Focus on the process: If you are as ambitious as I am, there is no stopping, which is why I raise the bar after every goal that I hit. For those like me, if we focus our happiness on results, then we will never be happy. Instead, focus on the journey, embrace the struggle, and be thankful for what we have. Hard work pays off.
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 Jason Patel. Jason is the founder of Transizion, a college and career platform that is focused on closing the Opportunity Divide in America. His expertise has been cited in the Washington Post, BBC, Fox Business, NBC News, ABC News, Reader’s Digest, and a host of other top outlets. Jason is a Brazilian Jiujitsu purple belt, power lifter, and former nationally ranked boxer. He brings his competitive spirit everywhere he goes.
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?
As a working student at the George Washington University, I served as a career ambassador, where I coached students through the job-search process. I fell in love with helping others navigate their futures and illuminate the shrouded path ahead. The idea of mentorship was imbued in my heart and awakened within me the love for providing valuable guidance. It is a special thing to be a small part of someone’s life, irrespective of whether they remember your contribution. Each of us lives for only a short period of time, so there is something captivating about using our limited time to contribute to the success of others.
During college, I also trained martial arts, especially Muay Thai. I made the coveted fight team and fought in the World Kickboxing Association National Tournament. Afterward, I started Brazilian Jiujitsu and have not look back since.
After graduating from GW, I volunteered to help students in Washington, DC with their college and job applications. I showed them how to evaluate colleges, properly write essays, fill out applications, and choose a college major. A few of my students had massive success with my approach, and their mothers recommended that I start a business on college and career prep. And so, Transizion was born. Since then, we added dozens of team members to our company and guided students to thousands of college acceptances and millions of dollars in scholarship awards.
It has been a wild ride. I love what I do and want to encourage more young people to pursue entrepreneurship. This is where one part of America’s spirit lives — in the hearts of young people who want to take on legacy industries and change their small part of the world.
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?
When I first started my business, I built a solution for schools without having asked a single educator whether they would have purchased such a product. I spent a year watching my bank account dwindle, going broke, waking up at night in a sweaty frenzy, and, overall, getting mentally beaten down. No one bought my product, even after I had pitched it to over 50 potential buyers. This was my first serious foray into entrepreneurship, and it was a disaster.
I then decided to recalibrate and figure out what I was doing wrong. After reading startup books and watching Y Combinator videos, I realized how important customer feedback is to the growth and eventual success of a company. This is when I pivoted.
I took our product, cut out all the bloat, and began selling to individuals, not schools. This was a fantastic idea. Although we got little traction the next two years, I saw a much larger market opportunity. In 2019, we grew 7x. Now, in 2020, it looks like we are going to need to scale even larger.
All told, I learned that you need to constantly adjust, pivot, and adapt. I was always great at making personal adjustments, but pivoting in entrepreneurship is another beast of a task. You not only need to make calculated decisions, but, sometimes, you just need to grind. You cannot always use finesse in the earliest stages to navigate your way toward success; often, blunt force and horsepower will push you forward just enough to fight another day. For three long years, our busines struggled, but we are now a growing brand with data to prove our colossal potential.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We match advisors, otherwise known as mentors, to high school students; the mentors then guide the students through high school, college applications, and into college. What we do exceptionally well is match students to mentors based on personality and career ambitions. In other words, if your child is a social butterfly who wants to go into machine learning and coding, we will match him up with a mentor who has experience in machine learning and is also talkative and energetic.
The best example of this was with our student Megan. She grew up right above the welfare line and lived through some traumatic life events. Her mother and father valued education but could not spend a lot to get help with the college guidance process. Our price point was significantly more affordable than that of companies in Megan’s geographic location, which is why she worked with us.
Megan wanted to become a pre-natal nurse, so we connected her work a pre-natal mentor, who guided Megan through the entire college process. Through many sessions and late-night work with her mentor, Megan received a full scholarship from Stanford and an acceptance to Harvard. She is at Stanford studying pre-natal nursing now.
All told, we match students to best-fit college counselors, coaches, advisors, and mentors better than any other company on the planet. We are immensely proud of that.
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?
In a previous piece with Thrive, I spoke about a fellow named “Terry,” who has helped me immensely in my business career, from providing advice to giving intros to making time in his busy schedule and helping our company.
I will talk about my friend Gannon this time. Gannon is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu, one rank ahead of me. He is a world-class grappler, phenomenal athlete, and future world champion, all despite spending only 22 years on Earth. A guy with Gannon’s profile has every excuse to be arrogant — he is a phenom that only a relatively small number of people in the world can beat up. Still, Gannon carries himself with humility, kindness, and is always willing to offer feedback without an ounce of chauvinism in his voice.
Over the past year-plus, Gannon and I have met twice per week to drill Brazilian Jiujitsu. I have competed extensively in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiujitsu, but Gannon still finds ways to improve my game. He is precise in his feedback and, most important, provides reasons as to why certain techniques are more efficient than others. Gannon is a machine that spits logic.
As I’ve tremendously improved with Gannon’s help, I’ve also become a better businessman. Through my learning, I’ve discovered how to better think through problems clearly, break preconceived and wrong thought models, and further understand the iterative nature of life. I am thankful for Gannon’s help.
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 the habit of moving forward and pushing through obstacles despite your primal desire to quit.
Resilient people keep their eyes on the prize, are flexible on details but stubborn on vision, and do not allow hardships to block them. Failure is not a permanent fixture in a resilient person’s life. They always bounce back.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My mother and father, both immigrants and now small-business owners, are obvious choices, so I will give you someone more unorthodox: 50 Cent.
