Justin M.

When I was little, I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be as good and popular as Michael Jackson. But not because I liked singing, I was actually pretty terrible. I wanted to be a singer so people would like me. I moved from house to house somewhere around 8-10 times in my life - all during elementary school. Because of this I never actually stayed in a school longer than for a single grade..even half the year in some cases. Shy wasn't even the word to describe me back then. How was I supposed to make friends? I was always the weird new kid who kept to himself. Scared to open up and have feelings because I knew the second I started caring I'd probably have to pack up and leave..start all over again. 


Then I decided maybe I'd be a fighter. Be like Mike Tyson and fight my pain and anger away. Be silent and fight the scars of missed friendships and normalcy. Of course this didn't work because I was too nice and couldn't hurt a fly. Eventually I always ended up being the guy people would come to about to to vent about their problems. I was a good listener because I obviously didn't talk much. At that point I never really had much to offer other than my time to silently listen.Some people really appreciated that. 


Later I thought maybe I would be a pilot. Fly away from my problems, be alone, be able to go anywhere I want, I was used to constantly leaving anyway - plus aviation sounded like such a cool word. This didn't work out either because I was afraid of flying and the only thing I knew about it was literally the word aviation. 


By the time I finally became somewhat "normal" I was already in College and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I spent so much time trying to reconcile my childhood, make friends & overcome shyness that I had no time to actually think about the real world. I ended up working typical retail sales associate jobs part time. I remember walking to Levis in Times Square feeling pretty excited to apply. I interviewed, they told me no....I came in a week later to actually shop and happened to get along with an employee who told me I should apply. I told him I tried and they said I didn't have enough experience but he asked what I had to lose if I tried again. I talked to this other manager and ended up having an on the spot interview and walked out with a job in less than 15 minutes. Ever since then I was so intrigued by the interview process and how people are chosen. They literally told me I wasn't good enough a week before, this new guy asked me the same exact questions. I answered them the exact same way. I got rejected and hired by doing the same exact thing. Why?


I knew I wanted to fix that one day. There are good people out there who beat themselves up about situations like this and as it turns out, its not always their fault. It can be shitty managers and inconsistent practices. That place did a lot of me as far as letting me see and do things typical sales associates weren't able to....initially anyway. I was the fake mini HR manager helping with interviews and office stuff but my ambition was too much for them. Eventually they ended up developing a vibe of "why is he so special? lets just make him do normal stuff". It really hurt me that wanting to do more and learn new things was so taboo. 


I moved on to a few other retail jobs with the same mindset of trying to open doors that everyone was afraid to even knock on. Corporate visits used to scare people, even managers - they wanted to make sure the clothes were folded perfectly, and everyone was super buttoned up , alert and other dumb stuff. I on the other hand, never cared. At least not in that way. To me, they were people, just like you and me. I wasn't going to pretend I was someone I wasn't just to please these "corporate suits" for 10 minutes. I believed, if this company hired me for who I am, why change that? That culture should be authentic and I wasn't going to be afraid to be me. So while everyone was increasingly bothering customers to act like they were working harder, I talked to these people in corporate like they were any other person and it paid off. They were so used to people who bend over backwards for them that they told me it was refreshing to see someone stand their ground and tell them what its really like.  


One thing led to another and I eventually was able to become one of these "corporate suits" or in this case "corporate leather jackets" at this place called AllSaints (They sell a lot of leather jackets if you didn't get the joke). Thats where I got thrown into the real world and started learning a ton of new things, specifically around developing a culture, staying true to your identity and figuring out how to pick the best people in the world to help your mission. I jumped around a few more times to other companies before eventually understanding what I truly wanted to do in life. 


For so long, I kept looking for a title. What job would I have in ten years? And how much would it pay? I was going about it all wrong. What I really should have been asking is what impact do I want to leave on this world before I leave it? The answer to that for me professionally is wanting to help employees reach their potential. There were so many people like me who had real ambitions but maybe not the same drive to overcome barriers that are set up to hold us down. I was able to break through because I'm a little crazy and relentless, but everyone shouldn't have to be that way to be able to do bigger and better things. I want to make sure companies don't lose their own people who have the capacity to learn more and be who they need them to be. Personally, my goal in life is to help people understand that we have the true ability to make substantial change collectively whether that be fixing corrupt political systems, creating a more sustainable environment, helping with poverty/homelessness or basically any issue people think are too big to fix. My message is to never stop fighting. We all have our problems but we own the power to change things, both for ourselves and the world.