Five summers ago served as a pivotal year in my professional career. A job that I initially viewed as a stepping-stone transitioned into a professional passion. During July 2015, I was six months away from earning a second promotion at my former company in record time and filling in as an acting branch manager during the seventh month of my tenure.
Seventy hour work weeks, one-hour commutes to and from work, and extensive professional development efforts off the clock were my weekly agenda. The grind finally caught up to me on a Saturday afternoon towards the end of the month. I was 75 hours and six days deep into my workweek. As my shift ended, I began mentally mapping out my plan to relax for the rest of the weekend, until it was time for work the following Monday.
The last conversation of the workday that Saturday afternoon altered my upcoming plans. The energy exchange I experienced with my final customer of the day motivated me to forgo my initial plans and put in extra work on my off day that Sunday.
The following Monday, I conceptualized that the inspirational interaction wasn't an anomaly. Once the customer who boosted my spirits returned Monday, our interaction was duplicated, and a friendship was established.
Several months later, my friend that I speak of received a promotion in his respective craft. I didn't know what he did for a living until it was time for him to leave his second hometown, Houston, Texas, to return to work with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After learning about his route to the NFL, I was even further inspired when Antwon Blake became a starting cornerback with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2014 - 2015 season.
Success is not measured by the position one has reached in life, rather by the obstacles one overcomes while trying to succeed. - Booker T Washington
As impressed as I was with his accomplishments on the field, his outlook on life, work ethic, and character exceeded his amazing athletic attributes. Have you ever thought about somebody, and they suddenly called you, or connected with someone and wondered where they'd been your entire life? I can hear you answering "yes" in your mind as I type this.
Some people chalk those happenings up to coincidences or mental telepathies and miss vital opportunities. When I met Antwon, who is now a best-selling author, it felt like I knew him well before we first shook hands. Our careers progressed and changed simultaneously, and we developed a brotherhood throughout the years. Acting on life's signs is what helped us collaborate on a tangible creation that will live on forever.
The process of partnering with Antwon to publish his first book, "Little Zilla's Big Wait" impacted me beyond belief. I deemed it necessary to provide readers with insight into the best-selling author and retired NFL veteran's life journey.
One of the things that I admire the most about you is your desire for excellence and ability to continuously achieve it. You've experienced success as an author, athlete, and student. What has been a common denominator for your success in all three realms?
I feel that the common denominator for the success I've had is my ability to bring a vision and plan to fruition through hard work & dedication. My lack of fear in regards to failure has given me the courage and strength to pursue goals and dreams that many wouldn't feel would be attainable.
Many people see gaudy achievements but don't know about the tough work you put in behind closed doors. To give readers a view of what it's like to face challenges on the highest levels, what were some of the biggest challenges you've faced in the NFL?
The biggest challenge I faced in the NFL started far earlier before I ever donned the uniform of an NFL team. The biggest challenge was actually the lifelong task of staying focused on a dream I'd had since being a wide-eyed six year old watching my hometown team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, take the field for the first time. Staying focused on a lifelong task and actually making it happen is an extremely hard feat.
What career did you see for yourself before you put the pads on as a kid?
Early on, before I ever thought about being a football player, I wanted to be a police officer and also a wrestler. I wanted to be a police officer because I felt that it would be a way to solve certain problems that were going on in my household and family. Wanting to be a wrestler stemmed from discovering the WWE with superstars like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Eddie Guerrero, that I admired and wanted to be like. In many ways, perfecting my wrestling moves gave me the courage and aggressiveness to succeed during my first year of playing organized little league football.
Which book impacted you the most as a child?
The book that I can instantly recall making an impact on me as a child is "The Giving Tree" written by Shel Silverstein. As a child, I recognized both sides of the story and can relate to it even more so now as an adult. Those loving and caring people would give their all to see others happy. Yet, on the other hand, those receiving the benefits become entitled, not realizing that they are only taking and not providing anything in return.
Little Zilla's Big Wait is a book that applies to any child regardless of their interests because the book's lessons are the foundation for success on every path. What is another big lesson you learned as a child?
Another big lesson that I learned as a child is to never react to situations without thoroughly thinking things through first.
What advice would you give to your childhood self?
The advice I would give my childhood self is to dream even bigger in life. No matter the obstacles or amount of adversity, GOD has already written your story, and you're destined for greatness. Oh yea, and to call grandma back that one last time.
What made you choose a children's book versus any other genre?
I chose to release a children's book first rather than other genres I'm working on because I felt it was essential to get those examples and relatable stories into the universe first. Also, I wanted to impress my children with something that we could enjoy together and use as an example to learn from!
What advice do you have for other creators who want to turn their idea into a published novel, tangible product, or business?
To anyone who's thinking about becoming a writer, fashion designer, chef, etc., the best advice I could give is to plan things out effectively and then put your thoughts and ideas into motion. Often times, we spend more time thinking about starting something than it actually takes to truly act on it and complete it!
The world knows more about Lil Zilla. What's something about Big Zilla that would surprise readers?
I think something that would surprise readers is that I'm an elite cook, and I'm working on releasing my own cookbook in the near future!
One of the best things about becoming a new author is capturing the feelings of executing a career-changing move. What does it feel like to become a published author, and how has it changed the trajectory of your professional career?
Man, it's an amazing feeling. I almost can't describe it with words. Many months ago, when we conversed about life, and its accompanying topics, I told you that this was one of the things on my to-do list that I truly wanted to accomplish in the near future. It's a gratifying experience to say the least. This whole process has opened my eyes even more. This is my first book, but it definitely won't be my last. There are big plans and goals for the Little Zilla series. Me tapping into different genres as an author is in the works as well!
One of the most intriguing things about literature is that ten people could read one book and get ten different takeaways. What is the biggest takeaway that you want readers to have from your first book?
The biggest takeaway that I want readers to have from my first book is how far a little patience & determination can take you!
IG & Twitter: Zillamane41