Born Curtis Jackson during the height of the drug war in South Jamaica, Queens, 50 Cent’s mother dealt drugs to make end’s meet. He never knew his father. When 50 Cent was a teenager, he moved into his grandparents’ home, where he shared a living space with a dozen other people. An unruly teenager, he took up dealing drugs and was “successful” at it until he was caught by authorities. To better his time spend, 50 Cent took up rapping, where he feuded with New York’s biggest hip-hop stars, making lots of enemies in the process. One of his adversaries retaliated, sending a hit man, who shot 50 Cent nine times.
After the shooting and subsequent grueling recovery process, 50 Cent was blackballed by the music industry, because executives did not want to bring any trouble to their record labels. Seeing that his path to prosperity was blocked. 50 Cent took the dirt road and released independent albums, otherwise known as mixtapes, and bypassed the record labels. With his incredible story and trademark slur, which came as a result of getting shot in the mouth, he generated so much buzz across the country that Dr. Dre and Eminem signed him to their record label. Soon after, 50 cent released the seminal album Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The rest is history.
The point is simple: When no one cares about you, then you need to generate your own buzz, your own energy, your own momentum. This is applicable to every profession. Once you are unapologetically you, you can create something that others want to get behind. Failure is only the final result when you accept it as such.
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 was bullied a lot, from my toddler through my teenage years. I have had countless people tell me that I could not learn how to fight. Once I reached college, I wanted to learn mixed martial arts, so I trained at BETA Academy, a DC sports fixture, four times per week and lifted weights vigorously.
Six months later, I was invited to the fight team. A year later, I fought for the World Kickboxing Association national championship. Unfortunately, the wear and tear of Muay Thai took a toll on my body, where I tore my labrum and was out for a year after surgery. To ease myself back into training, I took up Brazilian Jiujitsu and quickly caught the “bug” — known more prosaically as the BJJ craze — and have trained and competed frequently since.
We can build ourselves into whoever we want to be, so long as we take the time, remain patient, and are willing to fail along the way. Resilience is about getting back up, roaring back every time you fall, and never allowing struggle to cloud your vision of the future. Things can and will get better if you put mind to matter and work toward your goals. Most of all, resilience comes from adapting, from learning from mistakes. Rome was not built in one day.
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?
This is less a significant setback and more of something that truly stings: During my first year of business, I went to a local happy hour that hosted prominent businessmen. We could ask them questions about their entrepreneurship journey.
I struck up a conversation with a particularly successful former CEO of a massive travel booking company — if I told you the name, you’d know the company. The guy was, for lack of a better word, an asshole. He belittled me, offered no helpful advice, and raised his voice at me despite my asking genuine questions. The man told me I would never make it in business, that I was not smart or skilled enough to scale my company. Th whole bar was looking at us, as if I did something terrible that deserved a berating from this former CEO.
Fast-forward a few years, and I have used this man’s words as motivation. We’ve built a great company and fostered many healthy customer relationships. The sky is the limit. I hope to meet him again one day and gently tell him how wrong he was, and that belittling others, just because they don’t have as much money as you, is fundamentally inhuman.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
As I mentioned a little earlier, I was bullied a lot when I was younger. Some terrible experiences, including having two kids try to stab me in a middle school bathroom. All told, I learned that there is never giving up.
To give a more recent example, when I started my business, things were going terribly. I then had to get three part-time jobs, including one cleaning bathrooms, so that I could pay my rent and afford food. I ate only eggs for only one year, just to save money. I did this while running my business so that I could gain experience and not pull money out of my company. I worked smart and hard, which has allowed us to grow into the company we are today. We are not as mighty as Amazon or Apple yet, but we’re proud of what we’ve built.
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, Become a stoic: Read “On the Shortness of Life” and “Obstacle is the Way.” These books will change your perspective, and life.
2. Reframe your struggles into opportunities: Every obstacle you face is a chance to get better, to improve your skills and mind.
3. Focus on the process: If you are as ambitious as I am, there is no stopping, which is why I raise the bar after every goal that I hit. For those like me, if we focus our happiness on results, then we will never be happy. Instead, focus on the journey, embrace the struggle, and be thankful for what we have. Hard work pays off.
4. Take each obstacle one at a time: Do not focus on what is five steps ahead of you. Instead, focus on what is right in front of you. Deal with that problem and focus on defeating it, now or in the long-term. All told, do not worry about problems that don’t exist now. Worrying twice over does no good.
5. Eat well and treat your body like a temple: I work out six days a week, including Brazilian Jiujitsu, deadlifting, and squats. If you feel good and put good things in your body, your mind will benefit. Fuel your mind with the right inputs.
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 think outrage is killing American politics and our country’s ability to work toward common solutions. Politicians are so afraid of taking risks that they play to their own crowd and grandstand whenever convenient. Twitter politics is hamstringing America and forcing us to ignore problems that could otherwise be solved today.
The movement I would aspire to create is one that encourages Americans to calm down, not listen to the Twitter totalitarians, and treat fellow Americans with respect. Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas. Same goes for individuals. We need each other, and if this country is going to provide an opportunity to all those who are willing to work for it, then the government needs to work.
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 want to grab lunch with Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber. His journey from struggling as an entrepreneur to getting his life threatened by Hollywood bosses to, of course, building Uber encapsulate the American spirit in some ways. He’s always building heads down, focused. Of course, he made mistakes, but he, too, is a human being. The man is an American pioneer — he’s learned from his mistakes, which is why his next ventures will dominate their respective markets and change lives for the better.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!