Since I was a teenager, I was one of the few amongst my peers with an entrepreneurial spirit. I always knew I wanted to work for myself. I never enjoyed taking orders from others especially when I knew they were wrong or didn’t take a moment to view my POV. I knew that one day I had to stand on my own.
I remember telling my father in my earlier twenties that my dream career was one that can be conducted remotely. I told him that, if my career can’t be done from a laptop on a beach, then that career isn’t for me. He was worried because I could NEVER hold a job and I always had conflicts with authority. Mostly because I saw myself as superior. I never enjoyed being managed or even worse, micromanaged by idiots.
Being a waiter
It was 2010 and I had just been fired from Olive Garden as a waiter. Previously, I had left a job working at T.G.I. Friday’s in New York city. Both of these jobs had something in common; the way people viewed me.
My Friday’s manager pulled me aside and said, “What are you doing here?”.
I replied, “What do you mean? I need money.”
He said, “Quit! You’re bigger than this. You’re different from everyone else here. You don’t belong here.”
All I could do was smile because deep down inside, I agreed. It was also conflicting because I would wonder how I could be undoubtedly brilliant yet consistently fail to find success and purpose in life. Eventually, I did quit but not because he told me to. I got tired of walking the two miles to the train station then the two miles back home for only $60 after train fare.
I remember a co-worker saying to me, “Why are you here?”
Again I was puzzled, and responded, “What do you mean?”
He said, “You’re smart. You’re not like the rest of us. You don’t belong here. You’re different. You can do anything you want to do and you’re a waiter at Olive Garden”, as he walked away with a look of disappointment on his face.
When I took the gig at Olive Garden I was in bad shape. I had gone months without a haircut because I couldn’t afford one. After working my first I got a haircut and a co-worker told me that when she saw me on the first day, she thought I was slow. Ha! All I could do was laugh.
Of course, I’d later be fired from this job. Conflict with the management of course. I’ll tell that story another day.
I realized that I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep going to get jobs only to be fired. It’s a perpetual cycle that I had to learn to accept. I don’t belong at a job. I’m naturally an entrepreneur. So I started focusing on my entertainment blog more. Being unemployed gave me plenty of extra time.
For the sake of brevity, I won’t include the story of how I built, maintained, and recruited a team of 7 bloggers. In a future blog post, I will explain. But of course, it was a success. Looking back, every entrepreneurial endeavor I embarked on has seen some level of success.
That little blog of mine landed me a role as Regional Marketing Director for a company attached to Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. It was a dream come true. I always wanted to work with 50. I hung his poster up on my apartment door so every time I walked in I’d see that image of him with cash. Motivation. I spiritually and physically manifested that.
Ali Shakur with 50 Cent in Las Vegas
But, it was a job. It was the only job I ever had that didn’t end overnight. It actually fit me. Until management and I started to bump heads, of course. Ha!
Eventually, I’d leave that job too. The difference between leaving this job and all the rest was, I had stashed away a decent amount of cash. $10,000+ was sitting in the bank and I still had checks coming in from a client I landed on the side while working there. At that moment I felt in my heart that I would never have to take on a job again.
Sidebar: I have this theory that if you need a resume to work with someone, you’re not good enough. If you need to wear a suit to land a gig, you’re not good enough. I feel like your work should be so great that people will look past all of these variables eagerly for a chance to work with you.
Fast forward; I ran through that $10,000 in under six months. And that client I had? They changed VPs, the new VP brought in his own team and I was replaced. Here I was facing that dreaded thought again. “Do I have to go get a job?”
“HELL NO!“, I responded to myself.
Just to get clients so I can pay my bills, I started slashing my consulting fees to embarrassingly low rates. When you did the math, I was making about $12/hr. But I still had some level of happiness because I wasn’t at a job, I made my own hours, and like I told my dad, I was working remotely from a laptop.
I was just beginning to learn what it’s like to be a true entrepreneur. No longer was I an animal in a zoo (employee) waiting to be fed by the zoo keeper (employer). I was a lion (entrepreneur) hunting for my own food. But sometimes, when a lion isn’t sharp, he’ll starve for a few days or even weeks. Well, I was beginning to starve.
