Four Years Ago, I Graduated from Business School and Didn't "Use," My Degree. Why That Was the Best Decision of My Life
Hey guys. I haven’t written in a while. I usually use Twitter or my podcasts (cheap plug, go listen to Muscles and Management if you haven’t already) to express myself, but there was once a time I wrote A LOT. When I first got started, I think it might have been a combination of “this is what most people do,” and overall trepidation of speaking and not being pre-meditated, but off I went with a blog that I would write on twice per-week. I would sit in class in my last semester of business school explaining how to build your bench, squat or arms and supplement the articles with Instagram videos of me (I didn’t have clients yet) doing the exercises. It was pretty cool. I gained some traction while also gaining the ire of some of my professors while I profusely typed away while they tried to explain human resource management or marketing protocol (oh business school). Anyway, I am approaching the four-year anniversary of my graduation from business school and I thought it would be a fitting time for the rare occasion where I dust off my keyboard and put some words on a Microsoft Word document. This is conjuring a bit of nostalgia for me and I am reminiscing on the days I didn’t have ANYTHING. With that said, I wanted to tell you a bit about how things started for me and why going down the “unknown road,” ended up being the GREATEST decisions of my life.
Since I was a child, I was always good with words. I remember being eight years old around the table with my mom, aunts and grandmother and just reading a long, drawn out soliloquy on “life,” (aka something undoubtedly inspired by something I heard on the news or some tv talk show earlier that week). I was always the “English guy,” in school and had a knack for writing very strong papers (starting as early as middle school). I always remember feeling like I didn’t belong, though. You always see stereotypes of the muscular or “big guys,” in movies or tv shows and how they could care less or were not very “good,” at school. I felt uncomfortable in the ways in which it may have not been accepted or normal for “someone like me,” to write a good paper or have an immense and articulate vocabulary. I even remember being written off by a teacher I had in sixth grade who couldn’t believe I had been accepted into the prep school I applied to and her doubt that I would ever become anything. It just wasn’t normal or accepted for someone like me (my size, desire for sports OR being raised by two parents who busted their asses working but didn’t go to college) to be “smart.” It sounds foolish, but I always felt that way. That I didn’t belong with the sons and daughters of the doctors and lawyers and that I had to be embarrassed on my reading and writing abilities or being able to get good grades in school.
Fast forward a bit to middle school. I remember going to my “campus tour,” for a prestigious prep school I was applying to and that part of this experience was my parents having an interview with the dean of admissions. My father is an incredibly smart and gifted man in MANY ways, but he is DEFINITELY NOT a white collar, “higher education,” type of individual. We just didn’t belong there. He wasn’t comfortable having to dress up for the occasion and that is something I definitely inherited. The dean expected all parents to be “politically correct,” and not 100% forthcoming about their beliefs and opinions and that just isn’t my dad. I will tell you what, though. I could not be prouder to be his son. He is one of the smartest people I have ever met in areas you cannot always quantify with a book or test. That brings me to my mother. If there was ever a person I had to thank for pulling me along through my academic experience and holding me to a standard of high quality it was her. From studying with me at the kitchen table and making sure I was prepared, to pushing me to high level prep schools and the path to high level colleges. I wouldn’t be here without her!
Where am I going with all of this? I guess what I am saying is that I never felt I belonged in corporate America, higher education or any areas like that no matter how smart someone told me I was or how well I performed. I had watched my blue-collar father run a business my entire life and watched my mom ascend the corporate ladder with a secretarial school degree. I watched my mom deal with the stresses of having a boss and my dad have no one to answer to. I wanted to do THAT. I wanted to start something on my own and be my own boss. However, I had NO CLUE what I would do or what kind of business I would have. Once it came time to pick a college, I had settled on a small Division III baseball program at a school I had never heard of, but man what a school it was. I had the privilege of attending Babson College and being immersed in one of the most highly regarded and prestigious business education environments in the world. My mother’s advice to me when it came time to pick a school and major was that since I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do; I should major in business. It was a well-rounded education that would leave me with a lot of options. Well, that was what I did.
I spent two great years at Babson learning and gaining valuable business knowledge before I became very homesick and wanted to transfer back to New Jersey. I had classes with some incredibly smart individuals who now are probably on their way to run companies or have upper echelon corporate jobs. I knew that life WASN’T for me, though. Even as I made my way back to Rutgers to finish my business degree (again, I was incredibly blessed to be afforded the opportunity to attend another GREAT business school) I just could not wrap my head around the idea of being this awkwardly looking jacked guy in a shirt and tie sitting in a cubicle. I didn’t want to do internships and I just had zero drive to go on interviews and “act the part.” It wasn’t for me and I was staring down the barrel of begrudgingly accepting this fate because it was the “normal,” thing to do and because it was far less risky than any other avenue I could explore.
Then came my senior year at Rutgers and a leadership class that changed my entire life. Three professors from outside the university who were charged to change the direction of all twenty students in their small elective class.
I will be honest; I was there to fill credits and get my degree and then try and figure out what the hell I was going to do afterwards. However, they inspired all of us to look for what we were passionate about and how we should use it to make our lives better. They made me aware of how passionate I was about fitness and strength training and I became hell bent on finding a way to put this plan into action and make it happen. It was on from there. I went and got a baseline level certification to get things started and approached an old mentor of mine for direction. Next thing you know I am starting an LLC at my kitchen table before I even had one client and I still had a semester of college left! I got weird looks and I am sure many people thought I was crazy. How could I “throw away,” my business degree and education for a radical attempt at entrepreneurship in a field where people with master’s degrees struggle finding jobs? Truthfully, I didn’t care. It’s weird looking back on it now, but I genuinely didn’t have any doubts that this would work out. I made it my mission to put my head down and work, create content consistently and carve out an identity and make a name for myself and Challenger Strength. I trained a couple athletes for free, took a low paying job with some upside and let my intuition and education do the rest while growing experience would fill in the gaps.
It is really insane to me that this has gotten to this point. Five years of coaching, four plus years of having a business and four years since I departed from my last day of college with my business degree and drove right back to the gym to keep training athletes. Hundreds of athletes, multiple teams and we are just getting started. I am writing this for the person out there who doesn’t want to “fit the mold,” or has a dream they just haven’t acted on yet. I could be sitting behind a desk right now instead of continuing to grow something I love, am passionate about and drives me to wake up every morning and attack the day. Take it from me. Have a plan, go out and start to check off boxes and get things done. Put blinders on. Thank you for reading this, thank you for helping me grow my dream and thank you for being a part of my journey as a coach and businessman. To this day I STILL cannot believe I am here. God bless.
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.