Be Proactive: Although you may be stuck at home as a current or recent graduate, now is the time to educate yourself on your future profession. Do your research, reach out to peers, mentors or employees and ask if they are willing to speak with you on the phone about their company culture, their day-to-day projects and their career goals. Maybe this is an opportunity to go out or reach for that company that you never thought would look at your resume.
As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Copeland.
Brandon Copeland is a husband, father, son, brother, a believer in Christ, an entrepreneur and a professional athlete. He is from Baltimore, MD and lives in New Jersey when he is not at work as a linebacker for the New England Patriots. He graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Management and Entrepreneurship. Since college he has been chasing his dream of building an empire in various interests fueled by his different passions. He and his wife, Taylor, own and operate two real estate companies (one specializing in flips and the other, in rentals) and a nonprofit organization called Beyond the Basics Inc. Their organization looks to help young people understand and realize their true potential through unique events and exposure to opportunities.Through what he describes as a “roller coaster ride of a career”, Cope is entering his 8th season in the National Football League. He has battled through being told he was not good enough and a season-ending injury to a starting linebacker in the NFL.
He has lived his childhood dream of playing for his hometown team, the Baltimore Ravens, and since then has played with the Tennessee Titans, the Detroit Lions, New York Jets, and is currently playing for the New England Patriots. This upcoming offseason he will enter into his third year as an Ivy League professor at his alma mater. His course, called “Life 101” focuses on financial literacy and teaches the constants of life (budgeting, credit, how to purchase a home, etc) that he felt our education system left undiscussed upon graduating. His goal is to use the college classroom and platform as a launch point to get the information to everyone, ultimately arming everyone with the tools needed to make confident money decisions and over time help shrink the wealth gap!
In his free time, Brandon enjoys getting out of his comfort zone by traveling to experience different cultures around the world. Wings are his favorite food (blue cheese, NEVER ranch) and J. Cole is his favorite rapper.
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 was born in Baltimore, Maryland in a predominately single parent household with my younger brother, Chad. I played multiple sports — basketball, football, lacrosse, track, and even made the swim team. I was never a shy individual, branching out and exploring my own creativity in extracurriculars and hobbies around the neighborhood, however I became extremely anxious when tasked with public speaking. In high school, I recognized that football could be a tool to take me to places that I may have otherwise not had the access to.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete?
My grandfather (Roy Hilton) was the biggest motivation for me. He played 11 years in the NFL and even won a Super Bowl for the Baltimore Colts (9) and also played for the Atlanta Falcons (1) and New York Giants (1). He never pushed sports on to me, but I naturally gravitated to football because I was trying to emulate my hero.
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?
Narrowing it to one person is difficult because it is true when they say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” There have been so many people in my life that helped mold me into the man that I am today. The person that helped me the most would be my mother, Angela. She did everything in her power to put my brother and me in positions to be successful. If I had to pinpoint one vital thing that she did it would be her tireless work to ensure we had the best education possible. She was and is the definition of sacrifice, as she would do anything to give my brother and me an opportunity to pursue our dreams. I’ve been blessed that the women in my life have been exemplary examples of perseverance, intelligence, strength and grace.
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?
I wouldn’t call it a mistake but I was a quarterback my freshman year of high school. It was ultimately a fun experience, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. (I was good too despite what the critics would say.)
The lesson I learned was not to be afraid of trying new things. People will try to put you into a box based on a variety of factors. Because I was the size of a pro-typical lineman, that is what I was expected to play. Playing quarterback resulted in one of the most fulfilling seasons because I was just playing for fun; I wasn’t playing to earn a scholarship or (later on) to feed my family. I was playing a game and position I was in love with.
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?
One of my favorite mantras that I live by, both on and off the field, is “you can’t stress what you can’t control.” In anticipation for those unexpected moments in life, I like to keep my mind focused on these three strategies:
- Establish a Game Plan: In football and business, you need a plan to get from where you are today to where you want to go tomorrow. I like to concentrate on tackling the right plays to reach my goals, and sometimes that means focusing on small victories. Every victory reinforces your resilience and helps sustain your motivation to reach your end goal.
- Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: Generally, the game is won or lost before you step on the field. Whatever the obstacle you face — managing your personal finances, determining how to turn your passion into a reality, balancing work and life — you need to dedicate the time and energy toward educating yourself, setting a plan, sticking to it, and continuing to check-in and celebrate progress along the way.
- Choose to Win for You AND Your Team: When people ask me how I find the strength to persevere through the exhaustion in the third and fourth quarters, I always have the same answer: I think about my family and my teammates. Studies show that your motivation increases when you are doing something for others, even more than traditional incentives like money or reputation. Both on and off the field, I am amazed at the human capacity to overcome challenges with others.
Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
Football is my passion but realistically I won’t be able to play the game forever so that’s why I’ve made it a priority to ensure I’ll be prepared financially for the long-term. I’ve seen what happens when people spend their money quickly, only thinking about the ‘now’ and not thinking about the long-term implications so that’s why I’ve pursued my entrepreneurial tendencies like starting two real estate companies with my wife.
