Austin McCulloh: “To develop resilience, take time each day, without any distractions, to sit and think”

Take time each day, without any distractions, to sit and think. Even if this is only for 10 minutes, sit in silence and think about your thoughts. Analyze how you feel and why you feel that way, and also pay attention to what you naturally tend to focus on while in silence. In this interview […]

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Take time each day, without any distractions, to sit and think. Even if this is only for 10 minutes, sit in silence and think about your thoughts. Analyze how you feel and why you feel that way, and also pay attention to what you naturally tend to focus on while in silence.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Austin McCulloh. Austin is the Principal Consultant & Founder of Austin McCulloh Advising, which is a human capital consulting firm that is on a mission to help business professionals, such as financial advisors and entrepreneurs, achieve their full potential. As Austin always says, “Life is much more fulfilling when you begin to realize what you’re capable of”, so he wants everyone to see this for themselves.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

Ittook me all the way up until my junior year in college to realize that I needed to get my life together. While I have always been a motivated individual, all of that effort until that point, unfortunately, had been put toward my athletic abilities and not my business career.

After this pivotal point during my junior year, with my college graduation drawing nearer and nearer, my focus became my business career, and it began to flourish. I first became a licensed financial advisor, and I was then elected to be on the executive board of two, large student finance organizations, Financial Management Association (FMA) and HawkTrade Investment Club. Also, by the age of 21, I started my first successful business, Supercorn Tutoring. Following, I graduated from the University of Iowa, and soon after, went on to start my second venture, which is my human capital consulting firm, Austin McCulloh Advising.

Most importantly, in a matter of only three years, I completely turned my life around. This was through an absolute daily commitment to self-improvement. I transitioned from being a college junior, who genuinely did not know the difference between equity vs. debt, to a young executive who is now a serial entrepreneur.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

As a student at the University of Iowa, I made it a point to get as involved as I could in my junior year, especially when I knew I had quite a bit of catching up to do. This included joining the two student organizations mentioned above.

While on a professional trip to Chicago for FMA, I ended up getting into the backseat of a taxi with a few other Chinese students, who were also from the University of Iowa. During our short ride together, we exchanged contact information. A few days later, I received a text message from one of them notifying me that he had a new business idea he wanted to run by me, so we set up a time to meet at a local restaurant.

Throughout our two-hour lunch, we put together a rough business plan, which eventually led to the creation of my first startup business, Supercorn Tutoring. This new business became an online hiring agency that recruits & manages English tutors for Chinese online education companies, and this business continues to be a passion of mine.

What I learned from this is that you truly never know where a great opportunity might come from, so you need to take risks and put yourself out there. The odds of my business partner and I getting in that taxi together in a city 4 hours away from the University of Iowa were quite low. What made it even less likely is that I almost didn’t attend the University of Iowa for college in the first place because, for quite some time, I had been considering schools in Arizona. Meeting this young, random Chinese student lead me to an opportunity that has changed my entire life trajectory, and I am forever grateful for how it has played out so far.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My perspective and passion for people and what I do make my company stand out.

I do not have superior intelligence, and I was never focused on being a straight-A student. Simply put, I’m driven and obsessed with improvement, and that is what I promote and encourage others to do through Austin McCulloh Advising.

My consulting business is for high achievers who know that if they consistently put in the hard work, it will produce the fulfilling life and extraordinary results that they have always been searching for.

I am in pursuit of becoming a primary thought leader for the Gen Zers out there, and I am on a mission to show every single person of any generation in this world their incredible potential. The earth is full of bosses, not leaders, and it is time for leaders to empower the people on their teams instead of having bosses break down their employees.

At Austin McCulloh Advising, we challenge our people and clients to consistently strive to be their best, even if that entails a little discomfort. Short-term discomfort can and often does lead to long-term fulfillment.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

While I am forever grateful for both of my parents and the many blessings they have brought into my life, there is one person who has really helped me as a young professional. His name is Jason Bohannon.

