Before ever being considered to speak professionally, we must first go back to an earlier time that will provide the necessary context of my journey. As a high school freshman, I demonstrated high potential with receiving an academic college scholarship as an 8th grader. Even so, I still demonstrated little to no focus (at times) surrounding the execution against my potential for a multitude of reasons. This would result in many challenges and hurdles in my life that served as barriers in eventually getting to where I am at in my life today.
My mother would often tell me as I was growing up throughout my adolescent years that I was blessed with many great opportunities and skills that would position me for “success” in my lifetime. Despite hearing that routinely, my goal in life at that time was to graduate High School and marry my high school sweetheart and ride off into the sunset. I was young and naive; but you couldn’t tell me otherwise during that time in my life. I’d live my high school years with that goal in mind and as top priority. My freshmen and sophomore year of college I learned the trials of life and it’s tribulations in a very abrupt manner or at least it felt like it at the time. My high school sweetheart and I separated and to my surprise at the time; my parents would be separating (divorcing) as well as the family matriarch (grandmother) would pass away unexpectedly. These back to back events would have a significant impact on my life and transparently the trajectory of my academic aspirations.
Fast forward, I’d eventually become an adult, college-educated with real world experiences and a realistic pulse on life. During my early 20’s, my primary focus was to maintain and build on my experiences professionally and personally. As i grew in my professional career, the desire to better understand my “why” grew exponentially. I was back on track with my life and the turmoil that once disrupted my once focused lens was back to being 20/20 and I was ready to seize all opportunities with a sense of urgency and purpose.
My second year of working for my current employer. I was presented with the opportunity to volunteer with a non-profit organization (JAUM) committed to increasing on the financial literacy of students in underrepresented communities in which my employer serves (and beyond). I participated in what is and was referred to as reverse job shadow event at a local school in the inner city (where I once was a student). Essentially, I was demonstrating and articulating to students the many opportunities to be contributing members of society in a multitude of professions; including my own as an IT professional.
From this experience of standing in front of a classroom of middle school students and young men; which at the time was intimidating and nerve racking for me. Yet, I was responsible for delivering learning experiences around what it meant to co-exist within a global society as well as speaking on the implications and responsibilities of being a working professional.
My mission was to equip these students by inspiring their desire to aspire. I had such a great experience from my first reverse job shadow at the school in which I volunteered. That I’d find myself expending as much of my available and free time volunteering and giving back. These volunteering experiences would one day lead me to meeting an individual by the name of Eric Dreshfield. This was when I decided to immerse myself into the community and ecosystem that was associated with my professional responsibilities and aspirations.
I met Eric for the first time while he was in Minneapolis on a visit to attend his daughters commencement at Minnesota State University – Mankato. Coincidentally, the same University I once had the opportunity to learn from as an undergraduate student. In our conversation, Eric shared with me the genesis of a community led Salesforce conference that would go by the name of Midwest Dreamin! At the time, little did I know this would be the conference that would propel my career and success with becoming a one day keynote speaker, industry related conference speaker and self-proclaimed mentor to many in the Salesforce community.
Moreover, Eric shared with me during our visit his inspiring story (although he didn’t realize at the time he was serving as an inspiration); that would ultimately serve as the catalyst for the birth and idea of Midwest Dreamin. Eric would one day become the founder of Midwest Dreamin and a supreme advocate of community involvement in service of others (throughout his story). From our visit, I was sold on Midwest Dreamin and the potential opportunity on embracing what I had not realized at the time; but would become the bedrock of my purpose in this life.. giving back in the form of sharing my experiences and acquired knowledge over the years.
As an actionable step from our visit; I followed the communicated and instructed process for being considered to be a speaker (first time) at Midwest Dreamin during it’s submission window for sessions. A couple of weeks later I received a congratulatory e-mail (to my surprise) on my session submission being selected. I’ll be honest.. I thought to myself; “Sh** what did I commit myself to”.. and then I recalled a quote that I’ve been living by for years..
“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try..” – Unknown
This is ultimately what I wanted and had to continuously circle back to and although the pressure and intimidation was high; I knew in my heart I would have to deliver. So, I did just that.. I prepared for months. When i felt firm and comfortable on my content and delivery approach. I would start from scratch (again and again); due to a minor detail not included or considered.
Fortunate for me and the other speakers; especially first timers there was a benefit for speakers that we were all assigned a coach to help in solidifying our content as well as communicating to us the necessary logistical things we needed to know. The individual I was assigned is a well known Salesforce MVP, Speaker and Community Influencer; Dale Zigler!
Dale patiently, knowingly and masterfully navigated me and my preparation efforts for my Midwest Dreamin session. When it came time to deliver my session.. I’ll never forget walking the Navy Pier in solitude just moments before I was scheduled to speak. Before i could I desperately needed to calm my nerves. As I walked back into the venue and into the room where I was presenting and looked towards the the stage (from the back of the room) with the chairs quickly occupying with curious, interested and excited attendees of the conference. I could only recall one thing in my mind at the time and that was: “Why?, Why are you here?” – I thought of my kids, my journey, my preparation, my mother’s words of inspiration and most importantly.. I thought about my “WHY” – This provided me just enough of a calm to start making my way to the stage.
As I made my way to the stage and equipped myself with the necessary devices to speak, setup my laptop; as well as my presentation material – I realized more and more there was no going back at this point. Just moments before being ready to go; I looked out into the audience and saw many familiar faces (Stuart Edeal, Benjamin Bolopue; among others) with huge smiles on their faces. It was in that moment that I realized many were in attendance because they wanted to hear what I had to say.. Those who didn’t know me or ever heard my name still wanted to hear what i had to say; basis the topic and session abstract. All I had to do was deliver the content they came to hear about.
This was my time and opportunity. It was no longer about the challenging life circumstances and experiences of the past. It was about the here and now and what I had to say – what I had to give back. I was ready to step into and live in my purpose!
I’m still happy to this day to share that I was able to deliver my session with the intended execution I hoped for and received resounding positive feedback.. even from the likes of well respected individuals in the community; such as Peter Coffee!
It’s been a year now since I first spoke at Midwest Dreamin and have had many great opportunities around speaking engagements. Including speaking at Salesforce’s Annual Conference in San Francisco – Dreamforce; as well as being nominated for a Tedx Talk. I’ve been grateful for the journey and the subsequent experiences to come from them.
Life will grace you with many opportunities to step into and walk in your passions and aspirations. Life will also provide second chances, catalyzing experiences and defining moments. For me when it comes to professionally and personally; Midwest Dreamin 16 was a catalyzing experience that will serve as a cornerstone and data point in support of what I achieve in this lifetime.
Life in fact isn’t short. It’s a process! Love and appreciate the process.. it’s the only way you’ll be able to acknowledge and recognize the steps that got you to your destination and goals in life. JS