded to this, was to think of my fellow athletes and entertainers. Jay Z and his $100m house and $30m watch that he talks about in he and Beyonce’ new album. Or the many cars of Floyd Mayweather. The list goes on with our icons and the markers of wealth. But why are we praising the possessions of others, while we are fighting a losing battle. With so much poverty in Black America, I don’t understand how we support our celebrities, yet do not demand action from them. After all, their money is our money, Andrew Carnegie understood this aspect of wealth, he also understood the responsibility that comes with it. Our consumerism and support pays the bills. We see the celebrities come out in support of mass protests on inflammatory situations. They walk and march with us then. But what about on the way to the grocery store to buy food. What has the music we support, the films we support added to our lives? Where has protesting police brutality gotten us? After the protest, we walk back into the same longterm injustices. The ones that keep us stuck.

This all comes down to leadership. There is no sense of safety nor a sense of trust with the Black community or within the Black community. It’s hard to work together and support one another that way. We are struggling and it’s only going to get worse. We are in a battle. For our longterm collective well-being. At this point, I am no longer impressed with individual signs of wealth. I don’t care about your car, clothes, jewelry or what you drink. They’re all most likely non black owned anyway. I want to see the shields and how we are protecting the man next to us. We need to prioritize priorities. Right now, our priority should be in building a new future. We need shields if we are to ever end the longterm inequality living in the Black community.