What was wrong? I hit stagnation. I thought too highly of myself and it was a false reflection. I thought I was the master marketer. I thought that there was nothing left to learn. I thought I knew everything. I’d speak with leads and they’d turn down my services. I’d say to myself, “They just don’t get it. I’m way too ahead of my time.” Boy, was that a lie.
From a theoretical standpoint, I was a master of marketing. I understood the psychological aspects and most of the traditional ideas surrounding marketing. Organically, I truly understood what makes people convert into a customer and I had successful results in my own work. But I couldn’t translate that into something that made people trust me with their brand and more importantly, their marketing dollars.
After about a year, my savings had run dry and I was living month to month. I decided to give up and go back to the job market. I’ve always been able to get a job. That was my gift. But shockingly, no matter how many jobs interviews I went on, nobody would hire me.
I began to see my weaknesses. These corporations were asking me questions I struggled to answer and using jargon I had never heard of. The marketing industry had grown and I was lost in the sauce.
One interviewer asked me, “What other marketers do you admire?” My overconfident-self responded, “None. I feel like no one is doing what I’m doing.” In hindsight, that was the dumbest response ever.
When that job sent me the denial email, I started to do some self-reflecting. If all these jobs turned me down, then they’re not crazy. I’m the common denominator, so it must be me.
I began studying vigorously. All those terms that interviewers were asking me that I didn’t have an answer to, I started researching. I’d Google search and Youtube each and every term. Every Google search turned up more jargon and theories I did not understand so I looked those up too.
Just this week I spent $1,000 on a marketing course which will probably rehash some of the ideas I already know but I also know that it will provide some sort of value in the long run. Some competitive advantage. At the very least, it will make me sharper.
I decided that I no longer wanted to be a master of marketing but instead a student of marketing.
“Once you’ve reached mastery, you’re philosophically dead. But the perpetual student is immortal.” – Ali Shakur
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The truth was, my marketing techniques were outdated and obsolete. They needed refreshing and updating. So I began to look for online courses. I found [this website] which offered cheap courses, some as low as $9! It became almost addicting. I was buying courses and learning so much new information, which I could apply to current clients and sell as services to new clients.
One key thing I did was research job titles and their salaries [here]. If the salary wasn’t high enough for my taste, I’d disregard the position. I was looking for six-figures or better. Once I found a job title, I’d look up sample resumes. Each resume details the job description. So, I’d go line by line and judge my proficiency in each. If it was low, I’d look to increase it. If it was high, I’d look for ways to sharpen it.
Another tactic I implemented was to create a company page on LinkedIn, then pretend to search for new hires. You’d start to see how people applied for positions and what skills they possessed. I’d borrow and cherry-pick the best qualities of each candidate and utilize each for myself. Adoption and adaptation.
Today, when I speak with potential clients, I’m so well studied that I’m afforded the ability to turn down offers, which I do all the time.
I was offered a six-figure position at a pharmaceutical company and all I asked was, “Do I have to come into the office?”
The H.R. person reluctantly responded, “Yes, this position does require you to work in office.”
I happily turned down that opportunity. As an independent consultant, I can earn double that salary and still work in my pajamas while sipping wine. This also allows me the freedom to work on my own side projects like HotepNation, mentor college kids, and black business entrepreneurs.
By getting my head out my ass, and adding relevant skills to my repertoire, I tripled my income from last year and I’m on pace to double this year’s earnings next year.
Sometimes we have these false perceptions of ourselves which mask the truth. Fear creates barriers like having to admit we’re not as great as we think we are. If we can find ways to break down these barriers, humble ourselves and seek growth, we become unstoppable.
Sometimes when things are going bad we want to blame everyone but ourselves, when the truth is, everything we experience is by our own doing. Both good and bad. If we can look at the bad and say, “It is my fault and I will correct it”, growth and progress begin.
We must look at ourselves always as having room to grow and get better. Once we claim to be masters we cut off all room for growth. Do not seek to become a master for that is a trap. Seek to become a dedicated student and you will appear to be a master to others. Only because they do not have the mental fortitude or discipline to take responsibility and do the work. Therefore you look like a master of destiny. You have accomplished what they fear and that is what makes you an alchemical master.
Every day I read the articles of my peers, I read a book a week, take online courses (both paid and free), but most of all I seek growth and learning. And that’s what makes me successful.
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“Cockiness breed laziness” – Ali Shakur
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