Junior High School.  What an awkward moment on the timeline of a human life.  This is the moment when you’re convinced that you’re cool, but you smell funny, and your voice cracks at inopportune times.  Yet, we’ve all been there, it’s part of life.  Hormones are unleashed and begin their transformation of your childlike frame into adulthood.  So, it’s no wonder that by the time 7th grade rolled around, I was a picture of oddness.  I was as scrawny as humanly possible, I had acne really bad, and I was slow and borderline clumsy.  Those characteristics don’t usually lend themselves to being a star basketball player, but all my friends were trying out for the team, so I thought I would too.

Coach John rolled in the morning of practice and set the tone early.  “Run!” he exclaimed with all his might at a way to early hour of the morning.  And run we did.  “Run more!” he shouted and that’s when I really started to question my decision to go out for basketball.  “My, this is a lot of running.” my brain processed.  Coming from a farming background, we didn’t really run much.  I mean, if something was on fire that wasn’t supposed to be, we’d run.  But otherwise, we’d meander from one field to the next so as to allow the seed to fully mature on the stalk.

Then, drills.  Dribble, shoot, pass, bounce pass, box out, rebound.  Do it again!  Do it better next time!  All this new terminology was entering my brain at again, a very early hour.  How would I keep track of it all!  Then, we lined up for lay-ups.  I mean, who can’t shoot a lay-up.  Just lay it up and make the ball go in.  But Coach John didn’t want just any kind of lay-up, he wanted the ball to bank in off the glass.  So, my scrawny, acne laden, clumsy self strolled up to the backboard and shot the ball.  1) It didn’t go in and 2) it didn’t hit the glass.  I rotated back into line and when my turn was up for the 2nd time, I had the same result.  It was going to be a long season.

“Twweeeeeeettt!” went the whistle.  Coach John made his way over to me.  He handed me the ball.

“Can you hit the backboard, right there in that big red square that’s painted on there.  Can you hit that?”

“Yes.” my voice cracking as I responded.

“Ok, here you go.” Coach handed me the ball.

With all my might, I hoisted the ball in the general direction of the big red square…and I didn’t hit it.  And the ball didn’t go in the basket.

Handing me the ball a 2nd time, “Try again.” he said.

I took a deep breath, more determined this time.  Granted, I hit the backboard, but I didn’t come close to hitting the big red square.

Handing me the ball a 3rd time, “Can you hit the square?  You don’t even need to make the shot.  Can you at least hit the big red square?”

My scrawny, acne laden, clumsy self tried again.  And, once again, I didn’t hit it.

“I didn’t think so.” came the reply.

My friends pretended they didn’t hear it, they looked elsewhere to help alleviate the embarrassment I was feeling.  Practice continued.  But the words replayed in my head, over and over.  “Can you do it?  …I didn’t think so.” And, if I’m honest, all these years later, sometimes that same question…and answer…often haunts me.

In hindsight, and to the coach’s defense, he was likely tired from waking up way too early to watch a bunch of awkward smelly 7th graders trapse around the court, and he became frustrated in that moment.  However, those 4 words became a turning point for me.

I didn’t have the best grades through high school.  I just didn’t apply myself like a should have.  When it finally dawned on me that colleges actually care about high school grades, I had a holy crap moment.  And when the question was eminently before me: Could I go to college? The toxic answer swirled in my head…I didn’t think so.  But I buckled down, finished my senior year strong, took the ACT and was accepted at 3 private universities.  I chose Ohio Northern and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting.

When I was close to graduating college, it became job seeking time and the question arose: Could I get a job?  The toxic answer again swirled in my head…I didn’t think so.  But I brushed up my resume and my interview skills and ultimately accepted a job offer at a CPA firm in Findlay, OH.

Working at a CPA firm, it is a given that you would sit for and pass the CPA exam.  The question unveiled: Could I get my designation?  By now, the familiar song was imbedded within…I didn’t think so.  I failed the exam multiple times, but 4 years into my career, I pivoted and co-founded a wealth management firm.  A CPA designation wasn’t as credible in that field, so I studied hard and achieved my Registered Financial Consultant (RFC®) designation and as my interest in investing really took root, I passed my Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA®) designation.

In 2002, my business partner, Adam Zuercher approached me about partnering with him starting the wealth management firm that I alluded to in the prior paragraph.  That would require that I quit my job at the CPA firm and take no salary until we generated enough business to be able to pay one.  The question exposed: Can you start a new business?  Over half of new start ups fail within the first year.  My brain wired for the contaminated answer…I didn’t think so.  But we started it and 20 years later, we’re still here.  We help steward over $300 million for over 300 families across the country, and we’re just hitting our stride.

In 2017, I was interviewed for an article for MarketWatch where I revealed the story of my mom and what happened to her, and what I learned as a result.  The journalist, Morey Stettner, upon hearing my story and publishing the article said, “You have a book inside you, you just don’t know it yet.”  The question revealed: Can you write a book?  My brain, now calloused to the answer…I didn’t think so.  In 2021, ten years after the tragic decision my mom made to end her life, I released my book Retirement Stepping Stones that became an Amazon best seller in 5 categories including Books on Suicide, Personal Budgeting and Wealth Management.

To Coach John, I say “Thank you.”  You were right that morning…I couldn’t hit the big red square.  And, to complete the story, I played 3 additional years of basketball and scored a total of 1 point my entire career until it got through my thick head that basketball wasn’t my thing.  But, I didn’t lose…I learned.  I learned that I wasn’t going to be the next Michael Jordan, but I was going to be an overcomer.  I learned that I may not beat you on the court, or with my brilliance…but I can beat you with endurance.  I can show up.  I can put in the reps.  I can try.  I can fall, but I’ll get back up.  I won’t quit.

…And neither should you.  Kick your head trash to the curb.  People say dumb things sometimes.  Use them to motivate you.  Use them to inspire yourself and others.  Prove them wrong.  Turn your tragedy into triumph.  Turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones.  Make today matter.  Turn your “I didn’t think so” moment into your battle cry.

You were made on purpose for a purpose.  You matter.  Live on purpose today!