I was speaking in downtown Atlanta this past week at the Outbound Sales conference when I decided to look for the brick I had bought before the 1996 Olympics that would become one of the pavers in Centennial Olympic Park. I was 25 years old at the time and couldn't remember what I had inscribed on my brick to commemorate the occasion.
I do remember, however, the excitement and buzz in Atlanta as we awaited to host the Olympics. I was 23 when I moved to Atlanta after college. I arrived with a few suitcases, a pillow and nervous excitement about the possibilities that awaited. I wish I could say I had dreams of being an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and an aspiring writer and speaker. But the truth is I had no dreams or plans. I just wanted to move to a new city and create my life.
I started out waiting tables and working as a para-professional in a school for kids with behavior disorders. I eventually would find a bartending job, get my Masters in Teaching from Emory University and teach while I also bartended. One day I asked the owner of the bar next to where I worked if he would ever sell his place. When he said, "Son everything is for sale," I found some investors/partners and, without any business experience, bought his place and made it a successful hot spot in Buckhead.
Three weeks after the bar opened, I met my wife while standing on the corner as she walked by me. She was having dinner with a friend and wasn't interested in coming into my bar. If you read Relationship Grit you know the whole story of how she blew me off and I eventually got her to go out with me.
While owning the bar I ran a non-profit I started called The Phoenix Organization (we raised money and volunteered for youth focused charities such as the Boys and Girls Club), ran for the city council of Atlanta (sometimes you have to lose a goal to find your destiny) went to law school for a year and half, quit and went to work for a pioneering technology company that delivered data from computers and servers to any mobile device. I was the one who first worked with the NFL to first put scores on mobile devices. We were way ahead of our time and unfortunately were spending a lot more money than we were making.
In 2001 I moved my family to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, sold my bar to my partners and watched my life and career fall apart as the company I worked for crashed along with the rest of the dot.com industry. As I wondered how I was going to provide for my family and pay my mortgage and bills, I desperately prayed and asked what I was born to do and why I was here and that's when writing and speaking came to me.
I thought about all of this as I walked around Centennial Olympic Park looking for my brick that I created what felt like a lifetime ago and many failures and successes along the way.
After about an hour of searching I was flooded with emotion when I saw it. It had been there for 26 years and had likely been walked on by millions of park visitors over the years. But on this day, I felt as if I struck Gold.
Inscribed on the brick was, "Jon loves Kathryn" and the date of our upcoming wedding. I thought about my past, how I met my wife, the life we have built together, 25 years of marriage, the children that we have who are now 24 and 22 and the future yet to be created. See the video here.
Looking back, I realize I didn't have a plan but God did. I think too many young people today believe they need to have it all figured out and have their whole life planned. But sometimes the best plan is not to have one. It requires more trust and less fear but this allows magical moments, including failures and successes, to shape your life and become your destiny.