It Starts and Ends With Purpose: How I Found Mine Off the Track to Thrive at Deloitte For 13 Years

05_Triathlete.jpg

Starting my professional career at Deloitte was nerve-wracking for me. For the first time, I was out on the pitch without a coach to guide my movements. After a summer of enduring the oh’s and ah’s of people when I told them I was headed to Deloitte, a fear of performing at the highest level set in. As I now reflect on my approach to the job, I believe I developed a self-destructive inferiority complex about “surviving,” rather than simply performing and “thriving” on a new team. I entered the game playing weak defense, trying not to get fired for screwing things up.

Well, 13 years later, that bright 22-year-old can say he never screwed things up to the point of being fired. Quite the opposite. After working at the firm for three months, I independently led a technology audit. Within two weeks I reviewed all the client’s documentation, obtained samples for testing, interviewed the database administrator to discover and point out areas of concern, and documented my review findings. Management was thrilled and my self-esteem soared. I was thriving with a new team and executing at peak performance levels.

While my life after sports had begun, and I found another source to give me the adrenaline rush that filled the void left by track and field, getting here wasn’t a sure thing. 

The Journey

As I look back at my athletic career, one year stands out to me the most - junior year.  Most might point to freshman year and tasting freedom for the first time, or senior year, when they are “done” with school. My junior year was the year where I finally started to “figure it all out.” I was accepted into the UAlbany School of Business; was officially dating my future wife – though I didn’t realize it at the time; and internalized the impact of the 4+1 NCAA eligibility rule relating to the senior class I bonded with both on and off campus. Some seniors would soon enter the work force while others had the option of returning for a fifth year of athletic eligibility.

Junior year also has a special place for me because it is where I formed a new narrative of self. I excelled academically and was a rolling honors role recipient. On the field I was voted by my peers as Co-captain of the Men’s Track & Field team. Most importantly, I sustained an injury that would redshirt me for a year. The injury was both emotionally and physically devastating. My left knee had endured over a decade of high torque jumping and needed cortisone injections to reduce inflammation and promote repair.

I still view this injury as I did then, a blessing in disguise. You see, I have a yearning for travel and would often walk by the Study Abroad Office on my way to class. I would window shop but never enter due to my other commitments - family, academics and track & field. What I now realize is that my list of “commitments” didn’t include myself. That all changed when I became my own cheerleader and had two to three extra hours a day on my hands. Encouraged by a teammate that studied in Spain the year before, I used this opportunity to defer a season of eligibility and set my sights on Australia.  My family, professors, and coach approved, and most importantly - I drove the decision.

03_AUS_04.jpg

If you think you have new found freedom as a freshman on campus, you have no idea what the excitement of studying abroad entails. I was literally living on another continent half way around the world! A gridded map of the world I drew in 5th grade became reality and being in Australia opened my eyes to another way of life. The Aussie language, style of dress, beach life at the Sunshine Coast, club life in BrisVegas, I ate it all up!  No shirt, no shoes, no problem!  Academically, I focused on topics I found engaging - The History of Sports, Creating with Adobe Photoshop, and Entrepreneurship. I also explored the country’s east coast starting from The Great Barrier Reef, down to the Gold Coast, and the Olympic capital of Sydney. I even had my 15 minutes of fame as a model, winning a fashion show contest at the local pub in Mooloolaba. For the first time in a long time, I was living the life I wanted to live in Australia. 

Suffice it to say, I grew more in those five-plus months than years at Albany could have ever provided. My fondest memory is a season-ending party the footy team threw to coincide with my departure. One of the more reserved blokes handed me his jersey and let me know he hadn’t enjoyed a season of ball quite like the one we had that year, thanks in part to my playing with the boys. I was honored to pull my jersey off and exchange it with him right there on the spot! These experiences put a new perspective on what life could be once academics and the track team would come to an end the following year.

Upon returning to the U.S., I had one season of NCAA eligibility and a damaged knee that wasn’t fully healed. I soldiered on and joined the team as co-captain again, but I needed to plot a path for my post collegiate endeavors. I updated my resume as a second-year senior and headed to a business school career fair. This is when I started to realize that I was actually behind in the (rat) race of life.

Years earlier I passed on the opportunity to join a predominately minority business fraternity,  Delta Sigma Pi. I was never drawn to them once I reached campus since I had the camaraderie with the track & field team. However, no one coached me on life after sports and how valuable these networks would become in the future. I now understand that the fraternity brothers practiced just as hard as the track & field team: building resumes with club activities, obtaining leadership experience, marketing club events, driving sales and constantly networking. I fully realized my error when an invite went out to select students to “network” with recruiters the night before the career fair. Too late for me to fret on past decisions, I decided my life experiences had gotten me this far and would carry me to whatever the next journey of life entailed.

As the career fair began, it became apparent that this was more of a resume drop, rather than a recruiting process. Since this was my fifth year, I noticed familiar alumni from the prior year. People I studied with were chatting with current seniors they knew through the frat rather than someone that sat with them in their 400 level classes. A bit discouraged, I continued handing my resume to anyone who would look me in the eye to start a conversation; a warm hand is better than a cold shoulder. That led me to Deloitte & Touche, a global leader in accounting. While I didn’t know anything about of them, they were ready to engage with an honor student who had a worldly view. Deloitte called quickly and I began interviewing that month. Three rounds of successful interviews later and I received an offer to join the firm.  

Connecting The Dots Through Purpose

Looking back, what allowed me to stay 13 years? In one word - Purpose. It’s a word often used but rarely understood. In my experiences, we are all driven by purpose. Without purpose there is no motivation, which means no resolve or determination. I believe purpose is especially enhanced in the athlete experience. Why else would we pack our schedules with often grueling practice sessions and travel great distances to compete against the best at our chosen craft? There must be an equal amount of purpose to intentionally motivate us to create something relevant and useful. By setting a goal of becoming a Manager at Deloitte, I was subconsciously defining my purpose - to be recognized as a leader at a top tier accounting firm. That goal was realized after six years, and I enjoyed it so much I signed an extension for another seven.

To Be Continued: Finding Purpose Again

I recently left Deloitte after 13 years. I am now a free agent and pursuing the same thing that helped me early in my career: purpose. I reignited my interest in sports, becoming a certified Level 1 USA Triathlon Coach. I also followed my entrepreneurial spirit by starting my own company, PRISM DYNAMICS, to help promote health and wealth across generations. This evolved through a process of reflection and stepping back to view what was important to me and the type of legacy I want to leave my family going forward. Similar to taking a break from sports to travel to Australia, I am using this time to take a break from the rat race and travel inwards to identify my Why: the purpose that will drive me going forward. 

If I can give anyone advice who is currently in a phase of transition, it would be to turn down the noise of the outer world and tune into your inner thoughts and feelings. Once you refine and understand why you have these thoughts, let them define your Why. Allow your inner thoughts to shine into your outer world. Don’t allow the outer world to trap you on a wheel.