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“The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success”, with Author Joe Mechlinski

Perfection is an illusion, we are all humans who are destined to mess up a couple of times. But after each misstep, you have to remember that it’s not your fault. Stop letting your feelings of shame and guilt override your spirit. It’s okay to let yourself feel upset, but don’t stay there. Every minute […]

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Perfection is an illusion, we are all humans who are destined to mess up a couple of times. But after each misstep, you have to remember that it’s not your fault. Stop letting your feelings of shame and guilt override your spirit. It’s okay to let yourself feel upset, but don’t stay there. Every minute you spend regretting the past is a minute you take away from practicing for your future.


As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Mechlinski. Joe Mechlinski is a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and social entrepreneur who believes that an engaged workforce is the key to unlocking human potential. To transform the purpose of business and revolutionize workforce engagement, Joe founded SHIFT, a collective of businesses spanning consulting, executive membership, and venture capitalism.

SHIFT has been recognized by the Baltimore Business Journal as one of the “Best Places to Work” for five consecutive years and by Inc. Magazine as a national “Inc. Best Workplace” for three consecutive years.


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?

Growing up, I learned my most significant business lessons from my father, who was always loyal to his company and maintained great friendships with his coworkers. At one point, his company conducted major layoffs, but he was fortunate enough to be kept on board.

Although we felt lucky, he had a difficult time seeing his former coworkers experience the hardships of unemployment. While they searched for jobs, they had to settle for unfulfilling work to simply pay the bills.

This unhappiness led to them to disengage from their families, community and personal development. Without seeing a purpose towards their work besides making ends meet, their relationships suffered.

Through his experiences and perspective, I recognized that our relationship with work has the power to transform our quality of life, for better or worse.

Shortly after graduating from Johns Hopkins University, I founded SHIFT, a management consulting company, to help organizations connect with their passions and purpose, improve work culture, and boost employee engagement and performance.

Eighteen years later, we’ve added two businesses to create a collective that encompasses our belief that business has a direct impact on our communities. In 2014 we launched SHIFT Society, an exclusive membership group that brings together business leaders and entrepreneurs of purpose-driven companies. Then, in 2017, we established SHIFT Ventures, a venture capital company to invest in entrepreneurs with innovative businesses serving societal needs.

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?

In 2011, I decided to take on a new endeavor after facing a few challenging years. Leading my company through the “Great 2008 Recession” was tough, but it was even more disappointing to see other companies experience the same hardships, or worse, shut their doors.

What I discovered in that vulnerable time period was that business growth doesn’t have anything to do with outside circumstances, like the industry, economy, or government. It’s all about the people behind the work, and how you invest in their happiness. This moment of clarity inspired me to write my first book.

But here’s the thing. I knew what I wanted to say, but I struggled writing my ideas down and putting my thoughts together. As a new author with limited writing experience, literary agents told me no over and over again.

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

Every time I felt defeated, I thought of my father’s positive spirit throughout each tricky time at home and at work.

Even though rejection is not easy to swallow, you need to keep believing that you’re worthy and deserving. If you’re doing anything that goes against the grain, rejection is unavoidable. As long as you’re comfortable with failure, you can do anything.

Instead of giving in, I spent a year learning how books get sold and what makes a book successful. I gathered my insights and interviewed c-suite executives from different companies to offer readers diverse perspectives.

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

After months of searching, I finally found a publisher. The book, Grow Regardless, was an overnight success. I was suddenly invited to conferences, book parties, and readings across the nation. It made the New York Times bestsellers list, and I was interviewed by national outlets, like Bloomberg and Fox News. Although these milestones were an honor, it’s not what I find successful about this story.

This book was originally meant for small businesses to compete with big businesses. Small business owners heard me loud and clear, what I didn’t expect was hitting home with big players, too. Companies such as Microsoft, New Balance, and John Hancock resonated with my messages about creating a culture of empowerment and equity, and engaged us to work with them.

This experience taught me what grit is and isn’t. It is about believing in your ideas and fighting for them to be heard. But it’s not about achieving the definition of success you’ve been picturing in your head.

Of course, continue making your dreams a reality, but be open to what opportunities come up along the way. Don’t be afraid of the audiences you end up attracting, because they are a valuable part of your story. I didn’t know it at first, but our company was destined to grow beyond what I originally had in mind. We’ve evolved into multiple businesses that support companies big and small, all because of Grow Regardless.

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)

Don’t have an opinion about experiences you haven’t had yet.

I love the saying, “You have to go there to know there.”

We all live in a bubble in some respect. That’s not the problem. The problem is we stay there. We don’t know what we don’t know, so be open to learning new opportunities and having new experiences. An important note about developing grit is to not become obsessed with what your success will look like. You will get there, but it’s never the exact picture we paint in our heads.

For a real-life example, I think about the entrepreneurs in SHIFT Ventures’ Conscious Venture Lab. Our entrepreneurs think a little differently about capitalism because they believe it’s a tool for societal good. They now have fantastic ideas for innovative business models that are positively impacting their industries, but they had to let go of their pre-programmed opinions to make this change.

Without their ability to dive into the unknown and ask “what if?” questions, they wouldn’t have found their success today.

If you don’t know something, go learn something.

Big ideas rarely come with an instruction guide. When I started SHIFT, I had no experience running a business, but I quickly realized that everyone is learning as they go. Whatever you’re pursuing, you’ll find someone else is trying to do something similar, so take it as an opportunity to learn from them.

Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, for my podcast with HRCI, Inevitable: The Future of Work. She debunks the theory that talent determines success, explaining that talent can often be a distraction for long-term success. Everyone is born talented, but few continue developing the talent in the face of failure.