I’m also passionate about financial literacy for younger generations. I am a college professor and teach a course called “Life 101” that focuses on the constants of life such as budgeting, credit and how to purchase a home. Interestingly, new data from the Capital One College Student Survey found that 66% of college students surveyed say they feel unprepared to be financially independent without the help of their parents. My mission both in the classroom but also in business and investment, is to start positively changing that stat.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
First and foremost I am working to be the best husband and father I can be. I’m learning something new every single day, but the joy I get from raising a son with my wife is unparalleled.
I am also working on an e-course to make my “Life 101” (money/life skills) concepts readily available to a wider audience. My foundation, Beyond The Basics Inc. continues to find ways to empower individuals to realize their full potential with events throughout the year that bring smiles to people’s faces.
I am also building out my consultant & advisory firm, Copeland Media. We offer an entire ecosystem of services to our partners and clients to ensure that the end product reflects the vision we create, together.
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 think the sport of football helped hone the skills it takes to be a “successful” human being, and in turn an entrepreneur. In football, you have to constantly adapt to a changing environment — new coaching staff, new position, new game plan — that requires a nimble mindset. Learning to “control what you can control” and having a mindset ready to problem SOLVE has helped me immensely.
Take COVID-19. My team prepared and planned months ahead. When lockdowns began, we did not panic. Instead, we assessed the situation and were able to salvage a lot of our planned activations, safely and productively. In my opinion, that is the essence of entrepreneurship, moving forward regardless of the obstacles in the way.
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.
As my college students pursue their passions, I encourage them to translate their work ethic to their life beyond college, including managing their financial education and career. These 5 work ethic lessons, which I’ve cultivated at a young age, are especially for them:
- Be Proactive: Although you may be stuck at home as a current or recent graduate, now is the time to educate yourself on your future profession. Do your research, reach out to peers, mentors or employees and ask if they are willing to speak with you on the phone about their company culture, their day-to-day projects and their career goals. Maybe this is an opportunity to go out or reach for that company that you never thought would look at your resume.
- Stay Focused on your Goals: Whenever I face a challenging decision, I think about the big picture and ask myself, “At the end of my days, will I look back and smile on this?” Keeping your goals top-of-mind gives you a much higher chance of being able to look back on the decision in hindsight with confidence that you made the best choice possible given the circumstances.
- Use a Playbook: You can’t really be prepared to take on challenges without the right educational resources and tools. I, like my partner Capital One, are committed to helping college students to grow at a college/university, gain greater confidence in their understanding of finances, develop career skills, and assist in their emotional and mental well-being. Their first-of-its-kind, national program, First-Gen Focus, will provide year-round, free support to first-generation college students through virtual workshops, access to mentors, and career exploration experiences.
- Listen to your Body: If you truly are a hustler, you may have already worked yourself into the ground at some point. Don’t do that (again). Pay attention to your physical, mental and emotional health because by ignoring your biological infrastructure, you put your short and long-term goals at risk.
- Stay United with your Peers: This is the time that strengthens us and may, surprisingly, offer better opportunities to build and innovate, together. Start to construct your peer-to-peer network at a young age to create working relationships with people who can act as a sounding board to your ideas, no matter how “crazy” you think they might be.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
I encourage all my students to create as many options and plans for yourself, leaning into your passions and interests where you can. Having options in anything you do is always a good thing.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have done a good job of leveraging my platform to help underserved communities around the country through my foundation, Beyond the Basics Inc. I don’t mean to be grim, but when I am on my deathbed, if folks are talking about a tackle I made, then I have fallen short of my purpose; to serve this world with the talents God has blessed me with.
It is events like our “December to Remember Holiday Shopping Spree” where we provided a free dinner and $200 spending spree for 350 kids and young adults across six states that are legacy defining. Another example, “Be A Blessing Food Initiative,” surprised over 500 grocery store shoppers with $50 gift cards to provide a pleasant surprise during this time of depressing news and pain.
In short, I’d challenge anyone reading to pull others up the ladder as they climb, instead of waiting until you reach the top to help the person behind you.
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 champion a movement of financial wellness. The reality is that we live in a capitalistic society and money is a tool. While it doesn’t automatically equate to happiness, a lack of money can cause stress.
It is expensive to be poor. If I can inspire just one person to take their finances seriously at a young age, then that (to me) would be a success. A lot of us want to change the world but never get started because that can seem like an overwhelming and daunting task. I challenge everyone to focus on changing one person. When you accomplish this, you have just changed the world.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
Every moment is precious and you should treat it that way. The moment is already gone, so max it out.
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 🙂
Jamie Foxx. If you ever get the chance to examine his story and the career he has created for himself you would probably be extremely inspired like me. He has used his comedic talent to pursue his true passion of music, showing that dreams require work and sacrifice, plus creative thinking to reach your top goals. Check Eric Bishop’s story out and let me know what you think! 😉
Contact me @bcope51