I am the writer, creator and walking billboard of My Future in Focus. I could write a boring traditional bio but that is not who I am. I have overcome obesity, bouts of depression and the death of my mother all before the age of 18. My Future in Focus is more than a blog. It is my story. So allow me to introduce myself.
I’m Thomas and I hail from outside of Richmond, Virginia where I attended public school. I became an entrepreneur at the age of 9 as a wedding musician.
That summer, I began to gain weight unexpectedly. The more weight I gained, the more I ate to find comfort from the fat jokes. At 9 years old I spiraled into a depression and for 8 years I lived life as an unhappy obese child.
Then something amazing happened when I reached the 11th grade. It’s like I came into my own. I got my license, bought my own car and began driving everywhere I wanted to go. I joined clubs at school and worked on the weekends. I began making friends who liked me for me. I became a lot more active hanging out with my friends and going to after school functions. I didn’t find out how much I was well liked until cheers roared for me at graduation. I felt like I was on top of the world and there was nothing that would stand in my way.
My father-in-law has a saying that “people are often a public success but a private mess.” Such was my case. I had a secret. When I was in 7th grade, my mom found out she had breast cancer. I will admit now what I never admitted then – I lived in fear for 5 years. My worst fear was that my mom would die. And two months before my high-school graduation when I had just come into my own, she did. Talk about having mixed feelings!
1999 was a major paradigm shift for me. My mom died in April. By that time, Columbia, NYU and Virginia Tech had all sent me acceptance letters. I graduated two months later and moved to New York two months after that to attend Columbia. To top it off, I was 50 pounds lighter with a new look and new outlook on life.
As happy as I was to be living my dream of going to college in New York, I was just as unhappy coping with my mother’s death. I have never felt so alone in all my life. I spent my entire first semester in solitude. Outside of my musician and work study jobs, I stayed to myself. And the more I was alone, the more depressed I became. I entered into another downward spiral and ended up on academic probation in my first semester of freshman year because of a 50 average in Calculus.
With the help of my first-year advisor and an understanding instructor, I was able to retake Calculus and pass with a B and got off of academic probation. That same spring semester, I started to leave my room a little more and meet new people. And soon things began to look up for me.
I spent the summer hanging out with friends and family, doing freelance musician work and traveling back and forth to New York on the weekends. That summer I was introduced to my first work-from-home opportunity that sparked my interest. Sophomore year was 100 times better than freshman year. I joined the gospel choir – a place where I met some of my closest friends. In three years I rapidly progressed from a singer to musician to president of music.
Life kept getting better in junior and senior years. By my final semester, life was changing again but I quickly found an outlet in music. When my mom got sick, I internalized and suppressed my feelings without knowing it or considering the consequences. By this time, I had begun to process my feelings through my music. I had no job prospects, completed no internships as an architecture major, and my time in New York was coming to an end…with no provisions to stay. To escape the anxieties of real life, I wrote and recorded songs night and day.
Two weeks before graduation I had one of two epiphanies that changed the course of my life. Walking home from pulling an all-nighter in the architecture studio, I made a confession that went something like this:
“I can’t do this for the rest of my life.”
That day, I decided against becoming an architect and returned home to Virginia after graduation.
I started vigorously looking for a job in Virginia to sustain me. This part I told people about. What I didn’t tell people is that I was desperately searching for jobs in New York.
The same weekend that I had everything set to return to New York, my dad persuaded me to take a year off and figure out what I wanted to do in life. With the pressure of getting a job weighing on me, I considered it carefully and finally agreed. That was the best decision I could have ever made. And it led me to my second paradigm shift.
Let me tell you a little about my job search. One architecture firm interviewer took one look at my resume and immediately asked, “so, have you considered a career in music?” Another interview turned into a day out on the street selling imitation cologne and perfume with a guy named Amp. And then one Sunday evening while returning from Dairy Queen with my sister and brother-in-law, I had the second epiphany that rocked my world. I was fed up with an unsuccessful job search coupled with feelings of being forced into a “normal life.” So while sitting in the back seat of my car I yelled out in frustration,
“There has to be more than life than this! There has to be more to life than a nine to five!”
At that point, my future went totally out of focus. Everything I wanted to do in the coming months regarding getting a job became fuzzy.
In the 5 years after college, I had a lot of great experiences that I would not trade for the world. I started two businesses and worked for Monster’s Making It Count program delivering presentations to high-school students around the country. I also became a minister, wrote my life vision and goals and attended numerous business and entrepreneurial seminars. I distinctly remember attending several network marketing seminars and running to the back of the room to purchase their systems. I was desperate to find more to life. Meanwhile, I frequently met with business and career advisors, often doing the exact opposite of what they recommended. I came to realize that no one is going to tell you to risk everything to do the thing that you love. It goes against conventional wisdom.
I continued to go after what I loved, pursuing my passion for business even after marriage. It wasn’t until after my daughter was born that reality finally set in. When my wife got pregnant, I was a contracted worker with no health insurance or benefits. Toward the end of the pregnancy, I got a part-time gig (still with no benefits) working for University Instructors as a tutor. We were living with friends and family when I realized my downward spiral had led me to what people call ‘rock bottom.’ Something had to give.
There are two conversations that stick out in my head. The first was with my mentor who advised me, “Don’t give up on your dream…but you need to get a job…with benefits.” I cannot tell you how many times I heard that in the span of 6 years. But for some reason, this time…it stuck.
The second conversation was an exchange I had with a Russian music teacher I met on my first full-time job. She was filling me in on the process and advantages of becoming a teacher. She explained the politics of the county, how they were doing budget cuts and the impact it would have on me as a new support staff member. When she could see on my face that I could not see where she was going, she stopped and said, “let me be blunt…you have a family to support.” As tough as it was to accept her advice, it was exactly what I needed to hear. That’s when I realized what my advisors had been recommending all the time. I needed to make changes starting within myself.
Things have come full circle for me. Music is still my outlet for creative expression and often my therapy. I understand what causes me to become depressed and how to counteract depression through positive thinking. I am building a business while working the 9 – 5 job with benefits (the same type of job I swore never to get). But my purpose has changed. Instead of working just to work or pursuing my dream of owning a business, I do it to create a better life for my family and myself.
My Future in Focus has become my motto for facing life’s challenges. It is a product of my process to make sense of my paradigm shifts. I overcame the stigma of obesity, bounced back after hitting rock bottom and faced my worst fears all to bring my future back into focus. My Future in Focus is more than a blog; it’s my way of life. For information on my life and vision coaching services, click here to visit the My Future in Focus eStore.
The content for My Future in Focus is written and edited by Thomas E. Anderson, II (TEAII) with time management articles written by Brett Owens (brettowens). Other editors and contributors are Anointed Vessel, Jamie Anderson and Teah Otey.