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“Always compete with yourself”, Adrian Sullivan and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Always compete with yourself. The biggest competition will always be in the mirror and if you make yourself the best, you start to realize no one else can stop you. As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian Sullivan. Adrian […]

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Always compete with yourself. The biggest competition will always be in the mirror and if you make yourself the best, you start to realize no one else can stop you.


As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian Sullivan.

Adrian Sullivan is a former D1 athlete who played football for Temple University. He is now a driven mental health advocate, focusing on mental wellness, nourishment and growth. He has a passion to help young professionals and business leaders unlearn negative habits and mindsets so that they can create a more positive, abundant life for themselves and those around them. He is also currently writing a book on self-development to jumpstart young professionals on their journey towards empowerment.

Adrian is the co-founder and president of Rockstaws Incorporated (RSI), a black-owned media agency based in Philadelphia. RSI’s mission is to share their stories as successful black men to inspire and empower other young black men and women. They believe in the power of creativity, sharing and giving back to their communities.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I am from Long Island, New York. My mother’s side of the family is from Babylon and my father’s side of the family resides in Hempstead and Queens, New York. At four years old, my father passed away and as a result, I grew up in a single-parent household. My mom is my rock and always did everything she could to make sure I had everything I could ever need. She instilled belief and confidence in me from a young age. I was also very close with my grandparents and uncle as well. An interesting part of my upbringing was having adopted siblings. I have two adopted brothers and an adopted sister. They are all special needs and have taught me how to have love, compassion and understanding. With a strong family unit, I always felt empowered to be successful. I grew up playing basketball and football. Sports were an integral part of my life and I was determined to be the best student athlete I could be. I loved working hard, competing and proving myself. That sparked me to be a Division 1 athlete at Temple University and take that same work ethic into business.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete?

My uncle, Andrew Dees, inspired me to take football seriously. He played and coached in the NFL. Seeing the heights he took his career gave me motivation and inspiration.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My mom has offered me the most encouragement to be who I am today. I remember my mom being really hard on me when I would get B’s in school and being disappointed. She always believed in me and knew that I was a high-level achiever and expected my best. Not settling for mediocrity or anything but my best effort was a great standard my mom helped set for me.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Before my first college football game I played in, I was so excited and anxious to prove myself. During pregame warmups, I tripped, fell on my face and brought a couple teammates down with me. I am not a clumsy person at all, so I was shocked but had to laugh at the situation. It taught me to just relax and not put much pressure on myself.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

The following are a few strategies that I do for high stress situations. A. I meditate before high pressure moments. Being still helps me to gain my focus. B. Visualization — I try to see what I need to do in my head before I go out and perform. C. Prepare — Preparation breeds confidence! I try to extensively prepare for the task at hand so I do well.

Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful businessperson?

After I did not make it to the NFL, I struggled to find my path. However, I knew I wanted to help people and I had the urge to be a leader. This manifested in me becoming a mental health advocate and the president of my own media company, Rockstaws Incorporated. I took the work ethic and leadership from being an athlete and infused it into my approach on life and business. I want to be at my best and help others to be at theirs.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?

Right now, I am working on a new company website and merchandise for my media company. Collaborating with my team has been really exciting and I know our audience will be impressed with what we have to offer.

Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?

I would for sure say that being an athlete gives you skills to be a great entrepreneur. The main skill that was a carryover is work ethic and going the extra mile. Getting extra lifts, sprints and film all correlated to being better on the field. That same mindset to go further and beyond helps me have an edge as an entrepreneur.

Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Five lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from athletes.

Always compete with yourself. The biggest competition will always be in the mirror and if you make yourself the best, you start to realize no one else can stop you.

Confidence. It is necessary you believe in yourself. You need to trust that you are good enough to accomplish your goals.

Fighting adversity. Even when things do not go your way, you need to be resilient. I have found out more about myself from my failures than accomplishments.

Attacking the task at hand. Athletes are mindful of the details and small tasks. Taking it one step, one moment and one play at a time is critical. My main focus is to win each day that I can. Once you win every day, you realize you bigger picture takes care of itself.

Rest and recovery. Perhaps the most important part of being an athlete is getting recharged and rejuvenated. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a project. The best way to avoid burnout is to work hard but definitely work efficiently.

What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?

My advice to a young person that wants to follow my footsteps is to trust yourself. Everyone in the world can tell you that you can’t do something. As long as you always affirm yourself, the outside world is just noise.

You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have used my success to let people know that there’s always a reason to smile! The hard times you go through just let your story be that much better. I want to be transparent and say I’ve struggled a lot during my life. We all suffer and being successful to me is simply making the pain that we go through worth it.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would want my influence to start a revolution of people trying to understand and love each other. As humans, we do not always need to agree with each other. However, I would love to start dialogue where people learn to have empathy for one another. Doing your best to fully see from someone’s point of view is one of the most powerful things you can do.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Comfort is the enemy of growth.” We all need to step out of what we are comfortable with in order to be our best selves. Adopting better ways to live is the best way we can see positive changes in our lives.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would like to meet William Wesley. He is the executive Vice President and senior advisor for basketball operations with the New York Knicks. He is someone I respect. I think that as a black man, it is hard to work your way up that high. I would love to ask him how he did it and what he would tell younger black men looking to achieve at a high level.

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