You could have the athletic abilities of an Olympian, but quit after your first bad game or score. It’s about changing how you view and rebound after failure or adversity in your pursuit of your goals. Continue learning about what you did wrong and how you can improve for next time.

Remember that you will make mistakes, but you are not a mistake.

Do you think there is anyone out there who is perfect? No.

Perfection is an illusion, we are all humans who are destined to mess up a couple of times. But after each misstep, you have to remember that it’s not your fault. Stop letting your feelings of shame and guilt override your spirit. It’s okay to let yourself feel upset, but don’t stay there. Every minute you spend regretting the past is a minute you take away from practicing for your future.

After every major setback, I recommend giving yourself a timeframe for how long you want to feel upset. It could be an hour, a day, or a few weeks, but make sure you don’t let negative self-talk rule the conversation in your head. Then, make a plan of action for how you will tackle the problem the next time.

Do the work. Roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches.

At a first glance, it’s easy to look at famous celebrities, politicians, or CEOs and think that their lives are easy, or they just stepped right into their positions of power. But that’s not the case.

Behind every success story is a person who used their grit to move past tons of rejection, sort through piles of paperwork or research, and forfeit hours of sleep and quality time with friends/family to keep working. They did the hard work to get where they are. Work is intimidating for everyone, but I suggest ignoring your doubtful thoughts.

Instead of avoiding work like the plague, just take five minutes to start an assignment. I guarantee once you get past those five little minutes, the rest will start to feel a lot easier. The only way to do anything is to just do something.

Have humility and appreciation throughout the journey.

Again, hardships are not optional throughout your career. The only way to heal, and get better, is to hurt.

As I was recording my first podcast, Shift Happens, there were so many little things that went wrong. We faced common problems such as sound issues, tracking subscribers, finding new guests, and figuring out the promotion schedule.

But instead of stressing over the small details, we learned to have fun in the process. We were able to laugh at ourselves and find humor through the hiccups. I also learned the importance of building genuine connections, and thanking everyone who helped us launch. Now we have a fantastic network of recommendations, and a strong community of support.

Don’t forget work can be fun, and your stories of trials and triumphs will be great to share one day.

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?

Yes! My wife, Erica, who is the friend, sister, and partner you need on your side. She sees me, hears me, and understands me. She gives me the confidence to be who I am, but doesn’t let me fall into bad habits.

We have two great kids, and she helps me become a better father every day. When I was on my speaking tour for Grow Regardless, I completely failed to be attentive to my family’s needs at home.

Instead of letting it go, she didn’t. She called me out on it, and I’m so thankful for that wake-up call.

Because while I was enjoying my success, I forgot that an important part of any success is balance. Grit does not just apply to your work life, it applies to how you treat your home life too.

Using my grit, I was able to move past the shame I felt and become better and more involved with the people I care about.

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

At SHIFT, we’re obsessed with looking at things a little differently. Capitalism is one of those ideas. Instead of viewing capitalism as a source of profit, we believe it can incorporate purpose to elevate society.

This is why in 2017, we partnered with the Conscious Venture Lab to form SHIFT Ventures to invest in dozens of entrepreneurs who are introducing new technologies and business models that are serving societal needs and underserved populations. Last month, we graduated our fifth group, and are proud to say the majority are owned by female and minority founders.

Each year, we host a four-month accelerator program to help these entrepreneurs develop their business plans alongside elite mentors. The program concludes with a pitch demonstration in front of local and national investors to provide them with strategic feedback and valuable connections. Upon graduating, our participants have reached major milestones including opening new store fronts, attracting new investors, receiving national press attention, and one even secured a deal on Shark Tank.

I plan to continue this momentum at SHIFT with each new project or client we take on. We are constantly evolving, but I believe our success stems from the positive changes we are constantly adding to the world.

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

This year, we are staying focused on preparing ourselves, our network, and our clients for the future of work and digital transformation.

To get ahead of these trends, I partnered with HRCI last year to launch my second podcast, Inevitable: The Future of Work, to speak with thought leaders about our rapidly shifting workforce, and how we can adapt our people management skills alongside advances in technology and automation. A year into its initial debut, the podcast has achieved a 5-star rating, released 32 episodes, reached 1,200 subscribers (and counting), gained 24,000 downloads, and honored 7,751 HRCI general recertification credits.

Our annual event, SHIFT U, hosted by SHIFT Society, will be another strategic initiative this year. Designed for business leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs, our 2020 event will center around futurizing the workplace and disclosing innovative methods for keeping up with advances in technology, digitization, automation, and organizational trends. Last year, SHIFT U 2019: Complicated Conversations attracted more than 150 leaders from across the nation and featured speakers Richard Saul Wurman, founder of TED and Steven Kotler, bestselling author and leading expert on high performance. We are excited to continue bringing in dynamic thought leaders for our event this fall.

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

If you’re having a bad day, or going through a difficult business stretch, please remember one thing: the negative inner voice and dialogue in your head is only a small part of you. That’s just your ego, and be cautious while listening to it.

Be careful who you listen to, including yourself. See if you can change the voice to say something a little different and more positive.

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. 🙂

Getting employees to go all in at work. Seek out their passions, truly fall in love with the work, and show up each day totally engaged. It’s this kind of shift our workplaces, communities, and world needs.

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

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

At SHIFT, we believe work and life are intertwined. The amount and quality of effort you put towards each task is constant. That’s why it’s so important to do work that fulfills you — it extends to every other aspect of your life.

I practice this at home and work by switching around one word: Instead of saying, “I have to…,” I’ve changed it to “I GET to…” This has completely changed my perspective, and increased my gratitude towards every single task.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow updates from SHIFT and myself here:

Facebook: @shiftthework

LinkedIn: @shiftthework

Instagram: @joemechlinski1

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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