When I first began my young business career, Jason saw something in me that others didn’t. Was it extremely high intelligence? No. Was it an impressive business track record? No. It was the intense passion I had for wanting to be somebody. Not only has Jason done very well in his career, but he is also the best leader that I have ever worked with, and he has helped mold me into the man I am today.

While not one specific story stands out, one overall word does, and that is: belonging. No matter what time of day, what day of the week, or how busy he was, Jason always made sure to provide assistance when I needed it, and I truly cannot put into words how much I appreciate this. Truly, for much of my childhood, I never really felt like I fit in, and I often felt like a burden to others. So, having such a great role model in my life who had such a welcoming presence allowed me to open up and be confident in my own skin.

If there is one bit of advice that I can provide to any aspirational individual out there, it would be to find yourself a mentor. Jason is kind, empathetic, positive, smart, and incredibly patient, and I can confidently say that he has changed my life. I hope everyone has a leader like Jason in their lives to help them along the way.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is when you make the decision that you will achieve your goal no matter what battles lie ahead, and you will continue to get up no matter how many times you are knocked down.

Resilient people…

  1. …do not give up. You most likely have heard the Japanese proverb, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” No matter how many times you knock down a resilient person, they are always going to get back up.
  2. …are always focused on their ultimate purpose — their “why”, which is often much larger than themselves. They know that if they give up, they are not only letting themselves down, they are letting many others down, as well.
  3. … internalize their pain and reframe it into passion. We all have problems; we all have dark days. What matters is how we respond to these challenges.
  4. …have desire. Simply stated, they want it more. They want it so bad that they are constantly focused on the end goal, and they put in the action to continue pursuing their objectives no matter what obstacles arise.
  5. …are positive and always look at a situation in the following terms: ’What can this failure help me learn?’ or ‘What lesson can it teach me?’ rather than, ‘Why is this happening to me?’

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Inky Johnson comes to mind right away.

This is a man who worked ridiculously hard while growing up to earn a college football scholarship, and in his last season before he most likely would have been a highly sought-after NFL draft pick, he suffered a career ending injury that paralyzed his right arm. He could have sat there and felt sorry for himself, but did he? No. He kept his chin up and is now one of the best-known motivational speakers out there. He had his entire life’s pursuit derailed, and instead of allowing this injury to get him down, he leveraged it and used his situation to his advantage.

I remember listening to motivational talks of his before some of my football practices or before workouts while I was a student at Iowa Central Community College before my transfer to the University of Iowa, and his talks gave me the encouragement I needed to keep pushing on even when I didn’t want to. If he could take such a devastating situation and turn it into a positive, I decided that I had absolutely no reason not to give it my all each day.

Inky is a perfect example of resilience, and I will be forever grateful to have had his presence bless my life.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

I will never forget when my academic advisor told me as a junior in college that I would never be able to work on Wall Street because my grades weren’t good enough.

Her message of, “You aren’t good enough.” rang loud and clear, and all I could think of in my head was how wrong she was. I told her about my passions, where I wanted to be in life, and how I would do whatever it took to get there, but she was blind to my intense desire, and all she could see was my grade report. Did my career path end up leading me to work on Wall Street out of college? No, but her statement wasn’t intended to be so specific, anyways. Her meaning was that I wasn’t smart enough to work with the “top performers” and I simply just did not agree. So, I took it upon myself to pave my own path and prove what I was capable of, regardless of what my grade point average reflected, and the rest is history.

If anyone reading this has been doubted before, let those doubts fuel your fire. Just because someone wasn’t able to achieve their goals doesn’t mean you can’t achieve yours.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Yes — one of my greatest setbacks was when I tore my ACL for a second time during a football game in college, and I realized that it was time for my athletic career to end.

The worst part about this injury wasn’t the immediate pain, the fact that my football career had ended, or even the discomfort after surgery; it was the isolation that I encountered within the following months. I was not close friends with many people from high school anymore, and I had recently graduated from Iowa Central, so I began to notice myself frequently resorting to using social media to keep my mind distracted from my inner loneliness. Realizing the toxic relationship I had with my social media usage, I made the decision to go an entire month without using any of it.

