Like so many sports fans, I spent this weekend revisiting the amazing story of Cleveland Browns NFL player Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi and how he continues to overcome the odds.
Sheehy-Guiseppi is someone who didn’t play football in high school and then went on to lead the nation in kick off returns at his junior college which earned him First Team All-American honors.
Despite his impressive resume, he got turned down by every Division I college he reached out to and spent the last couple of years outside of football, training and playing flag football in his spare time.
This Spring he learned about a possible NFL tryout and slept outside the training facility and slept in gyms waiting to get a chance to try out. On the day of the tryout he talked his way into an NFL workout and then cemented his spot in Brown’s training camp with a great workout and a 4.3 second 40 yard dash run.
Flash forward to last week during the Cleveland Brown’s first preseason game against the Redskins and in true Cinderella fashion, Guiseppi slipped on Odell Beckham’s cleats and turned his first snap on the field into NFL gold by returning a punt for 86 yards for a touchdown.
That’s right, Guiseppi didn’t even have his own cleats to play in so Odell Beckham offered up his personal cleats to Damon right before the game started.
So many people are drawn to his story because he shouldn’t be where he is after all of the people who passed on him and it reminded me so much of my journey in life.
Based on all of the hurdles I’ve faced in life and based on all of the people that passed on me, it is amazing that I have still gotten to where I am now.
That being said, the reality is that I should actually be further along if we base things on results and impact, but I’ve never let being passed up stop me and that’s why I relate to Damon.
So as I watched his highlights, I felt the urge to encourage those early on in their career that are being passed on because they don’t fit in a box.
This is for those that do not have a voice in their organization yet and for those that feel that they bring something special to the table but are a little discouraged and/or have been blocked by others.
Not everyone will relate to everything I say, but for those select few that this message is for, take what you can and apply it.
I wish that someone had shared advice with me when I was early on in my career.
Let the story of this NFL hopeful inspire you to stay focused and determined on achieving your goals.
If you have put in the work, have a track record of driving results and have had an honest evaluation of yourself then don’t be afraid to believe in you!
Don’t Give Up When Others Give Up On You
I relate a lot to Damon’s story and have faced a lot of let down and denials by gate keepers or those in a position of power giving their opinion without having a full understanding of what I bring to the table.
It is particularly hard for people early on in their career that don’t have much opportunity to showcase their abilities on a wider scale and have managers who limit their growth.
Many times I’ve been limited by people that either felt threatened by my capabilities or people that think there is a certain look or sound for top talent.
However, I think Kawhi Leonard has dispelled that myth.
Then there are those that are scared to give you credit or those that throw you under the bus after you’ve done all the work for them, thinking it will help them stick around and keep others from finding out that they don’t know what they’re doing.
These behaviors are not only detrimental to the employee, but they also affect the company negatively.
When you are young, don’t know how things work and don’t feel you have a strong voice in the organization, the negative energy can leave you second guessing yourself, stressed out and very angry.
There’s nothing high achievers hate more than having weak people talk down to them and wrongly point the finger at them. And the organizations that support these weaker team members accelerate the exit of their best talent, leading to an environment where there are only underperforming employees and poor business results.
That’s why it is so incredible to see what Damon has achieved so far.
Damon couldn’t even get a scholarship on a Junior College team after leading the nation in kick returning. Then he went to talk to Division I colleges and no one would even look at his tape.
You mean to tell me that a man who leads the nation in return yards and runs a 4.3 40 yard dash is not good enough to get looked at by even one Division 1 school?
People That Are Different Deserve a Shot
I can’t say that I’m completely surprised that Damon was passed on because we see the same things in corporate America.
There are a lot of people that are lazy with their evaluation of talent.
If someone hasn’t worked for your competitors or a notable name in your industry, you turn them away.
If someone doesn’t look like you, talk like you or isn’t interested in the same things as you outside of work, you say they aren’t a cultural fit.
If someone doesn’t come as a referral from an employee, you don’t give them the chance.
And worse of all, when you meet someone that has all the qualities that you want, but just needs a little bit of training, you say that you don’t have time to train…we’re just too busy.
I’ve seen this happen over and over again by people who are usually the most vocal, but not necessarily the most effective.
Damon ran into a lot of excuses like this and despite Damon being told he wasn’t good enough for a Junior College or Division 1 scholarship, he pressed on.
This is an incredible story of determination, grit and believing in yourself!
Real Recognizes Real so Keep Pushing Forward
The saying real recognize real is so true!
The right people will eventually find you and value what you bring to the table.
It’s always been hard for me to describe those people that I have worked with that are invaluable, but you know them when you see them and there is always this unspoken respect that you feel for those people.
What makes the best employees so good are their intangibles. Much of what they provide can’t be described in a job description because the beauty of what they bring to the table usually manifests itself in unexpected situations where their critical thinking kicks into gear, taking the context, business rules and current situation into account to deliver solutions that push a business forward.
