Ray Custis: “Healing is essential when developing GRIT”

Healing is essential when developing GRIT — As a former athlete I developed a false sense of what GRIT really was. I was led to believe it was just about pushing through when times get hard. Accepting that reality caused me great pain in my relationships and career life. I had learned to not deal with my […]

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Healing is essential when developing GRIT — As a former athlete I developed a false sense of what GRIT really was. I was led to believe it was just about pushing through when times get hard. Accepting that reality caused me great pain in my relationships and career life. I had learned to not deal with my feelings and emotions which caused toxic build up of frustration. This frustration led to poor decision making. It wasn’t until I went to therapy and got a coach that I was able to unpack all of my trauma. As I went through the healing process, I discovered a new definition of GRIT. GRIT is the ability to persevere while healing through the process.


As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ray Custis. Ray is a Certified Integrative Wellness Life Coach, PRP Counselor and Co-Founder of ThryvLife356 DBA Purposeful Promise LLC, located in the D.C. Metropolitan area. Ray began his coaching career by pouring into youth groups and athletic teams, at the age of 19. He eventually branched out to serve and consult government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and our U.S. military. Now he is a sought out life strategist in the D.C. Metropolitan area where he helps companies and individuals thrive in all areas of life.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path.

Being a former collegiate and brief professional athlete helped me to discover strategies to manage my toxic upbringing. I grew up in a home where mental, emotional, and at times physical abuse was present. Because of this, I sought out strategies to cope and manage my anger and frustration through athletics. I dove into personal development seeking everything I could on changing human behavior and developing a GRIT mindset. My journey began my junior year in high school when my high school football coach told me to tell my parents that I would be receiving a full scholarship to go to college. No one in my family had ever gone to college or received any scholarships for that matter — this was the beginning of me breaking cycles. After a major knee injury before the season started, I experienced deep depression not being able to play that year. My odds for receiving that scholarship became slim to none. However, I didn’t give up. I was given my first personal development book by Tony Robbins called “Awaken The Giant Within.” This fueled me to look within and to create a new perspective on life. It changed my life because it changed how I viewed my current circumstance and what it meant. Fast forward a year later to my senior year when I received a full scholarship to the University of Maryland. I knew the experience of my mental transformation would help so many others transform their minds if they were open to these empowering belief systems and strategies. And for over 15 years, I continue to find the best strategies to change my life and the lives of others.

Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Growing up through mental, emotional, and at times physical trauma taught me at an early age to develop grit to survive my unhealthy environment. Athletics became an outlet for me to nurture my grit in a healthy manner. As a former collegiate and professional athlete who was 5’8’’, 180 pounds, I embraced the ingredient of grit because of my size. After two knee surgeries in my athletic career I was able to be the first to go to college in my immediate family receiving a full athletic scholarship, and the first to sign as a free agent to a professional football team.

Finally, after losing my identity in football I went through a season of depression and feeling lost. Developing my grit muscles helped me find purpose and passion in serving others to create a thriving life through healing, self-love, and vision. This led me to having a family of my own which exposed all of my insecurities, fears, and limiting beliefs. Through therapy, counseling, coaching, and most of all grit, I was able to heal and free myself to create the life I deserved to live. Now I am able to coach and counselor from a space of experience and not just book knowledge.

For me grit wasn’t about pushing through, it was about healing through.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

My drive came from my connection and relationship with God. The more I learned about the creator, the deeper my hope was in my future. I realized that life was always working for me, causing me to grow even in the most difficult situations. When I looked back over my life I was able to connect the dots and realize there was a beautiful harmonic balance of struggle, success, and grace.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

