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!

Antwon Blake

IG & Twitter: Zillamane41


Updated: May 21

April 2020, marks five years since I was fired from a company that I planned on retiring from. Two months before I lost my job, a top tier Fortune 500 company offered me a position paying $40,000 more annually, but I turned it down for several befitting reasons. Once I unexpectedly became unemployed, I awarded myself a season of me-time. I spent a few weeks traveling, but most of my time off was spent in the confines of my home. The emotional roller coaster, previous hectic workload, and stress from the what if's, glued me to the couch longer than I initially expected.

Once I was ready to re-enter the workforce, I vowed not to settle for anything I wasn't passionate about. Sticking to my guns made me go eight months without finding a job. Four months into my tenure with a new company, I embarked on my first entrepreneurial endeavor. My podcast, which eventually hit the Top 200 list on Apple, opened my eyes to a new world. The flame for becoming a CEO of a pre-existing Fortune 500 company got distinguished once the fire was lit to build my own.

April 2020 also marks another anniversary for my professional career. On Easter 2017, I spontaneously quit my job to chase the dream that made me excited to get out of bed every morning. Once I hung up my corporate career, I found myself back in a similar scenario. I was relegated to the confines of my own home again.

The first time I was subconsciously quarantined, I didn't have a plan, vision, or routine, which are three essential elements for an effective quarantine. During my first go around, I got up whenever I wanted, ate whatever I wanted, and winged every day. Those were arguably the most unproductive days of my life. I often regretted that time period until I understood the opportunities within my obstacles.

My first quarantine allowed me the chance to learn myself better than ever. When you are living in isolation, your world slows down. If you are productive, you catch up with life. However, if you are unproductive, it passes you by. In a capitalistic economy, it is second nature to assume a person is talking about financial or educational advancement when they mention productivity. However, getting to know yourself, managing your mental and physical health, and not being self-destructive, can be coined as productive.

Getting to know myself on a deeper level, laid the foundation for me to grow organically. Schools and jobs are responsible for socially programming most of society to be more productive under a regimen versus an unstructured environment. When you are quarantined, you must create that structure for yourself.

Society has pressured many people into thinking they should be following a specific agenda during the Corona epidemic. It was impossible for me to have the same game plan for each of the three quarantines I experienced in recent years. Some can capitalize by being aggressive and playing offense economically, others may still be forced to go about their same routines, and another group of people may be primarily focused on their health. Although each of my quarantines differed, all were productive because I got to know myself and loved ones better.

One interesting thing about literature is that ten people can read the same information, and each person could have different takeaways. Aside from sharing my quarantine experiences, I would like to provide you with more tangible takeaways and practices I utilize.

Each morning I listen to something positive to set the tone for the day. Doing so will give you a mental head start. If problems occur, you will be armed with the upper hand because you mentally prepared for the encounter ahead of time.

Prioritize discovering what lights a fire under you to perform at your best. That spark can come from interactions or thoughts of loved ones, positive affirmations, listening to motivational speakers, or reflecting on memories that motivate you. I tap into this source of energy at the start of every day.

Audit your circle. This is a vital action during any time frame, but twice as important during times of uncertainty and chaos. Many people abuse their outlets during challenging times or become a dumping ground for other people's problems. It is important to be there for your loved ones. However, if all someone talks about is their problems, it's best to practice social distancing with them.

Reading books give you somewhere to go when there is nowhere to go. Utilize fictional novels and memoirs to take you to another world and give you a break from reality. Leverage non-fiction books to expand your mind.

I encourage you to share any of your beneficial quarantine practices with your friends, family, or social media platforms. We can't assume that smiles on social media correlate to real-life happiness, and that neglected loved ones are doing fine.

Updated: Apr 29

Beauty In The Midst Of Chaos

On August 20th, 2005, life moved at a slower pace than usual. Inner-city New Orleans is not a place where life moves slowly. Even those who didn't grow up in rough neighborhoods in the Big Easy are forced to grow up quickly because of stories about family members, friends, or local news headlines.

