This interview is based on the popular article that Rodney Miller shared on LinkedIn — Life’s Journey: How Athletics Shaped My Definition of Success. I’ve known Rodney for years and to say that his candor is a breath of fresh air would be an understatement. Coming of age pieces can be the most powerful because the reader can find themselves inside the story! For many kids growing up, athletics is the inflection point where competition, self-assessment, and camaraderie meet. For many, it’s also serves as escapism.
Here’s the deeper dive…
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Krish: When did you overcome your anger issue as a kid? What caused it? Can you point back to a specific time when you noticed it was finally resolved?
Rodney: As a kid, I think most of what I defined as “anger” was steamed around frustration. Given the circumstances with my family, my mother was the sole provider and we were living paycheck to paycheck. The idea of sharing with my brother meant sharing just about everything, including clothes. Living quarters and space was tight. I think in part many of those elements created frustration and volatility in how I reacted to things. Each time my mom felt we were moving forward from the ongoing financial himmerages, it would be one step forward, two steps backwards. It angered me to see my mom have to deal with this reality and dashed all my plans/hopes in anticipation of the financial binds loosening. This established a mindset of “expecting the worse”, “glass half empty”, “lashing out of fear”, “failure”…Oh, and let’s not forget the elephant in the room… The fact that I had no father or “father-figure” in my life at an early age(or at any age) surely contributed to this anger as well. As I got older and more structured in my athletics and schooling, things started to feel different. I started to feel as if I was in control of my own destiny and would be able to do things in my future to provide for my family(my mom).. Looking back on my youth and having had hundreds of conversations with friends over the years, I don’t feel this emotional disposition was that uncommon. What is different may be the effort one puts forth in acknowledging the reasons for this emotional disposition and how it has impacted your path in life. The “anger triggers” never go away. For me it’s turned into fuel and passion to win whenever I commit to doing something.
Krish: Did your anger growing up assist you or impede you?
Rodney: I think a little of both. Earlier in life, for sure I allowed it to get the best of me in ways that may have stifled some earlier exposure to things in life that could have been beneficial. The “anger triggers” manifest itself into a very defensive posture and ongoing questioning of fairness. I recall the moment in my high school years as an athlete I was an outstanding running back. Did very well in junior high and first year of high school. The coaches decided to move me to defensive back. They concluded I was too small to play running back despite my hardwork and noted successes as a running back. My dreams of following my path to college as a running back was destroyed at that moment. It was one of those many moments where it fed my sense of disappointment .. I became very doubtful of succeeding and shied away from allowing myself to be exposed. It was during my college years I began to gain a stronger sense of self. Understanding that good things will happen when it’s time. Just continue to work hard and navigate your way to what ultimately will be your version of success. The navigation of finding my way was key to my drive to succeed in whatever I put my mind to do. As I mentioned earlier, my anger became fuel for me to win.
Krish: So many people struggle with this: “Nonetheless, I was not driven by competing with others. I was mostly competing with myself. Always my own worst critic” This was innate with you. What can people do to start competing with themselves more and less by way of comparison?
Rodney: For me, self confidence was formed from the fight to succeed. Defying the odds which were clearly stacked against me. As I alluded to in the posted article and in my previous response above there was a lot of anger stemming from always falling short of a dream and desires. The ultimate switch was to turn that negative energy into something possible. I was very fortunate to encounter people that help me believe in myself and identify or see one good thing I could focus and build upon. In my case it was athletics. Now while I was fast and competed as part of a sport, my mindset was always what can I do to make myself better. Not for me per se, but being able to make a valuable contribution to something. In this case my team. So my initial response would be for you to identify that special something you bring to the table and build upon it. The perspective becomes more that of “value-add” versus “better-than”.
Krish: I thought this to be super interesting, ‘The concept of “being your brother’s keeper” is a very powerful quote and was fundamental to my daily life as a young struggling kid in high school & college.’ How have you utilized this in business? Many graduates go down the route of doing what’s best for them, which is the exact opposite of this. Why has it been better?
Rodney: This mantra has everything to do with teamwork, partnership, togetherness and kinship. It’s certainly fair and should be expected that each individual wants what’s best for themselves. However, I think it’s safe to say that no one person can do it all alone. At some point in life you must learn the aspect of teamwork. A self-centered perspective can be the difference in a valued teammate and someone simply participating. To be clear, this was a learned behavior that I found value in my more formidable years. Beit sports, group work in school, debate team, etc.. Something about allowing a key initiative, a friend/colleague or a community that I feel strongly about simply “crash-n-burn” does not register with me. My career growth has been centered around team development… Being a change agent and enabler of individuals presenting the best version of self. It comes full circle when establishing trusted professional relationships. Identifying this particular characteristic separates the varying business relationships in your portfolio.
Krish: To be a leader — What are the 2 most important skills that need to be developed? What can a teenager or college student start developing now to be advanced by the time they are 30 years old and a young professional?
Rodney: Teamwork and self-confidence. Yes, I do believe self-confidence is a learned behavior thereby it is technically a skill.I once heard someone define self-confidence as the belief to believe in yourself to accomplish any task, no matter the odds, the difficulties or adversities. I couldn’t agree more with this definition. The idea of having a level of perseverance can be learned early on any life by way of many different activities. Beit sports, academics, culture adventures etc. The key is to establish these opportunities early and often in a young person’s life. The repetitive nature of developing that mindset will set that path for someone who will hardly ever give up on their dreams. Successful teams are built with individuals with this self-confident mindset. No matter how underman you are in a sport, a business startup, school debate, etc. .. with the right mindset(self-confidence) all you need is that chance. That opportunity to defeat the odds. Teamwork requires that level of belief and trust. Trust is something very challenging for many people to offer, however, having the confidence and the ability to establish “buy-in” to whatever the cause or task-at-hand will make trust a glancing thought.
Krish: “Fortunately, I had some strong influences in my life during this time to inform me that being an athlete was not the end game for me. Mentors/Mentoring proved to be key.” Who were these mentors? How did you learn to trust them over others?
Rodney: Interestingly enough, when I was younger I never identified the individuals I’m calling mentors today as mentors. They were more “influencers”… Positive influences at that. From a characteristic perspective, they were individuals my childhood friends would not have considered cool or someone they could relate. I think that’s the key takeaway. Mentors/Influencers do not always have to look like you, come from the same neighborhood or be the same gender. In fact, I’m a huge proponent of identifying someone that takes you out of your comfort zone. True, a couple of key influencers for me where African American men. It happened that way for me because I admired them for what they stood for; how they invested in me; how relatable certain things they had to offer me made sense coming from an African American male. Not having a male figure in my life, was pretty natural for me to gravitate to these men. At the same time, there was a history professor in my middle school years(even before the aforementioned African American males) who was a very stern caucasian woman and very instrumental in getting me to focus more on my well-being as a student and person rather than fighting over reasons that made no sense at all. The older I got the more unorthodox my mentors became. I became more and more curious about cultures and the way of life for so many people not like me. That evolved into a comfort level of befriended some many types of people and opening up to the same as we established trust. So with that, my key advice here would be not to limit your circle of influencers to people like you but more so focus on the character of those that you admire for what they stand for.
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Conducting this interview was amazing! If you found this interview valuable, please let me know, and I’ll make sure to conduct similar interviews!
— Krish Chopra