While this time frame was ridiculously isolating, as I went multiple weeks where almost all of my communication was only with my parents, this really raised my self-awareness to a whole new level of consciousness. It forced me to truly think about where I was in life and decide where I wanted to go.

Tearing my ACL for the second time turned out to be one of the biggest blessings in my life, and I would go through it all again if I had to. I’m a very firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and I know this test was part of my testimony.

With the right perspective, any negative situation can eventually turn into a positive. As I always say, “Contrast is what makes life beautiful.”

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Truly, I thought long and hard on this question, but no glaring story stood out, and I believe that brings up a very important point.

Especially on national stages, we focus on the big, dramatic circumstances where we expect people to have a life-changing experience in the blink of an eye to change their entire life trajectory, but I’m not sure if that’s how life works for everyone.

I didn’t get along well with kids throughout my childhood, wasn’t the most gifted athlete, and was never the smartest student. I haven’t always been in the best financial position, haven’t always been happy, and there have been many times that I lacked direction.

My point is, the little details that add up over time can be just as impactful, if not more impactful, than the big, traumatic experiences. And overall, I’m so very fortunate for the many, little setbacks and challenges because each one has pushed me to be a better version of myself.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Take time each day, without any distractions, to sit and think. Even if this is only for 10 minutes, sit in silence and think about your thoughts. Analyze how you feel and why you feel that way, and also pay attention to what you naturally tend to focus on while in silence.
  2. Try something entirely new, completely on your own. For example, start a new job, join a new group, or move to a new location. Reason being, when we are taken out of our comfort zone, if we have someone to lean on for support, we will lean on that person. So, be intentional about removing that support option, so you can go deep within yourself to find the solution, rather than finding it from an external source.
  3. Do one thing each day to get yourself out of your comfort zone. For example, for me, this is taking a cold shower each morning. It never gets easier and that’s actually the point. When you do something that you don’t want to do at the beginning of each day, it just makes the whole rest of your day, and the challenges included, that much easier.
  4. Listen to others who are in the position/role that you want to be in. For example, a big role model of mine is Ed Mylett, and he is quite transparent in his podcast, social media posts, etc. about his own insecurities and failures. When you listen to others who are extremely successful and know that they make human mistakes, too, it truly does help you continue to persist and keep moving forward through your own struggles.
  5. Have faith. Whether it is faith in your own abilities or trust in a higher, spiritual being that is leading the way, it’s crucial to know that each step you make, you’re getting closer to the life you want. We all go through battles and the tough part is that they don’t all come at the same time and/or intensity for all of us, but having faith helps you stay strong through the times when you so badly want to give up.

You are a person of great 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 love for each person in the world to dedicate at least 10 minutes each day to sit in silence with absolutely no distractions and think about their own thinking. This one action opens the door to self-awareness.

I do not consider myself to be insanely intelligent or to have innate abilities that set me apart from the average person. But, I do consider myself to be ridiculously self-aware, and this is something that I believe each person should strive to increase on a daily basis because it is fully within their control.

A higher self-awareness has led to the successes I’ve had at a young age. As a result, I have found great satisfaction and fulfillment through my ventures. I believe this can be true for everyone because when you know yourself well, you know what you want. When you know what you want, you know what to pursue, so you begin living the life that you want to be living.

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

I would be beyond thrilled if I could have a private breakfast with Tony Robbins.

I began listening to Tony when I started to “wake up” as a young adult going into my junior year of college, and he has changed my life in such a positive way. Tony’s past is full of resilience, his present is remarkable, and it’s incredibly inspiring to know that he is where he is even with the upbringing that he had.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Please reach out to me at any one of the below social media handles or links.

Email: [email protected]


LinkedIn: Austin McCulloh

Instagram: austinmcculloh

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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