GRIT led to success in my life because it helped me to see my life as it was and not worse than it was. It led me to seek strategies to manage through dark moments in my life like depression and the pressure to perform at a high level whether it was on the football field or in the private sector. Grit was the ingredient to assist me in renovating our families first home while my wife was pregnant with our first child. Grit was the force that pushed me when I lost my job and chose to take on side jobs to take care of my family until the next opportunity was created. Grit was the essence to get up in the middle of the night multiple times to care for our newborns and still go to work for 12–14 hours a day. Grit was and still is the catalyst for me to heal through life and continue to make progress.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. Take ownership of your focus — Our brains are powerful. Your RAS (Reticular Activating System) takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then sorts through the information and presents only the pieces that are important to you. And all of this happens on autopilot. Remember when you were shopping for your first car or shopping for desired clothing apparel? After your purchase, you began to see your new car or that new outfit everywhere you went. The question is, were those items always there or did your RAS prompt your focus to notice those items that were always there? The reality is those cars and outfits were always there. Your brain just wasn’t prompted to focus on it. As you continue on your life’s journey, be mindful of what you focus on. Many times the answers you’re seeking could’ve been right in front of you the whole time.
  2. Do something daily that takes you outside of your comfort zone — I dreaded having to get into an ice bath after a long day of football practice. It was extremely uncomfortable to numb my body from the waste down, to then experience the pins and needles of the blood rushing back through my legs. Talk about being uncomfortable. However, this undesirable practice helped me to control what my mind was going to think and do. It helped me to understand that I control the mind, it doesn’t control me. And because of this, my grit muscles developed more strength.
  3. Find the empowering meaning — In life, we will experience difficulty and discomfort. However, the meaning we give these experiences will determine whether we heal and press forward, or quit with wonder of what would’ve happened if you didn’t give up. Take this 14 year old girl who was molested during her childhood and early teens and became pregnant, had a son born prematurely and died in infancy. This young girl could have decided that the last 14 years would define the rest of her life. Or she would decide to find the empowering meaning in her life and become the most influential and wealthiest African American of the 20th century. This young 14 year old girl is Oprah Winfrey. Find your empowering meaning.
  4. Plug yourself in a GRIT environment — As a seed requires proper soil in order for it to germinate and grow healthy, we require healthy environments that will foster our personal growth in this life. Think about the groups of friends you grew up with. You had similar interests, beliefs, and values. This is what drew you to those friendships. As you matured, those interests, beliefs and values might have changed because you were exposed to a healthier and more fruitful life. This may have resulted in you acquiring a new set of friends. Your desire and intent to reach your potential requires an environment that will assist in that potential being manifested. Plug yourself into a grit environment that will constantly challenge you to be your best self.
  5. Healing is essential when developing GRIT — As a former athlete I developed a false sense of what GRIT really was. I was led to believe it was just about pushing through when times get hard. Accepting that reality caused me great pain in my relationships and career life. I had learned to not deal with my feelings and emotions which caused toxic build up of frustration. This frustration led to poor decision making. It wasn’t until I went to therapy and got a coach that I was able to unpack all of my trauma. As I went through the healing process, I discovered a new definition of GRIT. GRIT is the ability to persevere while healing through the process.

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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

Coach Randy Trivers was my high school football coach. When I met him my junior year he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He pulled me into his office after a week of summer workouts to tell me to go home and tell my parents that I was going to college on a full scholarship. No one in my family had ever gone to college, let alone receive a full scholarship. Before the season began I tore all of the cartilage in my knee that resulted in missing out for the most important season to a student-athlete at that time. Coach Trivers didn’t change how he felt about my situation. He held me accountable for the commitment that I made and encouraged me through a dark season in my life where I experienced depression because of this experience. His primary focus was to help me focus on the things I could control. And because of this, I was able to rehab at a more expedited pace, and was stronger and faster than I was before the injury. I’m grateful for Coach Trivers because he enhanced my faith in myself and in God. The results landed a full scholarship to the University of Maryland during my senior season.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have used what I define as success to serve our underprivileged youth by coaching and mentoring them to develop GRIT through various strategies and techniques. Through speaking engagements, workshops, and one-on-one coaching, I assist our youth in developing healthier mental, emotional, physical and spiritual lives.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have been working on building the ThryvLife365 community. It is the support network and safe space where you will receive practical application ideas, tools, techniques, and resources to self-invest, and become your best version of yourself. Many of us know the “what” we want to change in our lives, but don’t know “how” to change those things, and why we should change them. I believe our community is an environment where people can heal and become more self-aware of themselves. When healing and awareness are coupled together, we can create a new Earth.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

I would suggest that executives or founders adopt a company culture that promotes mental and life health. It has shown that employee mental health costs rise twice as fast as all other medical expenses. Many companies have underlying concerns of a toxic culture and it affects the companies financial growth and longevity. Those companies that invest in their employees’ mental and life health see a 60%+ return on their investment according to a Deloitte. Healthy employees equate to a healthy company.

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 inspire a movement in regards to self-healing for the nations. I believe the deep rooted pain that exists in individuals is manifested in the physical world by violence, abuse and trauma. This movement would have the intent of creating more love and awareness of self and others.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Learn to learn.” This quote sums up how I attempt to live each day by learning from my mistakes, successes, and unforeseen circumstances. The desire to be a lifelong learner of myself and others has assisted me in creating healthier boundaries and decisions that are congruent with my beliefs and values. It has helped me to realize that the minute you think you know it all, life has a way of reminding you that you have so much more to learn. Learning has been a catalyst to saving my life from destructive decision making. As I continue to experience the gift of life, learning has been an intimate experience in which I’ve grown deeper in love with God, my wife and children, and the calling to help others thrive.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

IG — @RayCustis, FB — www.facebook.com/groups/thryvlife365/, https://www.facebook.com/rcustis

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