It took two major losses in his 20s for writer and coach Jason Kiesau to begin to see where he was meant to go in life.
Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from Jason’s new book, FOCUSED: The Future Starts Now!.
It was March 2001. I was 23 and was sitting by the phone in my bedroom at my parent’s house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I was expecting a call from the Creative Director with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets about a graphic design position I interviewed for the week before.
Two months before my interview with them, I had my one year review for my first job out of college. I was a graphic designer at an ad agency, and some may have described me as a little too confident and ignorant for my own good. Going into the review my expectations were to go in and receive praise, get my 3% raise, and walk out feeling happy. Ignorant for sure! In reality, my boss told me things weren’t working out, and he gave me three options that had nothing to do with me continuing to work there.
- We could part ways on the spot and I could go home, and receive pay for two weeks.
- I could put in my two week notice and they could “release me” on the spot so it appeared it was my decision and I was moving on.
- I could put in my two week notice and I could continue to work over the next two weeks.
Once I finished crying, he told me I could go home, think about it, and let him know. I chose option three. My ego was shattered, but even with my level of ignorance at that time, I knew the right thing to do was to finish my work over the next two weeks and leave them in the best spot I could. On my last day, I remember my boss brought me in his office and praised me for the character I showed given the situation. It meant a lot back then and has stuck with me today. Thank you, Mark! Fourteen years later, I am still grateful for the leadership my boss exhibited and how he handled that situation. I did not deserve it.
Sometime over the course of my final two weeks with the ad agency, I was sitting at my computer and heard the familiar “You Have Mail” notification from my AOL email account. It was an email from the Creative Director with Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He said someone had sent him my website and my design skills impressed him. Based on the sports focus in my design portfolio, he thought I’d be interested in their open position. He was right; I was very interested.
I spent February of 2001 going through the Hornets’s recruiting and hiring process. I had phone interviews, I completed design projects they loved, and finally flew to Charlotte to meet the design team and interview with members of leadership. After arriving in Charlotte, I had dinner with the design team and we wrapped up the night with a late night tour of the Hornets’ corporate office. I remember feeling confident and building great rapport. At some point I asked him what he thought. His reply: “If nothing disastrous happens we will probably offer you the position tomorrow.” The job was mine, and I was on cloud nine.
Though no official offer was made at that time, they told me to expect a call by the end of the week. But the call never came.
Almost an entire week after I was supposed to hear from them, I got an email from the Creative Director. Do you want to guess what the email said?
“Dear Jason, Thank you for your interest in employment with the Charlotte Hornets. Though we enjoyed learning about you, we have decided to go in another direction . . .”
Another direction? Say what?
After the initial confusion, anger, sadness, and self-pity wore off, I picked up the phone and called him. When he answered, my emotions were clear, yet everything stayed professional. He was a little uncomfortable as well. I expressed my confusion because everything appeared to be moving in the right direction. He explained I said something during the tour that concerned him, something that made him question my attitude and work ethic.
I remember the moment like it was last night. It was around 9PM, and we were walking through the creative area within the Hornets’ headquarters. He was explaining their design-to-print process. It was different and far less cumbersome than what I was used to at the ad agency, and I celebrated that while letting him know what I did not like about my old process.
And that was it. My celebration mixed with my remarks about the old process made him question whether I was the right person. He decided that I was not. When he told me what cost me the job, all I could do was shake my head.
That was the moment that changed everything. That rejection was the “kick in the balls” that finally dropped me and had me questioning whether I was going to be able to get up.
This was my Identity Crisis.
That night, my mind was going crazy as I lay in my bed, reflecting back on my entire world and questioning everything. I thought about childhood, how I grew up, and all the mistakes that I made. I had to come to terms with the fact that not only did I lose my first job out of college, but I screwed up the chance at a dream job, all in a span of eight weeks. I remember wondering if I was destined to be a screw-up and whether things would ever be good enough. I came to the conclusion that either life was supposed to be a struggle or something needed to be learned.
Option one didn’t sound good, so I accepted that something needed to be learned. At that moment I made a commitment to learn and listen. I put myself on a mission to understand success and characteristics of successful people. The mistakes and struggles were tiring and I wanted a successful and fulfilling life. I had no choice.
I spent the next four months working full time at a copy shop and saving money in preparation to move to Des Moines and go back to school. In August of 2001, two weeks before my 24th birthday, I packed up all my stuff, moved out of my mom’s basement, and started back to school in Des Moines.
Two of my first classes were Sociology and Psychology of Success, which fit the new mission I was on. Both classes challenged me to think about myself and the world around me in new and exciting ways. Throughout that first semester, I couldn’t get enough of this stuff and I could feel myself changing as I continued to learn about success.
The cherry on the sundae came when I was in Target one day looking at books and I decided to buy The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. I didn’t know anything about Stephen Covey or his book, but something about it appealed to me. I wanted to understand success and the characteristics of success and the title made me feel like it aligned well with my mission.
That book changed my life.
When I finished The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and all the exercises in it, I knew I wanted to spend my life coaching, counseling, teaching, training, or speaking. I wanted to help people experience the personal growth I was experiencing. I grew up wanting to teach elementary school and the book helped me reconnect with who I was and what I was passionate about–helping people. It challenged me to identify my values, set my standards, and create a vision and plan based on those values and standards.
In a matter of six months, I went from a scared 23-year old to a revived 24-year old who wanted to change the world. The only problem: I wasn’t sure how. At that time I only had an associate’s degree in Visual Communications, and zero experience coaching, counseling, teaching, training, and speaking. Outside of my teachers, I didn’t know anyone who was doing what I wanted to spend my life doing. My vision made me realize that I had a lot of work to do if I was going to have the life I wanted.
I was up for the challenge and put myself on a five-year plan and set the goal that by 30 I would be coaching, counseling, teaching, training, or speaking. It was at that moment my “By 30 Vision” was born.
I spent the next five years committed to working my “By 30 Vision” plan. I continued to self-study. I went back to school and completed my BA in Organizational Management and Communication, all while working full-time in positions that either aligned with or helped me learn skills that supported my success. In 2006, three months after I turned 29, I accepted a position as Business Coach with EMyth Iowa, where I worked with small business owners all over the country helping them connect their businesses with their values and passion.
YES! I achieved my “By 30 Vision,” and what I learned through that process has been the foundation for everything else I have done in my life: parenting, serving my community, and managing our training department at work.
As I got older, I realized I was studying and practicing leadership the whole time. The challenge I gave myself from the age of 24 to 30 is the same challenge every leader faces, whether it’s leading themselves or a Fortune 500 company.
Your 20s are or will be the most important years of your life. A successful mentor of mine is often asked how he reached so much success at such a young age. His response, “I didn’t waste my 20s.” Think about what the world expects of you. When you graduated high school you were forced to decide what you would do the rest of your life. Between the ages of 18 and 25, you are expected to make major life decisions that will impact you forever; decisions that may lead you to a life of opportunity or struggle, happiness or frustration, meaning or regret.