Those type of employees have the confidence in themselves, are self-aware and can press on despite roadblocks presented by others that haven’t done enough due diligence to have an informed, accurate opinion and assessment of the situation.
The best employees are fine with their idea not being good enough if it was given a true shot, but they are diligent enough to know when somebody trying to stop them doesn’t know enough to understand the full breadth of the opportunity enough to make an evaluation.
So don’t let a misinformed colleague, boss, client, friend or family member shut down your vision and make you give up without giving you a real shot and without understanding the full breadth of your capabilities.
And so as colleges continued to turn him down, Damon was forced to drop out and train for 2 years on his own.
Find Someone Who Believes in You to Help Guide You
Damon believed in his self and his mom also supported his dreams.
She gave him crucial advice as well and told him to not only train, but to take action.
It’s not enough to have all of that talent in your brain and to draw out scenarios, spreadsheets and presentations on your computer…you also need to put your talents into practice and to show what you can do.
So Damon went and trained with former NFL players and trainers, networked, built relationships and connections. It was through his activity and action that he learned about the Cleveland Browns tryout.
He wasn’t given the full information for the tryout, but he was scrappy enough to pursue the initial information and get all of the details.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
While in Florida getting ready for his chance to workout for NFL scouts, he spent his last money on a trainer, leaving himself without money for food or a hotel.
So Damon slept on the beach, slept in a 24 hour gym and called his mom and family to make virtual orders for him at food places where he would go to pick up the food once paid for. All of this just for a CHANCE workout.
There was no guarantee that he would get to work out because he wasn’t invited.
Great Preparation Will Lead to Consistent Results
To get more details on the workout, he researched the Cleveland Browns head of player personnel ahead of time and used that information to talk his way into the workout.
Damon’s willingness to spend his last dime on a trainer and to research the prospect prior to the workout, shows the importance of preparation to success.
Damon is probably one of the fastest players in the NFL, but even he knows that preparation is essential if you want to deliver when you get your one shot.
It amazes me the amount of sales people that want to meet with me and the amount of people that I interview for jobs that come in unprepared. They haven’t even checked me out on LinkedIn or figured out what they want to discuss with me prior to meeting me.
You cannot be lazy and entitled and have long term growth and success.
Because Damon did his research, he was able to talk his way into the try out and spot the Cavs personnel once he got in. Damon then went and introduced himself before the workout started to get his name on the board.
Since the young talent had been preparing for two years, he had a great workout and demonstrated his capabilities when he got his shot.
Trust Your Gut
If you are diligent about your preparation, you put in the work to grow/develop and you apply feedback from trusted sources, you should have every right to have confidence in yourself.
Do not be afraid to speak your mind and provide an alternate point of view if you have sound experience, logic and/or data that backs it up.
I’ve always believed in myself and have never been afraid to speak about what I think makes sense if I have past experiences, sound logic and data to back it up.
At a previous role at a programmatic shop I had a situation where I don’t know if leadership quite knew what they were dealing with when I started. In many ways (which I won’t get into) I felt my capabilities were being downplayed which honestly made me feel insulted and disrespected.
However, I ended up being pulled into a pitch meeting as a new hire to help provide supporting documents to someone else.
I didn’t think much of it at the time because this pitch was for an agency that I didn’t work on, but little did I know this was an awesome opportunity in front of me.
I showed up every day in war rooms, unapologetically giving my opinion, providing ideas, taking direction from others and being coachable too.
Turns out these were the most senior members of the agency (which I didn’t know at the time) and I was direct in my assessment of their point of view.
Had I known who was in the room during those meetings, I probably would’ve been slightly less vocal, but it’s a good thing that I didn’t because the execs liked that I cared, I showed passion and most of all I knew what I was talking about when it came to advertising, data and Programmatic.
Eventually, they kept bringing me into more meetings and next thing you know I’m leading the data strategy for all channels (not just programmatic) for the pitch in a leading role.
The belief in myself and consistency in who I am helped me to deliver when I was unknowingly receiving an opportunity to demonstrate my value.
I had absolutely no idea that I was participating in a tremendous opportunity to raise my profile in the hottest agency holding company in the industry.
In fact, I was not suppose to be in a room with these leaders. I didn’t even work on their business, but I was very grateful for the opportunity.
If I had not believed in myself, then I would have never challenged the opinions of senior leaders in what was the hottest agency at the time.
Eventually, feedback on me was sent back to my leadership from the agency’s leadership and that changed the conversation about me internally moving forward, representing the first step in me starting to raise my profile within that holding company and then ultimately the industry.
This was validation of the belief that I had in myself.
If you’re like me and Damon, nothing will go as planned and less qualified people may get looks before you. It has happened over and over again throughout my career and life.
Along your journey, you will be passed up even when all the boxes are checked…and that is okay.
So often people are put in a position of power that are undeserving.
No oversight of these individuals can lead to questionable decision making in regards to talent, business decisions, communication and collaboration.
Do not let this stop you! Keep believing in yourself, keep pushing forward and show the world what you can do!