The 7th ward of New Orleans snatched my childhood innocence during a scorching August evening in 1996. While I stood on the front porch of my shotgun house where I was born and raised, I watched two teenagers run full-speed up my block. The chase ended when the guy trailing pulled out a handgun from his waistband and fired three shots into the back of the person he ran behind. Once the shots that were loud enough to be heard over the passing train ceased, I looked up, and the killer was gone along with life as I knew it.

Nearly a decade later, I stood on my porch, eyeing the scene where the tragedy occurred, and memorable chills shot through my body as my mother and I prepared to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina. Those unforgettable shivers delivered me a sense of tranquility instead of grief. For nine years straight, I avoided looking at the murder scene that lingered in my mind throughout my upbringing. This time I was able to see the beauty in my pain by facing it and learning from it.

Moments after hurdling a nine-year obstacle, my mother and I evacuated to Houston, Texas. After we pulled off, I rolled the window down to feel the summer breeze. Typically, I embellished the opportunity for a hurricane evacuation, but something in the air felt different about this go around. Growing up across the street from a barroom and a public housing project made loud noise a normalcy, but the only sounds that night were strong winds and loose items ruffling into each other. As we drove through the neighborhood, I noticed things I never saw before, and visuals of leaving my community became permanently planted in my memory forever.

Once we merged onto the interstate, I fell into a deep sleep and awakened when we arrived at my brother's house in Houston, Texas. Those indifferent moments in my neighborhood while evacuating were my final ones living there.

The floodwaters left rings around the top inside walls of my house as if it was a dirty tub. The Katrina water residue markings were nine feet high and destroyed all of my baby pictures, childhood writings, family photo albums, and belongings. From the outside looking in, it's easy to assume that occurrence signaled rock bottom, but the misfortune marked the beautiful start to a new beginning.

If I weren’t able to look my pain in the eyes, then I would have only seen the problems instead of opportunities. The grief of losing priceless memorabilia couldn’t compare to the affliction of not seeing my mother every morning, as I did my entire life until Hurricane Katrina. She remained living in Houston, and I moved back home to finish high school and graduate from Tulane University. The unfortunate circumstances awarded me the chance to meet new lifelong friends, live with my beloved father, and exposure to life outside of my natural surroundings. The category five hurricane taught me lessons that a sunny day never could and made me conceptualize the most important aspects of life.

Previous to Hurricane Katrina, it was fair to say that I coasted through life. It was impossible to carry on with that mindset after having everything washed away overnight. Searching for tangible takeaways helps a person find beauty in the midst of chaos. How can life carry on the same after the Corona epidemic is over? It can’t.

Some of the economic and political actions in play should have been measures taken a long time ago, but it’s best not to stress over what can’t be controlled. What can be controlled has been the most remarkable highlights of this global crisis. Quality time with family, prioritizing health, conversations with distant friends, and loving humanitarian acts should have been more significant focal points in society before the Corona epidemic.

Wake up calls are opportunities to rise to new levels. Unsanitary habits were previously the elephants in plenty of rooms and bathrooms. Seeing someone use a public restroom and carry on without washing their hands became an overseen occurrence in society. People who have such trifling habits are now forced to think twice about actions that were once second nature.

Tangible takeaways and positive changes appeared in other areas of life, aside from cleanliness. Economic adjustments have created an awakening amongst employees, entrepreneurs, and potential entrepreneurs. Many jobs that were previously hated are currently needed and no longer taken for granted. More books and business plans will be written now than ever. Business owners have no choice but to see the importance of sustainability over immediate gratification.

Previous to the Corona outbreak, life was no short of its tragedies during my lifespan. Mudslides, hurricanes, bombings, earthquakes, plus more unfortunate events caught international headlines, but the Corona epidemic is a beast of its own. Experiencing Hurricane Katrina first-hand made me grasp the difference between second-hand experiences and personal ones. The further away from the impact, the less it hits home. The Corona virus hit the television and cell phone screens of everyone across the world. Everyone is experiencing this first-hand. Therefore, it’s a collective opportunity to see the beauty in the midst of chaos and take our world to new heights.

© 2018 Williams Commerce LLC by ITG. 


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